“Ma’am, naa na ko sa gawas.” (Ma’am, I’m outside.)

My phone beeped. My eyes widened. My heart started to pound.

I snatched my strapless bra and clipped it on as quickly as I could. I grabbed my wallet and took a few bills with me. I was about to step out, but I forgot today’s necessities: face mask, face shield, bottle of alcohol with 70-percent solution. I walked to the gate. I grabbed the nearest chair and placed the alcohol on top of it.

I looked shabby in my jammies, hair unkempt but with a soul brimming with glee and excitement. “Kuya, pila ni tanan?” (How much do I have to pay for these?), I asked. After paying, I went back to my room and I did a little happy dance. Then I grabbed my cup of sweet linamnam coffee, sipped a little, and contemplated. Aretha Franklin reminded me to say a little prayer, so I did. I could still taste the silog I had.

This is my daily routine. I’m on Day 8 of home quarantine as of this writing.

Being an ambivert who’s more drawn to introversion, I like being cozy in bed as long as I have something to read and watch. I initially thought home quarantine would be quite easy. I’ve never been so wrong, especially when you live alone without a refrigerator.

It’s a herculean task to be a lady who’s almost 30 with no house of her own and has been renting for a year with no fridge. Before you judge me, tenants in this place are not allowed to install an air conditioner or own a refrigerator, as electric bills will supposedly skyrocket. Also, my place is a bit small; there’s simply no room for a fridge. But I feel safe in this area and the rent is cheap. Only when I get promoted can I move to an apartment and buy the appliances and furniture I’ve always wanted. It is a matter of choice, and my choice at this time is not everyone’s path to Nirvana.

Living alone with no refrigerator means buying not only nonperishable goods, but also enough perishable goods that should be consumed and cooked immediately or they will end up in the trash bin.

I think I want a large cup of cheesecake Okinawa milk tea, 50-percent sugar, with a shot of resilience and a sprinkle of gratitude.

Before the pandemic, my usual dilemma was where I should eat. My typical day as a public teacher consisted of buying coffee and bread at the convenience store or having my breakfast at the school canteen. During lunchtime, my colleagues and I would go to a fast-food chain or our go-to carinderia. If we had extra cash, we’d splurge in our favorite local restaurants. But then, COVID-19 happened.

One of my colleagues went down with the bug, thus we were placed on home quarantine. I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. I agonized over whether I should go home to my parents or stay in my boarding house. I chose the latter. “Magutman ko ani” (I’ll probably starve), I muttered to myself. But with fruits and vegetables and some groceries bought beforehand, I was quite confident I’d survive the two-week ordeal.

My stock of food became fewer and fewer. Some of the uneaten fruits and vegetables started to rot. I had to slice out the nasty part of a mango so I could consume the other edible parts. I also forgot about the lettuce. The foul stench of its dripping juices filled my room and woke me up from my lovely nap. All I had now were noodles, canned goods, and packs of biscuits. I pressed my palms on my cheeks while heaving a sigh. I wasn’t sure how I could survive Day 3. My landlady was nice enough to buy the things I needed, but then I’m not the type who likes to burden people.

I just couldn’t deal with this crippling paranoia, feasting on junk food and eventually getting ill, so I asked my colleagues if food delivery was allowed. It was allowed, I was told, but one had to follow the proper hygiene. I decided to scour Facebook. To quote Toni Gonzaga’s character in “Four Sisters and A Wedding”: “Bigyan ng options! Options! Options! Options!”

If there’s one thing I am grateful for in this pandemic, it is the rise of digital innovation in the food sector in our locality. People weren’t accustomed to food deliveries in this semi-urban municipality. The locals simply loved to dine in and do takeouts, or have their fill of home-cooked meals surrounded by loved ones.

We currently may not have the popular delivery platforms in this humble town, but most online transactions now happen on Facebook. There are also pages and groups dedicated to various entrepreneurs who sell grocery items, street food, items from the wet market, and more. These groups and pages have become the town’s new online marketplace, a win-win situation for both sellers and consumers.

The people behind these delivery services are my unsung heroes. I stay in my room, and one may think I have all the time in my hands. But, as a working individual, preparing a meal is not always on top of my to-do list. The people who supply my needs, and brave the rain and the heat just to bring me my essentials, are my lifelines.

Give them a tip if you have extra money. Be kind and courteous while placing and receiving your orders. Extend more patience if things go the wrong route. Best of all, a warm thank you never fails. 

I think I want a large cup of cheesecake Okinawa milk tea, 50-percent sugar, with a shot of resilience and a sprinkle of gratitude.

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