Corona Diaries: Toilet Paper Candles

Image © Karini Viranna 2020

by Karini Viranna April 28, 2020

Its Thursday. April 9, 2020. My birthday is in 25 days which Facebook reminds me. Which charity do I want to donate too?I’m newly separated from my husband. Newly, as in a few days before the quasi-lockdown in Berlin. We shared our birthdays together. I used to hate birthdays. I think you hate it when your father never shows up and youre 4, then 8, then 16. But then my husbands was the day after mine. They became fun. This will be my first birthday alone. My dearest friends have already suggested a Zoom call. I am excited for them.

I close the app and turn my attention to my new flatmate. Hes a musician. One that can play in key. So I havent invested in earplugs. We are in the kitchen. Hes preparing porridge with organic walnuts and dates and discussing the hot topic of the past month. TP. We havent had toilet paper for 2 weeks. My flatmate is considering to get what he calls an ass hose.” I’m familiar with it and not enthused. But weve been to the shops around and theres nothing. Not even the scented 4 ply kind that no one in Wedding buys.

I’m considering bartering potatoes with friends for toilet paper – we have too many, to me at least. This is partially a German household after all. I’m sick of potatoes. But the grocery shops have become a dystopian version of Pac-Man. Ive never enjoyed grocery shopping. Nowadays its my only chance to interact with others. Except everyone avoids one another. Slide to the side of the aisle, so that you cant possibly encounter a grumpy expression or smile. Its bleak. So I stay home. And I think about making Kartoffelpuffer with Apfelmus tonight. And I think if my integration class would consider that Ive integrated – mastering the potato in 77 different ways is surely a skill every German knows.

I spend most of mid-morning replying to texts from friends and family. This way of staying in virtual contact has not increased for me. The FaceTime calls, texts to check if youre okay, what youre cooking or wasting time on because thats all you could be doing if youre living away from home, right. But what is home to me? Germany is the third country Ive immigrated too. This is second nature. I spend more time replying to some loved ones and forming some kind of reassuring response to my mother that would keep her chastened for a few days at least. I give her enough info to play the doting mother to her gossipy friends.

Its afternoon when I walk down to the park next to our house. I take my camera but half-heartedly. Watching my neighbours from my fourth-floor window has proven more interesting than being outside. My neighbour across the street washes her windows every third day at 14:00. She removes each potted plant from the window sill, then sprays the glass with what is the eco-friendly brand of glass cleaner. Then she moves the squeegee across, and up and down, then to the corners for a perfect clean. Then she does the inside. She returns the plants to their spots and looks at the window with what I am assuming is a satisfied expression. When I see her, I wonder if this feeling of accomplishment lasts her three days and then she needs a refill. I wonder why Im even wondering this. This thought annoys me. The annoyance annoys me. Lately, I wonder if this is the first sign — I’ve considered checking Google or WebMD several times in the day for signs of going bonkers.

Back to the park. Theres an empty basketball court. A mothers brought her child over to the court with a bag of balls to play. He rides into the court with confidence, jumps off his bicycle, and throws both jacket and reflector vest off immediately. Boah, es ist heiß!” He looks thrilled. This joy on his tiny face relaxes me. She throws him a ball. He attempts to kick or throw it back. He misses repeatedly. This goes on for 20 minutes. They use only a quarter of the court. I sneeze three times while I watch them. Shes eager to leave. I wonder if my sneeze brought this on. She promises

him ice cream at the corner Eis shop which is surprisingly an essentialshop. She tells him she has to go back to work, to Home Office.I am sick of this term. Coronaand Zoom calltoo. I stifle the next two sneezes as they leave.

I climb the four flights of stairs. I consider this my exercise for the day because I am sweating, have a soreness in my ass, and generally didnt enjoy it. When I enter the flat, my flatmate tells me some good news. We have toilet paper!he shouts and shakes the bag of 12 rolls with the fluffy white kittens at me. We do a little dance and sit together in the kitchen. He tells me about all the candle wax he found while cleaning out decades worth of things in his room. He suggests we make new candles with the wax. We find glass jars and he checks YouTube for DIY ideas. We have everything we need except wicks. We need a type of chord or string to make them. We dont have chord or even thick string. We stare at our phones and search for answers as the wax melts from solid into liquid on the stove.

We could use toilet paper for wicks. I just found something online that says it works.

So we use four pieces of our precious TP. We roll each piece of toilet paper into wicks, and we do this with a sense of rebellion. Because theres enough TP for everyone. But still, we need signs at the grocery shops which say one per customer. And why have we waited 2 weeks to even feel the caress of recycled 3 ply on our butt cheeks? Ive yet to see the hoarders in action but theyre there. Hoarding. Hiding.

Its 19:00 in the evening by the time we finish. The candles are cooling in their jars. TP wicks look shoddy. But they produce an epic flame. My cats are unlike Sheer Khan from the Junglebook and do not avoid the flames, but rather swat at the glowing orange light. I take my whiskered children to my room and lay my back onto the bed. My phone is stretched towards the ceiling and I type out my recollection of the day even as the tendons in my forearms ache from the extra phone use.

By 19:11 the lockdown tradition begins, and the musician on the fourth floor starts off the evenings entertainment with a self-written song called Stimmungsschwankungslied” — a song to change your mood. Turn-your-frown-upside-down kinda thing. The guitar solo is quite melodious. I drop my phone next to me and imagine our neighbours sticking their heads out from their windows, as they do whenever he plays. Theres gracious applause and he says he hopes that this song brings a better mood” to the rest of their days. Theres a shout for an encore and some chitter-chatter erupts from open windows to balconies. I wonder if the song has brought any change to my days here. But then, Ive heard it 18 times now. So maybe tomorrow.


Karini Viranna is most likely to be spotted sipping rooibos tea, while unwittingly exposing her film reels to the Sun while swimming with narwhals in the sea. She’s everywhere and nowhere but for now, she’s writing, filmmaking and imagining freely in Berlin.

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