We disembark from the plane, the warnings of Australia’s biosecurity rules echoing solemnly in my ears. The school-matronly customs official chastises me for pulling my mask back over my face before she is done scrutinizing my passport.
The officials welcoming us to Australia casually mill about, more or less ignoring us. We use this to our advantage, avoiding eye contact and potential questions about the location of Equatorial Guinea. No one asks to see our COVID vaccination card or negative PCR certificate.
We step out of the terminal, immediately engulfed by a thick blanket of humidity. I can barely swallow as I pull my mask back under my chin and open my mouth to take a breath. The air is thicker than EG. Across the wet footpath we haul our baggage, Birkenstocks slipping up and down as we navigate the inclines.
Finally we spot the lit-up name of the crappy airport hotel at the top of a high-rise apartment block; the only hotel which is currently open. The restaurant-bar at the bottom is lively, groups sat outside on wooden benches, surrounded by glasses of golden shimmering beer.
There’s a queue at check-in, some just arriving, others returning to ask inane questions. A man looking for toothpaste is gently reminded by the young receptionist that he needs to wear his mask.
The smell of my own musty breath circulates behind my surgical mask, now worn for over 7 hours.
Our hotel room is modern; small, basic clean. Superior to the shithole we were assigned to for hotel quarantine in Perth last year.
It’s warm inside, the air conditioning is one of those that doesn’t switch on unless you leave the plastic card in the power slot. I gaze out the window, headlights moving systematically through the roundabout beyond the dark exterior.
I wake a little after 6.30am, startled by the strip of full daylight entering the room below the block-out blind. We’ve woken well before the 8am emergency alarm.
I fill the small silver kettle in the bathroom sink, doing my best not to lose too much liquid as I manoeuvre it from the shallow sink. They’ve left us a little carton of Paul’s UHT milk in the fridge – more than enough for a morning cup of tea. I empty the sachet of Nescafe Blend 43 into the generic white mug and wait for the kettle to boil.
Michael’s parents have just arrived at the hotel reception when we step out of the elevator, fresh black masks covering our faces, my hair still wet from the shower.
The drive along the highway back to their home some two hours away is relaxed, the otherwise blue sky streaked with clouds like pieces of cottonwool, hazy hills peeping up along the left-hand-side of the road.
We sit out on the back patio drinking milky tea. I tuck my pale legs under myself, watchful for daytime mosquitoes and midges. The wind-chimes tinkle in the breeze harmonizing with the sounds of the miner birds.
Our conversation topics drift easily in different directions; getting lost driving in the centre of Prague during a family vacation, Welsh corgis and Australian reality TV.