It was only yesterday that I could hear the echo of my feet as I strolled down the street. I woke up this morning to echoes of cheerful “Kalimera”, children’s laughter, and a puzzling influx of traffic from all directions. Heraklion is lively again.
Greece is slowly lifting the lockdown restrictions imposed because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and the new normal is being welcomed with joy by its residents. They have emerged from their homes and are walking the streets with a newfound light in their eyes.
The light is hope, I believe, and I cannot hold back a rebel tear of happiness when seeing it.
The sun shines brighter today, and I feel the elation of the people in the streets with a profound intensity.
“Where are you going?” I ask Esmeralda, the little girl who lives across the street.
“To the playground,” she chirps as she waves goodbye.
The barber opened his shop and welcomed his first customer this morning. Both are wearing masks, but you can surely tell that they’re smiling because their eyes are shining.
“Please, come in,” Stelios Zervakis says, inviting my husband to enter. “We all have to eat,” he jokes.
There are more shoppers than last week at the supermarket as well, but they are all complying with social distancing rules; they line up patiently on the two-meter apart tape marks stuck to the floor. The cashiers and all the staff are wearing masks as well; some shoppers do too.
The energy in the store is palpable and similar to what you experience in the streets today: the greetings are cheerful, louder, and flow like a brisk summer rain shower – with a frantic exuberance.
I don’t know half of the people I meet, but each one of them salutes me with a joyous “Kalimera, ti kaneis!” And “ola kala” just doesn’t do it — because I feel better than fine. For the first time in weeks, I feel free.
“I had people coming in today to buy just a pack of gum,” Maria, the cashier, tells me. “I guess they were just looking for a reason to get out of the house to enjoy this freedom.”
George Bekas is now finally allowed to open his fitness store as well. He doesn’t have any customers yet, but he is sure they will come by closing time today.
“Even if they don’t come,” he says, “I am back to work, and that’s the best I can hope for so far.”
Pharmacies remained open all through the staying at home period, but they too are seeing a boost of activity this first day post-lockdown, as shoppers come in to purchase masks and hand sanitizer.
“Our stock is full,” pharmacy owner Kiki Lagoudi reassures me. She wears a custom-made face mask, saying “It doesn’t hurt to look pretty if I have to hide my lipstick,” she jokes.
I think the mask accentuates the light in her eyes, pretty much the same as it does for Akis, the local baker.
“Things can only get better, from now on,” he says.
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