Finally—for me at least—lockdown is over. When, last week, I wrote—‘My birthday kinda meant the end of the summer holidays’—a transcription of a conversation I had had with my therapist a few days prior, I was being accidentally prophetic. A friend text me on Monday evening. I was in a good mood, having spent a few hours making a wholesome meal for everyone and relaxing in beery bliss; my fingers smelling of garlic, lamb and almonds; looking forward to some chocolate that I kept glancing at in my periphery. ‘You see the e-mail?’ he asked, having forgotten I was on leave. ‘Nah, I’m on leave,’ I told him. He sent me a picture of the e-mail. The night previous I had slept through one of my usual dreams about being on an airplane all fitted out in 1950’s brown and orange. The sky was clear and I flew through it with the people I know. They looked out of the windows and assured me that everything was okay. We landed in an airport that floated on a million tonnes of tarmac in the middle of the air and all around us leapt dolphins; everything was blue and fluffy clouds. I have the dream a lot and in it I am terrified, everyone is trying to calm me down. The e-mail stated that the entire staff was to attend the office once again and that normal working hours were to resume. The subtenants had vacated, so there was ample space for us to abide social distancing. Furloughed workers were to attend a meeting on the Wednesday—when they would also be instructed, willingly or not, to resume working—and absence was only permitted if it had been agreed beforehand with a director. This is just like having to return to school, I thought, and said nothing for the rest of the evening, encased as I was in a dire and gloomy mood.
    These days I see the sun set, and I sparkle at the sight of the evening’s spectrum, until I realise it is the reflection of indoor-light on the window, that the sun set many hours ago; it is no longer the beginning of July. The air is colder now, it has a different smell.
    My parents bought me a Jacob Knight, Sheesham & Mahogany chess set for my birthday. Even as I write that I do not really understand what it means, but it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Each piece is perfectly weighted and handcrafted; I read that on the website. I push the pieces back & forth as though I am making grandmaster moves and I tell those around me—‘So perfectly weighted and handcrafted!’ Every day I sit at the kitchen table playing against the computer—because no one will play me, despite all the encouragement from my mother, and repeated assurances that I am terrible at it—tracing out its moves on the board in front of me; bringing to life, without pause or expression, the actions of a calculated engine. I smell the pieces, hold them underneath my nose. I am playing, working my way through a second pot of coffee, as my parents are sat amongst the decorations my mother hangs for two-year-old niece and thirty-five-year-old son alike, drinking their own coffee and describing, in annual tedium, the events of my birth day; how my mother, new and nervous, had been terrified of shitting herself in front of the handsome doctor until, with prescribed tenderness, he took a pair of scissors to her opening and how terrible the sound of it was. I told them about having to return to work as I went bishop c6. We discussed things, none of which, at that time of the day, in an already fragile state of mind, made me very happy, but, I suppose, had to be discussed regardless. Although for a long time I had wished for things to return to normal, now that I was finally confronted with it, I found myself nervous, uncertain, distinctly disconcerted as my sense of normal had shifted. I was trying to get my head around things. My mother said—‘We like having you here.’ I nodded—‘I like being here. I like being back here. But I can’t stay here forever.’ I took the pawn on e4. I could still play chess against the computer if I were alone in my flat. I could still take the pawn on e4 if I were alone in my flat.
  ‘You’re on holiday. Why do you set your alarm?’ Setting my alarm reminded me of being on furlough, or, perhaps related, it reminded me of long ago. I set my alarm, showered, did my morning exercises, and then sat in the living room with a coffee and read. It was a good light to read in. The sun was on the other side of the house, so the window behind me held a steady amount of brightness that, upon paper, was just right for reading. The room was cool, unheated, and everything was quiet. It was one of my favourite things and, I imagined between paragraphs, that maybe I would remember it forever, until my deathbed. The smallest and simplest of pleasures! I would miss it as I had missed. Maybe one day, when I am rich enough, I will be able to afford a reading chair, and place it on the diagonal of a bay window.

