It started gradually, then happened all at once. Via della Colonna slowly emptied of pedestrians, then cars, then the taxis numbered fewer and fewer. The endless parade of city buses continued, though they too carried fewer and fewer riders, masked citizens whose eyes looked anxious, then worried, then fearful, the bus drivers gripping their steering wheel with a set jaw behind masks and scarves wrapped tight around their necks. Everyone stopped smiling.
The street chatter quieted, then slowed, then also stopped. No more did people pass underneath the arch of the foundling orphanage, speaking loudly into their phones. No more clutches of high school students on their walk to and from school twice a day: in the morning, back and forth for lunch, then home when classes were done, always shouting and shoving. No more parents with toddlers riding in tiny seats on the backs and fronts of bikes, wearing helmets like the tops of colorful eggshells.
The throngs of tourists, students, and residents that usually crowd Piazza Santissima Annunziata dwindled away before they finally disappeared. The piazza is running a photography deficit of at least ten thousand shots per day taken by tourists armed with fancy cameras, or daytrippers angling their phones. Buy a postcard! I always felt like shouting, but I said nothing, held my bark. The university students celebrating their graduation with festive pomp did not return for months. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss their confetti cannons, the pop fizz spray of their celebratory prosecco, the young women teetering about in five-inch stilettos, laughing with their friends, the laurel crown fastened firmly round their head with a red ribbon. The steps of the orphanage and the convent, usually packed on sunny afternoons, remain deserted. Even the beggars under the arches of church were chased home by the carabinieri. No tourists gasp in wonder when they see, for the first time, the ruddy dome rising like a sun at the end of Via dei Servi.
I’m far from the oldest tree in town, but I’ve seen a lot of life during my days. To my relief the birds have returned in droves, all kinds, to populate my branches, keep me company, perhaps a new bird per each person now in hiding. They sing, they build new nests, they flit among the dogwoods and irises in the gardens of the Museo Archeologico; you’ve never seen so many nestled eggs, peaceful and warm in anticipation of a whisper-calm hatching season and a silent summer. And my leaves now unfurling breathe easily, inhaling deeply, in this quiet street. I miss the bustle, but I will confess to you now, this life feels easier for me.