The Saturday night I will never forget.
It was Saturday night, and I was at home alone, getting comfy on my sofa and choosing a movie to watch. A little after 9 pm, I heard the voice of Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Prime Minister, echoing around the courtyard of my apartment building in Madrid. As I listened, I realised his voice was coming from multiple apartments, from tv’s turned up loud while neighbours sat in silence. Something was happening.
Turning on the news, I learned Spain was now in lockdown. It had begun just minutes before, 37 hours earlier than planned. From that moment on, no one was allowed to leave their home for any reason. The only exceptions were buying food, visiting a doctor, collecting medicine, caring for vulnerable people, or performing essential work that couldn’t be done from home. Walking, running, and all other forms of outdoor exercise were banned.
One year later, the memory of that night still brings me to tears.
I didn’t leave my apartment for two weeks after that announcement. And it was almost two months before we were allowed to exercise outside. When we were, we were restricted to specific hours and had to stay within 1km of our home if we were on foot. But the 1km rule didn’t apply if you rode a bike.
Waking before dawn and setting out at first light, I cycled miles on my bike. I watched the sky turn pink and heard the birds sing. I roamed deserted streets and stared up at leafy trees, feeling like I was seeing them for the very first time. I went to familiar places and waved at friends I hadn’t seen in months.
My bike gave me back my freedom after months of being locked indoors with no garden and no outdoor space to feel the sun on my face. It gave me the confidence to venture out, explore new places, and take up space on roads normally clogged by cars. It gave me confidence in my lungs and muscles and showed me I am healthy. I am well. I am not sick. After months of living in a constant state of fear, life became less scary.
One year later, I still ride my bike.
Madrid’s boulevards are once again choked by cars, but the number of cyclists has doubled since the pandemic began. Together we’re creating a mini-revolution in the streets. I feel a strange sense of pride when I reach the crest of a hill, sweating and out of breath. But mostly, I feel free. As long as I have my bike, I can go wherever I like, whenever I want. That sense of freedom is something that will last longer than this pandemic, even if the memory of that Saturday night still haunts me.