    After I read, I did some chess lessons—which I had treated myself to off the internet—then had a few games over a pot of coffee. I kept an elaborate table of my moves, which the computer determined to be: brilliant, excellent, good, book, inaccuracies, bad, blunders and missed wins. There was something about seeing all those numbers in a long list down a sheet of A4 in blue biro ink. I sat there looking them over, to see if I was improving. ‘You’re obsessed!’ ‘If the rain stops, I’ll go for a walk.’ At secondary school I used to enjoy chess, and went to chess club, until I got bullied there, too, and fled. My mother came to pick me up one afternoon, finding the classroom without me and went looking in the roads around the school; this was before mobile phones. To this day, I find a small amount of pride in being, perhaps, the only kid ever to have been bullied by his chess club fellows, as if it were an esteemed title, an underlined clarification of my place on the social pecking order. Sometimes I play humans who I affectionately label ‘other nerds’—American, Swedish, Indian, Russian, Argentinian, people from all over the globe—and they are so polite and GG’ing, that I am charmed, and do not mind the losses so much. Truthfully, I am no good but I get so upset over losing that I figure if I lose enough then I will get used to it. However, the failures feel worse than the victories feel good. The computer does not gloat when it beats me, but it does tell me afterwards—‘Looks like that game slipped through your fingers.’ I drink the cup of coffee that has grown cold from negligence and say to the computer—‘Yes, that game slipped through my fingers.’ When the rain stops, I will go for a walk. The weather this week has been terrible. My mother tells me of all the times when, amid a splendid summer, my birthdate was overcast with rain. I sit there, looking at the big drops falling, waiting. It will stop soon. Examining the clouds, I try to guess whether they will linger or dissipate. There is a lull and I go for it.
    Now that the lockdown is not everlasting but quite over, I seek to perform a farewell tour. Heavy with nostalgia, as always, I seek to revisit as much of it as I can before I return to full-time work in an office building, many miles from the sea. My absence, from the surrounding neighbourhoods between half-three and half-four, will surely go unnoticed. The small scattering finches that dart from thorny branch to frail bush, and who chirp at me with their bold beaks, will not miss my passing-by. The dirty gulls, dirtier still with grey chicks in their midst, facing the wind and swooping for chips, will not give a damn. The travellers who set up in the field next to the children’s play equipment do not know my name. The old folks who practice tai chi next to the broken-down fences never even raised an eyebrow when I stopped to watch them, smiling like a maniac at their synchronised movements so slow and measured. No, this discipline I have maintained for one-hundred-and-eighty-one days will be forgotten about before it was even registered. Of course, that is a great many days and a great many walks, so in the final week I sought to trace them all again, one last time. They are colder now. The Crayola rainbows in the windows and front porches have faded. It seems like those paths and I have been through so much together. I felt the cold winds of winter’s good-bye and the brave buds that stood against it. I saw the tender stems of spring rise up and elope within the crisp April mornings of blue and newer sun. I witnessed the life cycle of flowers; watched them grow and bloom, watched them shine brightly tender, watched them wilt and fall, watched them rot; watched the bees perform clumsy cunnilingus between the petals and bumble away with a smile on their face; admired the colours that were there for the first time, colours that shone and performed only once like a dance recital. I had walked those routes so many times that I feel as though I observed and overlooked everything like a god, the complete life cycle before me, my own creation, within it but without, immersed and separate.

    The heavy shower did not last long but it did overwhelm the drains. The sky is clear in the distance. Way out over the sea, the sun shines down on the turbines. The wind is cold, and few others are out; only joggers and dedicated dog-walkers. Forgive me, but I prefer when it is quiet. It starts to rain. The drops are tiny and icy, so that on my bare skin, which is losing its tan, there is the sensation of pins & needles. The sand blown from the beach on to the promenade has been ploughed apart into banks and scuffs, and in it are a million imprints of raindrops. The virginity of its sodden mass is disturbed by the soles of my trainers, a rhythmic squish folded into dark waves, the burdened bulge of stormclouds flowing overhead and when they break, I feel the water drip down my face. The promenade is empty. I enjoy the walk.