Auckland’s lockdown has finally given me what I always wanted – a licence to pry | Leni Ma’ia’i

Nine weeks into Tāmaki Makaurau’s lockdown, having pushed the limits on baking, introspection and backgammon, I’ve taken to running.

No, not for any of the health benefits – running at my size can’t be healthy; it’s a chance to go snooping. I’ve always enjoyed sticking my nose in other people’s business, but society has repressed these urges. Lockdown, finally, has given me the licence to pry.

Clad in my too-tight shorts I’m one of the city’s many undercover agents, ready to pounce on any and all lockdown infringements.

Today’s jog starts better than I could have ever hoped.

Eight teenage boys drift into view, face masks dangling from handlebars, technicolour vapes are passed around freely, and one freckle-nosed teen sneers across as if to say “what are you going to do about it?”.

Well, kid, you’ll soon find out.

These delinquents are in violation of the city’s level-3, step-one rules. Only two households may share a bubble. Two-metre social distancing should be adhered to. Face coverings should be worn, unless you’re doing yoga.

I note down the youths and carry on.

Grey Lynn park is the first on my hitlist. The jigsaw of rugby fields is the wealthy inner-west suburb’s rumbling stomach, and on a sunny day like today, a guaranteed hotspot for foul play.

Three activewear couples block the entrance, acceptably distanced but scratching each other’s dogs recklessly. Do they know Covid cases are spiking?

I barge past and am a little disappointed by the scene in front of me. Most people, I reluctantly admit, at least appear to be within the rules. Two young lovers sit apart on a grassy bank, a void between them. Lonely neighbours walk in aimless loops. Groups of mates rejoice on separate picnic blankets, after weeks of not seeing each other.

Like me, these rule-abiding citizens are after Covid elimination. Even if the government is no longer on the same page.

But there’s no escaping my trained eyes or ears. I hear the waft of conversation about “catching up at my place later”. Do you mean when we get out of this lockdown in two weeks, a month, longer? Are they in your bubble? No, I don’t think so, Carol.

I add them to my tally and carry along on my lumbering mission up the hill until I’m past the weatherboard villas of the suburbs. I’ve trudged through the eerie city centre and I’m in Grafton Domain, puffed and looking out across the city.

On a clear day from the Domain, the eye can stretch all the way across the Harbour Bridge (which is covered in a suspicious amount of traffic) to the far reaches of Auckland’s northern border. It’s the thin line separating lockdown from freedom, social distancing from hugs, and grandparents from their mokopuna.

Auckland is on an island. We’re two weeks into a brand new Covid-accepting world and the goal-line is no longer so clear.

Just in front of me I can see a sign from lockdown protests last weekend poking its head from beneath the bush, reading “#free2beme”.

Behind it, in stark relief, is the silhouette of Auckland city hospital. Distant forms of doctors and nurses and nurses file in and out in anxious unison. They’re not being run off their feet yet, but they know it’s just a matter of time.

I open my phone to clock the final flouters to the list. An impressive 20 violations in just 8km, their delinquent faces head straight to the ’gram – maybe even the government’s compliance website.

I catch my face looking back at me, sweaty and smug. Shit, I’ve forgotten my mask.

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