Out of touch: How the pandemic has us missing ordinary activities that made us feel good

Making friends with my plants.
Making friends with my plants.
  • As we continue to adjust to this Black Mirror episode under lockdown regulations, we're making use of digital means to carry on with life.
  • But how can the touchscreens of our smart devices adequately fulfil the experience of using all five of our senses at the same time in the presence of other human beings?
  • I miss most things, but I especially miss touch and scents. 

Many of us found ourselves alone under lockdown and found the thought of not being bothered by anyone appealing. After all, many people who live alone made the choice to do so comfortably and with certainty long before a virus brought the world to a halt. 

It’s this same Covid-19 virus that renders its patients unable to taste or smell anything that has resulted in its remaining frightened possible vectors being afraid to fully enjoy our own senses. 

READ MORE | Experts reveal Broken Heart Syndrome cases are soaring amid the Covid-19 pandemic 

With the exception of being warned against touching our faces for our own health, I – a germophobe long before the pandemic – have been reluctant to touch anything outside of my apartment. Sometimes even the apartment door handle (from the outside) has me second-guessing.

I'm the type of person who has always used my elbow to push open the public bathroom door, my foot or a wad of toilet paper to lift the toilet seat lid, used another short oodle of toilet paper to wrap around my hand for flushing, and would exit in the same elbowed manner I entered. 

When swiping my bank card at a store, I always used my index finger knuckle to punch in my PIN (still do). This, after not holding the basket in my hand, but rather resting it on my forearm to avoid committing to touching it with my bare hands. Trolleys? These are pushed with my forearm, using the upper body strength I've built up at gym.

Ah yes, the gym - a blender for making a power smoothie of perspiration and microscopic saliva droplets. 

Gyms were identified as transmission sites long before we went into lockdown. But by then, I had already been using the sanitiser provided to wipe down equipment (pre and post), making a note to opt out of using anything that had visible sweat residue on it. Additionally, I would put my towel on top of sit-down equipment before a workout.

And like Miranda Bailey, a character on the TV series Grey's Anatomy, while manoeuvring through the humdrum of my pre-lockdown days, I would just grab some hand sanitiser after no particular activity at all - maintenance.  

But, there is one activity for which I absolutely have to use my hands - shopping for clothing. When shopping, I see with my hands but now I can no longer see so lucidly until this pesky virus is contained. This light has been dimmed. 

It is not only of paramount importance that I try the clothes on before making a purchase, but feeling the fabric of each item, taking the hanger off the rail so the garment twirls at the command of my wrist to get a full close-up picture is the exercise that informs whether I like something or not. 

I've been to two clothing stores during the lockdown on two separate occasions (one for each store), and the experience felt like seeing an old friend but realising we no longer have anything in common - a feeling of estrangement.

The anxiety of touch was heightened and after instinctively caressing the hem of a dress, I would mutter "oh s**t" behind my mask, despite research on how long the virus survives on clothing being inconclusive.

I ended up buying something at both stores without trying anything on because that's not permitted and even if it was, I wouldn't have tried anything on. At home, I let them air dry in the sun and eventually wore them once the sun had kissed them to her satisfaction. 

READ MORE | Wash. Rinse. Repeat: How – and why – you should clean your mask after each use, according to experts

Did someone say kisses? Ah, human touch - a myth, a tale, and one of the lockdown's unicorns for those of us riding solo. While the embraces of friends and family would be sweet right now, I'm actually not too hard done by this. The last thing I want to do is touch people at a point when I can barely use a pen to sign for my deliveries because that means touching something someone else has touched. My words are warmer than my arms anyway, so I'll keep using those to keep the fire burning in my relationships. But if you have a crush on me and you're reading this, I'm still single, so do get in touch. 

In terms of smell, there are scents that are out of reach now. On Level 5, it was the smell of a coffee shop and even now, under an eased lockdown, many more olfactory journeys still remain unexplored, such as the waft of cinema popcorn buoyant in the air at a mall; the collective floral showers of colleagues' fragrances in a room; the savoury aroma of cholesterol searing in the canteen kitchen at the office; and bus fumes emitted in the morning air, creeping through my car window on my way to work, while Ami Faku loudly reassures me that "into ingawe" through my speakers - a corporate groover's morning prayer. 

READ MORE | Searching for a 'scents' of normality: Why you might find comfort in florals and fragrance right now  

My ears miss hearing laughter - in real time, not over the phone - that isn't just my own or from the script of a movie/series I'm watching. I miss the determined clacking of my smart shoes and heels as I walk down corridors and attend events where I enjoy the tingle of bubbly on my tongue as ambient music fills the room.  

Now festivities are virtual. But seeing people on screens rather than outside, will never adequately make up for the energy of real-life human interaction where you can decide whether you like someone's energy or not.

It would also be pleasant to see the curvature of a smile slowly exposing a row of teeth - no matter how crooked - rather than the mere assumption that someone is smiling behind their mask because you see the apples of their cheeks raised a little and their eyes smaller for a brief moment. 

I miss the taste of restaurant food inside a restaurant. And that's all I'll say on that because even though dining places are open for business, my aversion to touching public surfaces - especially in the midst of a pandemic - will keep me behind my stove, in front of my microwave and more importantly, inside my fridge-like apartment. 

I miss things, but I still wouldn't trade the peace of living alone for anything.

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