The feeling of loneliness might be straightforward for some, but it can also be paradoxical. The pandemic and social distancing has kept a lot of people confined to their homes. Some find themselves literally alone while others are crowded in tiny flats with their parents, siblings, children, partners, and pets. Those are the people you have been living with for years or even decades. You thought you knew them well but what the pandemic revealed is quite the opposite—you are actually strangers at home. You then come to the epiphany that you live together with them, but you might have lost track of who they have become. And likewise, they seem to have no way in understanding you as an individual anymore. This is the time when you find yourselves locked in a paradoxical moment—crowded but lonely.
To some, all those sadly boil down to the question of whether to stay or not to stay, to go or not. People look at their past and ask themselves: is this the life I envisioned 10 years ago? What have I done? Why am I doing this? What’s next? For years, this is the first time to we are given space to reflect upon these fundamental questions of life. The lucky ones might find an answer and make a life-changing decision. But to some, it turns into a classic showcase of Hamlet’s indecisiveness. This is precisely what the late Zimbabwean writer, Dambudzo Marechera, captures in his poem, “The Footnote to Hamlet” (published in Mindblast ). Marechera’s works are brilliant at portraying intriguing moments in life. The poem shared here echoes Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the psyche of the Prince of Denmark. The line with most striking similarity to today’s world is perhaps “I read all day, walk all night. I have / No end but this; no resources but book.” Indeed, in these trying times, we seem to have nothing but books and reading (and, for some people, writing). Although these are unprecedented difficult times financially and psychologically, this could be one of the rare chances for you to look into yourselves—what do you want and who do you want to become? The persona in Marechera’s poem seems to embrace his indecisiveness and falls into an endless loop of negotiating with his or herself. However, as the persona puts in the very last line, when you become an expert in vacillation, you have every opportunity before you. This, in a way, echoes some of our lives under the pandemic.
Marechera, Dambudzo. Mindblast, or, The Definitive Buddy. Harare: College Press, 1984.
Emily Chow-Quesada is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature. Before joining Hong Kong Baptist University, she was a postdoctoral fellow of African Studies at the University of Hong Kong and an Assistant Professor of Faculty Arts and Humanities at Community College of City University (University of Wollongong College Hong Kong). Her research focuses on the representations of Africa in Hong Kong, and world and postcolonial Anglophone literature. She has published journal articles and book chapters on Anglophone African literature and taught courses in world literature, postcolonial literature, African literature, and representations of blackness. Her current project examines the representations of blackness in Hong Kong media. She is also the editor of the “Hong Kong and Chinese Literature and Culture” section of Hong Kong Review of Books.