It was late in the evening when the crescent moon started to peak through the heavy rain clouds, poking its way to illuminate the damp, wet streets, bushes and buildings below it. The deem orange, green and red coloured lights from the nearby airport, which were constantly on throughout the day and night were more luminescent in after the rain. Smaller lights from security vans driving beside the runways shimmered lightly as the wet spray from their tyres caused a coloured mist of deep-red and warm yellow. Usually, the large planes packed with passengers from overseas travelling over would have their lights beaming across the runway and taxiway. Causing a racquet both visually and audio-wise for any overnight passengers trying to sleep in the nearby hotels. Trying to catch the last bits of sleep before having to wake up that was before the global pandemic. All air traffic had been reduced internationally to barely three planes each day arriving. Even the large freight airline companies had reduced their flights in response to possible quarantining restrictions for pilots. It had been a very usual, disruptive and stressful year when the outbreak happened for many returning travellers. Especially for one returning passenger who was still wide awake in the nearby hotel by the airport, one Oliver Maunu, a return traveller placed in hotel-quarantine from his returning trip aboard in Northern Ireland.
Oliver Maunu had been waiting tirelessly for over eight months to return home. His safe warm, comfortable, cosy little farmhouse home where his wife and newborn daughter were waiting eagerly for his safe return. Oliver had flown to Northern Ireland to attend a week-long agricultural conference before the outbreak happened and international borders were closed. After eight long months he was finally able to acquire a charter flight home through one of those three international flights allowed into the country. And now he was on his last night of hotel quarantine, one more sleep before he was able to see his wife and newborn daughter. There was only one problem for Oliver Maunu, he was still awake.
He tossed and turned in his small hotel room, tensing and relaxing his body as he attempted to force it into a sleep. The light pollution from the airport and city came through the open window shades and gave a slight aura to the room. Oliver had managed to remain completely sane during his isolated hotel quarantine stay. For thirteen days he had kept his mind sharp through meditation colouring in books, sudoku, fifteen-minute phone calls to home and local television programming. Oliver had been informed of what being alone within a room for fourteen days could do to someone and he was not going to allow it to happen to him. Oliver peaked open one eye to look towards the alarm clock that sat atop of the bedside table, it read ‘1:00AM’ in bold green light. He puffed in annoyance and rolled over in bed to his other side.
He remained still for a couple of minutes before rolling onto his back and opening his eyes to the ceiling, sighing in frustration. Oliver started to count sheep aloud to himself, hoping what worked for him in years gone by, being a farmer it would most certainly work again to his advantage.
‘One sheep… Two sheep… Three sheep’
But as the number of sheep grew from being a small flock, Oliver started to get confused by the six hundred mark as the number of sheep his head had mentally counted was lost. He scoffed at himself for forgetting what six hundred and something sheep he was at. Peering again at the alarm clock, he sighed at the sight of the large green numbered font reading ‘1:47am’. Oliver didn’t understand why, why was he struggling to fall asleep tonight? He had been able to fall asleep a week prior with ease. Even yesterday he had been able to fall asleep twice during an ‘Antiques Roadshow’ replay during the early afternoon and last night after having a meal of stuffed spuds & creamy pasta salad.
‘Nerves,’ he muttered to himself. ‘It’s just nerves… I need to shake off the nerves.’
Oliver pulled away the sheets and got onto his feet and started to do squats in the room. He was in his pyjama shorts and black ‘Fleetwood Mac’ themed inspired shirt top as he attempted to squat, stretch, rotate, push-up, sit-up, plank and downward dog pose to relaxation and sleep. By the time Oliver had done many push-ups, sit-ups and downward dog poses he had built up quite a sweat. Looking over at the alarm clock to see the time it read in large green numbered font ‘2:09AM’.
‘What? How can it, aww come on!’ He exclaimed louder than he had done in the past two hours.
Oliver’s arms had sweat now running down them mirroring his forehead as the quest to release himself from potential nerves had led him to a short exercise routine. Sighing again to himself in a lower tone, Oliver dragged his feet and head hug over to the bathroom to run a hot shower for himself.
‘Maybe if I have a super-hot, steamy shower, maybe then I’ll fall asleep’.
