At the beginning of this third week of February in Milan where the increasing numbers of Italian coronavirus infections are updated every hour, my Chinese laundry has closed its doors. Its rolling shutters are at half mast, barring entry.
The sign taped to the door says the employees haven’t been to China nor have they had contact with anyone who has been there recently. Nevertheless, they are staying closed for business until further notice in order to guarantee people’s health and peace of mind.
The newspapers state that 007-virus sleuths are trying to understand how the disease was transmitted. Who is at fault? They want to know. So far, the answers have eluded detection but it seems that Patient 1 is a local.
Meanwhile, inside, the proprietor sits with her back to the window, dressed in a suit, her shiny black hair pulled into a pony tail. She’s always fastidious with her appearance. Today is no exception. I can hear the radio playing Chinese pop music. It’s soothing; soft yet somewhat upbeat, a young voice crooning. The lights are on. She’s at her sewing machine but she isn’t sewing. Her worktable is bare. She’s not hemming jeans, nor fixing a zipper, nor buttonholing a jacket. She’s sitting, listening, staring, thinking, her hands folded in front of her.
I rap on the glass. I have a bag with a sweater in it that needs dry cleaning. She turns, shakes her head, and then goes back to contemplation. It’s as if she’s trying to give the impression of business as usual, but maybe she doesn’t know how business and sewing machines work here in the heart(lessness) of COVID-19 territory any more.