top of page
  • Cory Howell

Thoughts on Quarantine

Tokyo night spread out above me. Hotel glow, neon sky.

I stood on the empty street and tried to feel the air on my skin.

The smell is distinct every time I arrive--it’s thick, moisture, wood and plastic, forest and concrete. It fades into my senses after only a few days.

It’s the same in Taiwan, China, Thailand. It’s the smell I notice first, the smell I lose before anything else.

I’ve never gone more than a day or two inside. Never spent fourteen days without an open window.


The entire wing of the hotel was for us in quarantine, we weren’t supposed to see other people.

But we all went to the 32nd floor to get our temperature checked every morning, and even though they staggered our times, you saw people in passing.

The elevator stopped two floors above mine, and a young man with glasses, a Gap sweater and plaid pajama bottoms shuffled in. He kept his head down.

“Good morning,” I said.

He turned slowly from the shoulders and blinked at me.

“It--it is morning, isn’t it?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “10:30am.”

He didn’t say anything else.

My window was facing east, and the morning sun would cut through a gap in the buildings and stream through for an hour.

I made it a point to sit in the sun. I told myself it would regulate my mood, help me sleep at night.

On the fourth day a typhoon came, the skies were dark, the rain hit the windows sideways. I still sat in my spot for that same hour.


I just wanted some tea. Hot tea, iced tea, it didn’t matter.

There was a 7-11 on the street below, I stood and watched the people coming and going.

It was too far, I couldn’t see what they were buying. But they had the choice, it was so easy, they could just walk in and buy what they wanted.


The earthquake that woke me that night was the strongest since the one that destroyed the Fukushima reactors.

A 6.1, the Meteorological Agency reported.

I stayed in bed when the alarms started going off, blurring screeches from a sci-fi movie. A robot woman’s voice calmly announced: “Earthquake. Earthquake. Earthquake.”

This high above the ground, locked in my room, I could do nothing.

I thought of you, of the people I’d be leaving behind.

bottom of page