Undressing himself and folding away his now semi-sweat-wet clothing down, Oliver began to scrub soap all over himself. In between his finger and toes, under his armpits and down his sides he soaped himself until large bubbles floated off him. Grabbing a bottle of shampoo in hand, he gave an almighty squeeze until his knuckles were white, draining every bit of the blue gel from the bottle. The coconut-blueberry scented gel started radiating from Oliver’s hands as he lathered-up his thick curly hair. Apart from the steam that was billowing out of the door, bubbles of soap and shampoo began to flutter around the shower room. He was determined to wash away his nerves and sweat in order to get a goodnight’s rest so he could leave quarantine as soon as possible.
Oliver mid conditioning his hair with ‘shea-butter & vanilla essence’, stopped abruptly to the sound he heard. Peering his head out of the shower for a moment to look only to see nothing but his folded pyjama clothing and towel, returned to treating his hair. As Oliver turned off the shower and reached for his towel, he heard the noise again.
Oliver flinched in shock to the sound. Wrapping the towel around his waist he walked out of the bathroom and inspected his hotel bedroom area to see nothing out of the ordinary. The alarm clock now read in large green numbered font ‘2:21AM’. Scanning the room over again, Oliver started to step slowly back towards the bathroom to complete his drying off when he heard the noise again.
SHREE! SHREE! SHREE!
Oliver ran towards where he believed the sound was originating from, towards the window. Wrapped towel in hand he looked out the window of the hotel and saw a silhouette on a nearby tree branch below. He tried to focus his eyes but the lights from the street mirroring off the damp road and the glare from the lights at the airport made it hard for him to see.
As Oliver studied the silhouette shape on the tree branch, the object took to the sky and began to float upward. Two largely shapes extended outward from the object as it started spiralling upward with hardly any effort. It went out of sight as it shot past Oliver’s window, causing him to take a step backward. He looked around the window to see if it was possible to identify what the flying object was and if it was the source of the loud –
Oliver jumped in fright as a barn owl appeared on his ledge from out of nowhere. Its pale white fluffed, heart-shaped face and black oblique eyes looked straight at Oliver as he picked up the towel he dropped and wrapped it around. He could see the little black speckles under it’s eyes as the barn owl held its gaze at Oliver, unwavering as it stood on the window ledge.
‘Just a barn-owl,’ Oliver said reassuringly to himself. ‘Just a possessed, barn-owl, taking delight in scaring you half to death.’
Oliver walking in reverse back to the bathroom, didn’t release his gaze off the winged creature as it looked into his room. Getting dressed in fresh clothing in the small hallway between the bathroom and the bedroom, the barn-owl never blinked at Oliver. It’s beak would open just a little randomly at him as he continued to prepare himself again to fall asleep.
As Oliver pulled the sheets over himself, he tried not to look directly at the barn-owl. Not wanting to interest the bird into staying on the window ledge as he attempted to fall back asleep. But Oliver could not help but admire it with its long talons and its brown colour latter across its wings. The barn-owl continued to stare straight at Oliver, who could hear a low purring chirrup radiating from the owl.
‘You remind me of an owl back – back on the farm,’ Oliver yawned as he spoke aloud towards the barn-owl. ‘He use to sit on the railing by – by the veranda at dusk… But he didn’t shree as me at all – not at all…’
Oliver’s eyes fluttered close as his head began to roll slightly the pillow.
Oliver awoke with the sun beaming through the window on his face causing him to squint as his eyes adjusted. As he stretched in bed, he looked over towards the alarm clock which now read in large green numbered font '7:00AM'. He had finally fallen asleep, day fourteen was finally upon him and he was able to leave hotel quarantine today.
In under two hours later Oliver Maunu was fully dressed, groomed and walking freely out of hotel quarantine with his luggage bags in tow. His wife was waiting beyond the wired, construction fence holding in her arms their new-born baby girl. Removing his medical mask away as he approached them, Oliver embraced his family once more. As they looked deep into each other's eyes, the faint sounds of a purring chirrup echoed from above...
About the author
When life gives you lemonade, make lemons. Life will be like, "Whaat?"
Never doubt your knowledge or ability to anyone, your gifts and talents might be the key to their success, and so would theirs to you
Australian Writer / Aviation Lover