That time I had to come back home

In front of me, in the line leading to the customs, an elderly woman is crying. I would like to hug her, put a hand on her shoulder and tell her that it will be fine. But I can’t. We are now living in a world of social distancing.

The airport speakers broadcast a recorded message every three minutes reminding the instructions that everyone should be following. The monotonous voice tirelessly repeats, in Danish and then in English, that you have to wash your hands often. Cough in your elbow. Refuse handshakes and kisses. Keep your distance from other people.

I haven’t slept much in the past few days. I’m having trouble understanding how, in just four days, the whole planet seems to have stopped spinning. Copenhagen Airport, through which I have traveled dozens of times in the past few years, now looks eerie. The few passengers going through the airport avoid the duty-free shops and walk around whispering quietly. The heavy silence is broken only by the tireless speakers of the airport, and the sobs of the woman in front of me.

The queue for the customs is getting longer, the wait seems to be forever. My anxiety is increasing. Going through the border is the only thing that separates me from my plane. This plane will be the last to make the Denmark-Canada connection for several weeks.

On the other side of the customs, the queue in the opposite direction is even longer. More than a hundred Danes wait patiently, passport in hand, still looking a little startled. Two days ago, their Prime Minister asked them to return as soon as possible. The country closed its borders and announced the gradual halt of flights. The message to the Danes was clear: it’s time to come back home.

Danish citizens are now the only ones who have the right to cross the border. Foreigners like me must leave.

Like the woman in front of me, I want to cry. I have always considered Denmark as my second home. My best friend and her family always welcome me there with open arms. In the past few days, my heart has been vibrating at the same rate as thousands of Danes who have seen the number of Covid-19 cases increase exponentially. I arrived in a country relatively spared from the crisis, but in just a few hours, the pace of daily life was turned upside down. Like everywhere else on the planet.

I’m lucky if I think about it. When Denmark announced the closure of its borders, my friend and I immediately worked out a plan in case I got stuck in Copenhagen for several weeks. She offered me a place to stay, a bed to sleep in, books to read. I wouldn’t have been completely caught off guard.

But in the anxious hours that followed the Danish government’s announcement, my phone kept vibrating under the number of messages from my family, my partner and my friends, all telling me the same thing.

It’s time to come back home.

The tourists left Nyhavn

Spring is starting to be lovely in Copenhagen. In other circumstances, I would have wandered around the Rosenborg gardens or climbed to the top of the Rundetaarn tower, which I have not done in the past ten years. But the tourist spots closed the day of my arrival in Denmark, and the cafes and restaurants are gradually shutting down. It’s time to stay at home. It’s time to go back home.

In the departure hall at the airport, I said goodbye to my friend with a heavy heart. We’ve said goodbye to each other hundreds of times in hundreds of different cities around the world, but this time is different. The world in which we got up this morning has changed. It is difficult to promise to meet again when the future suddenly looks so uncertain. So strange.

After what seems like an endless wait, I finally arrive in front of the customs officer and hand her my passport. She stares at me, asks me where I’ve been. She carefully flips through my passport, looking for the stamp indicating my date of entry into the European Union. Two weeks ago. An eternity ago. After what seems like a long time, she hands me my passport. I can head to my plane and go home.

Behind me, the borders of a country that is no longer accessible to me. A country that I have always considered home. But I have to go back home. And say goodbye, for now, to my second home.

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