• "I was warned not to do it." (Digital Vision)Source: Digital Vision
I first saw him in a time just before social distancing. Now our new relationship is being put to the test.
By
Elliot Aird

30 Apr 2020 - 9:58 AM  UPDATED 30 Apr 2020 - 11:08 AM

I’m nearing Nhill, a freight route disguised as a town, on the road between Adelaide and Melbourne. H and I decided this morning to drive halfway to see each other before the border between our states shut. So I rushed to book one of the town’s three remaining hotel rooms.

I was warned not to do it. First by my manager, who told me through tears she thought it wasn’t safe. Then by my friends, who reminded me it was against the law. But racing to see him before police are posted to border checkpoints seems better than not seeing him at all.

At midnight I finally drive my car over crunchy gravel to the park behind the grubby red-brick building. He appears on the balcony, framed by the amber light bleeding from the doorway. I weave through parked utes and bumper-stickered campervans to the verandah. There he is.

It seems like months ago that H and I met, but in four weeks we’ve become friends and lovers. And outlaws.

It seems like months ago that H and I met, but in four weeks we’ve become friends and lovers. And outlaws.

I first saw him in a time just before social distancing. He was handsome and friendly and uncertain - as though he was breaking a restriction by standing on this public footpath. We slouched close together at a high table in a Chippendale cafe and coaxed our bodies to good health with fresh juices and strong coffees.

We did our best to chat through the haze of our hangovers. We spoke about our nights, our jobs, our break-ups and our futures. We laughed a lot. Later, H and I half-heartedly throbbed to music at a Sydney club. We spent the whole night together, on the cramped dance floor and then in my hotel room. I feel you right here, I say, with my palm to my heart. Oh God. This is very weird, he responds.

The next morning we walked to the finger wharves. We walked more, up worn sandstone steps to a green hill overlooking the Opera House. Its forecourt was packed with people gazing at the sails in the sky. We laid on the grass holding each other, wondering how we would navigate the border - before we even knew it might shut. We tried to see each other between then and now, but every flight was cancelled as the nation’s arteries slowly shut down.

I’ve brought real champagne, he says in our hotel room. When I pop the cork, it catapults into the wall and roof. We sit cross-legged on the edge of the bed, glasses in hand. The garish maroon satin sheets probably haven’t been washed since the last lovers laid here - but we don’t care.

We have about 12 hours together, so we drink and eat and play. But mostly we just lie together.

We have about 12 hours together, so we drink and eat and play. But mostly we just lie together. We joke about our state governments allowing us to cross the border for compassionate reasons, but we know it’s essential travel in our eyes alone. Six months seems like an excruciating wait but we have no choice but to settle for FaceTime until then.

It’s time to leave, the hotel owner knocks at our door. The border won’t shut for another few hours at least, but it feels like the clock is already against us. We scramble to grab our things and when we emerge from the room she stares curiously. I’m paranoid she knows we’re pushing the boundaries of the burgeoning restrictions.

We drive our cars to the main street. It’s crowded with empty shop fronts and pubs left dark by government decree.

We scoff meat pies and milky coffees from the bakery. A shop owner asks us to freshen our hands with a squirt of sticky soap because sanitiser is scarce.

At the pink salt lake on the outskirts of town, I ask H about his plans once the border reopens.

Let’s just get through these six months first, he says. I can’t help but feel disappointed but share my plans anyway - because they now include him.

Let’s just get through these six months first, he says. I can’t help but feel disappointed but share my plans anyway - because they now include him.

We drive back to town. Anxiety niggles in my gut as I picture the border shutting before I reach it. We sit in his car, parked in the main street, squeezing each other. I desperately hold onto my tears until I’m on the highway home.

H says he wants to walk me to my car. It’s parked right alongside his, but we get out anyway to hold each other tight one last time. See you on the other side, he says.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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