When I first moved into my apartment, I was one of those tenants blessed with a - let's say - difficult landlord. For now we'll call her Margaret.

The first time I came into her office, she shot me a cunning glare. Her manner is stiff and straightforward. This was by no malintent I'm sure, but reaching out to her was stressful.

As I was moving in, I had to rely on communicating with Margaret - in which her replies were sparse and cold shouldered. I felt so drained, that I sensed our interactions turn petty. Even my mother knows this, as I confided in her too many times. "She never responds!" I'd whine, "And never has time to even see me!"

Within a couple months, I had made enough Ikea trips to make my home. After all maintenance was taken care of, I (finally) barely had the need to contact her anymore.

Soon came March and April, and Melbourne slid into lockdown. Like many parts of the world, our streets are now eerily quiet.

Business grinds to a halt. Thankfully, my apartment was a decorated sanctuary by then. Recently, however, to my dismay, there had been some troubles with my heater.

Oh God, I thought. Fall has well arrived. The cold is growing, too. Better to fix sooner than later, I decided, lest I put it off until winter and it would've been too late.

So I sent an e-mail to Margaret this morning, asking kindly if I could replace the panel heater. (I very much didn't want to call our maintenance person, who was an elderly man.)

I didn't expect a response anytime soon. As presumed, I received one of her automated replies:

Will be back Monday 1000 AM. 

I understood and thought nothing more of it.

Although I did wonder if she was okay. Margaret was - frankly - a pain during my move, but I also remember she's a middle-aged woman. If it weren't for the unfriendly glare, I recall how frail and small-framed she looked otherwise.

To my surprise, I did receive an e-mail a couple of hours later. From Margaret.

"Dear Joanne," it read, "Thank you for your email.

"We've asked our electrician to come and repair it, or replace if necessary. They will contact you directly."

I must admit it felt good to hear from her. I sighed, relieved that she was okay.

"Thank you for a prompt response, Margaret," I replied.

"Stay well," I signed at the end.

Four minutes later she wrote, "You too, Joanne."


I had to enter the city today. It wasn't easy. Lately, it never is. 

My route is I take a shortcut through a park on the east side of town - I like its greenery and quiet pathways. I then make my way to the front steps of the Old Treasury, a building where people would go to sign marriage certificates. On many weekends I'd see people swarming around those steps - often newlyweds with a small group of loved ones, then a photographer.

I never thought I'd miss weddings.

The light turns on. I cross the street. Stricken, really, by the state of Collins Street. Often taken as the most business part of the business district. Now it dons vacant lobbies and closed retail stores.

The area seems overtaken by tradies - construction work, I guess, hasn't slowed down. But I walk along the street, viewing one closed store after another - the most depressing hour of window shopping you can ever imagine.

When I passed by Dymocks, that huge bookstore with descending elevators that take you to another world, the whole atrium had been shut. Seeing the metal bars, my heart broke a little.

Even that high-end cocktail bar that everyone always raves about. Their glitzy lights stood lifeless. Their curtains tightly drawn.

All the city's bougie retail stores - Fendi, Prada, Gucci, L'Occitane - have long lost their spark. "Putting Our Community First," a door sign read.

Subway remains open, and a handful of other cafes in the entire strip. Oddly enough, that music store on Elizabeth Street is open, with their rows of electric guitars. As a bookworm, with my experience seeing Dymocks, I can't help but envy those music lovers.

When a tram pulls up nearby, my feet quickened by instinct, hoping to catch it. But the letters spell, of course, "Not taking passengers."

This week I'd finished a book titled Severance by Ling Ma, which weirdly also talks about a fever-stricken dystopia. In the book, the disease starts from China, and the "fevered" become zombies trapped in nostalgia. The fever is incurable, devouring one country after another, turning even New York City into a ghost town.

I've never read Ling Ma's work but she has some explaining to do.

But I'm sharing this because it didn't feel nice to be in the city today. But it felt really nice to finish a book.

It felt really good to walk into the office and see that some of my colleagues were present. They had also decided to take care of some things, so there we were, chatting by the coffee machine, as we always had – just metres apart. And I'd forgotten how nice it was to just see people, and have real conversations.

And my heart fluttered, but also ached, at this slight tinge of normalcy.

Zombie, I guess you can say, caught in my own nostalgia.


My other book is about a blind girl in the outskirts of France, navigating through the second world war. Which reminds me I shouldn't forget to thank God for the gift of reading.

Tonight I did find a working tram. One that was taking passengers, and took me straight home. So, feeling worn out, I chose to sit down. Soon after, a lady across the carriage, looking tired as I was, smiled at me. I smiled back.

And a few days ago on my morning walk I saw a pinecone fall from a tree. And I never thought anything so mundane can be so comforting, but it was. I'm comforted by the leaves turning red. How fall is arriving without needing our permission.

And earlier this week I arranged with a couple of friends to be penpals during quarantine, and today her first post card had arrived. And it made me laugh.

And again my heart flutters, then aches. An ebb and flow rendered endlessly bittersweet.

But it's okay, I guess.

It's just starting to get used to it.


Drawings from my friend's postcard.
I hope you're all doing well, and entering this new normal with as much ease in your heart as possible. Tell me: What has made you smile recently?

Thank you for reading.

Talk to you soon.



From a Distance is a blog series documenting life in the social distance. Paper airplanes flown out my window, hoping to reach yours. For connection. Companionship. A little human-ness in this very strange time. My hope is to make you feel a little less lonely. If you are. Whoever you are.

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