It’s been a while since I returned to my hometown. The (my) world was rapidly changing, so I decided to seek shelter back home and figure my life out. I thought I’d be safe in my small town, wrapped in monotony, but the global crisis crept in it too.
My hometown was an industrial settlement during the communist era, which has become a ruined small town after the regime’s fall. It has a population of 35.000, primarily old; many former residents have moved to other cities or have emigrated. It’s the type of town you can cross in 30 minutes on foot, so it’s rather obvious there aren’t many opportunities or distractions around here.
While it’s good to be among family, the lack of novelty turned into boredom and apathy pretty quickly. Although nothing has changed, and I now walk the same streets as I did in my childhood, I don’t feel at ease. This dusty small town isn’t mine anymore. It belongs to those who have lived, worked, and loved in it, to the new generations of kids, to the ones who found their peace here.
The pandemic had no mercy on this small town.
The first COVID-19 case in my hometown appeared precisely one year ago; soon after, the country entered in total lockdown for two months. People made stocks of toiled paper and anything they thought might be useful. The fear of the unknown determined many to take precautions and respect the safety measures.
Now, even though the third wave is upon us and more people die with each passing day, the people in this small town seem to have forgotten about the danger. Nobody wears masks anymore, not even the police. I often feel like an alien among them when I’m going out because I always have a mask on, and I keep the sanitizer in my bag.
I foolishly thought that the small town would provide shelter from the pandemic and the chaos, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. The virus found its way here too, and it was merciless. COVID-19 death statistics turn into names when you live in a small community; everybody knows somebody who has succumbed to the illness. Yet, people still hold parties and ignore the restrictions.
Life in a small town can change from boring to terrifying in a blink of an eye. ‘Murder!’ we all cried.
What started as a typical day turned into a tragedy. Roughly ten minutes away from my home, two innocent people were held hostages in an apartment by a 68-year-old man. Police and special task forces crammed into town, but to no avail. After five hours, the criminal lost his patience, attacked the men with a knife, and killed them. Sirens tore into the evening stillness; it was too late.
Suddenly, my hometown was all over the news. Reporters, officials, specialists debated the situation, pointing their fingers at each other without taking any practical measures.
Two weeks have passed since the incident. The murderer is still hospitalized. Hundreds of locals attended the funerals of his victims to pay their respects.
I am still in shock. Terrible events such as this never happened here, in this sleepy small town – until now. Even though I didn’t personally know the two men, their fate chills me to the bone. They left their families that morning, went to work, but they never got back home. How could have that awful event been prevented?
What’s even more baffling is that nothing has changed. Some officials lost their jobs, and that was all. Police officers don’ receive training to manage such situations, lack resources, or simply don’t care enough to make an effort. Those two men are in the ground now. Today I went past the apartment building where they died. It’s like nothing has happened at all. How many will have to perish before something changes? Two families mourn, but the world goes on, unsympathetic. The small town is back to its gossiping, pointless routine.
I don’t know which makes more victims these days: indifference or the Coronavirus?
Far from being an idyllic retreat, living in a small town is often dull, claustrophobic, and sometimes shocking. But I feel like a lot of people feel the same recently, regardless of where they live. The world has changed tremendously, and we must learn and adapt to its new rules.