There is no way to deny that COVID-19 has taken our lives apart and put them back together in many mysterious ways. The effects of this event have been momentous. We have watched helplessly as this killer has swept our world. We were forced to hide for months – with our family or completely alone. Outside, the empty streets whispered. A single day echoed… and then lockdown was over.
I remember the first time I walked out of lockdown. I hiked up a law near my home. When I reached the summit, I looked out at the bay and world beyond me. This world that had been my prison for so many weeks. It stretched for miles, one side of the bay to the other, lush fields and shy patches of trees. My prison was beautiful. It lived, it breathed, it was free.
Unfortunately, this freedom was short-lived. Nine months later, I returned to my prison. In some ways, it was harder this time. Online class was tighter and you had to attend video calls. Due to it being my National 5 year, I had to put my head down and get the grades. Fortunately, in this lockdown, we had the privilege of being able to see nearby friends. I only had one friend in the area so we would go to the beach almost every day. For the sake of anonymity, we will call him Tom. Tom and I had many similar interests. We both loved films, writing and storytelling. We would spend hours roaming the beach, fields and woods. We would walk for miles. As the lockdown went on, we travelled farther and farther, eventually reaching towns that were 11 kilometres away.
We had a third friend. Who I will call Andy. Andy lived in another town, about 20 kilometres away. This meant that we could not see him for months. However, eventually the lockdown ended and that happy day was here. We took the bus (masked) to meet him. It was great to see Andy again. Despite it being so long, the conversations flowed perfectly – putting our awkward phone calls to shame.
It was some of the most fun I had had in a long time. I desperately missed the group and now that it was back I didn't want it to end. You see, in times like this anything could happen. We could be thrust back into lockdown, get seriously ill or simply fall out of touch. I saw the day as a great opportunity. A simple time when the three of us could just hang out together: no schoolwork, no lockdown, no worries.
I presented the idea that we should walk all the way back to my village. Tom laughed and jokingly agreed. Andy was less enthusiastic. I think they knew I was serious. We walked down to the beach and began. At first, we agreed to just walk to the first town and back. As we walked, however, I realised that I really didn't want to stop. I wanted to keep walking, keep talking. They did not. They turned back, I kept going. Yet, a few seconds later, we both turned to each other, laughing, knowing none of us would split up like this. We began walking to the next village. Continuing the hike.
The next borough was the furthest me and Tom had reached. If we made it to the next village, then we would complete our walk from my house to Andy's, which we had never done before. The thought of this significantly cheered Tom up. Andy, on the other hand, was less optimistic. He was not a huge hiker. Preferring to stay in a relative area. With some coaxing, he was more on board. It was a perfect day. The sun was bright and hopeful. The water was bedazzling, sending rays of blue excitement through us. However, where there is light there is shadow. The weight of COVID-19 loomed on us. We were doing everything the virus had tried to take from us: being with friends, travelling and exploring the outdoors. This thought pushed me on.
The hour hand had significantly spun when we arrived. Though we did not notice it, the seeds of sunset had planted themselves in the sky. It was still a brilliant blue, yet the sky's edges gave away its limited time. Nonetheless we had made it. It felt good. Tom and I had now technically walked 20 kilometres. Worried phone calls from parents waned the victory – all three of us having to answer our phones. Andy asked if we were going back. I looked at Tom and we knew that we were going all the way.
There were only two towns left. A holiday-home populated area that Tom and I usually made it to, and my home. Despite this, it was still the longest part of the journey. As we continued the walk, we excitedly spoke about the prospect of completing it. However, the breaks became more frequent, quiet grumbles slipped out our mouths. It was three hours later when we arrived at the second to last village. We were tired now. The blue sky was flecked with orange, yet nonetheless we pushed on. We dropped onto the beach. Our next obstacle revealed itself. The beach was covered in a very thin layer of seawater. Not enough to wade through or even submerge our feet but enough to splash up and soak us. Tom was the first to move. He started running and we joined him. Three deer running across the open sand. Orange light reflected off the wet sand and lit our faces with gold. A simple moment from another lifetime.
The last hour and a half of our journey was hard. Eventually the sky turned navy, forcing our torches into our hands. On the horizon we could see our distant destination, teasing us. It was just a beach left. A beach Tom and I had walked dozens of times. It started to snow. Looking back, I wonder now why there was snow in spring. It didn't matter to us then. We pushed on, conversation ceasing, replaced by pure determination. I remember the tall grass grazing my calves, fatigue setting in my bones, the icy snow barraging my face. I remember Andy being picked up in town. Leaving Tom outside his home. Walking through my front door. Being greeted by my parents.
Seven hours. That's how long it had taken us. Why did I want to do it? Well, I simply didn't want the day to end. Maybe it took us seven hours. Maybe we were snowed on. Maybe we ran through water. Yet we made it. To many, a seven-hour hike is nothing; to us, it was everything. This virus had snaked throughout our world. It had locked us up. It had taken friends and loved ones from us. But we pushed on. We still had hope. And nothing can take that from us.
for the winning paper by Holly Helbert
for the joint runner-up paper by Eve Campbell