It seemed like a regular day. The sky was blue, freckled with clouds and a cool, fresh breeze sharpened the surface of his skin. Cars moved here and there, as they normally did. Really there was nothing that signalled it was different to any other unvarying and ordinary day.
The tightness in his chest was more than usual though. No longer was this merely an internal, personal feeling of despair, built up over a lifetime and trigged by some kind of subconscious, complicated, interwoven circumstances. The world was certainly in a real and very deep panic and this was expressed everywhere there were people. Somewhat perversely, nature itself, the source of the panic was calm and existed in its ever-present state of completeness.
Standing in line at 8.30am in the morning, in the queue for the supermarket doors to open, awkward and uncomfortable glances flew around him. He didn't know quite where to look and glanced down at the trolley or his phone. The air was choked with mixtures of shame, panic and agitation. Only the young children had the capacity to bring some light to the situation, with their bright and innocent voices.
This was something unknown in his lifetime. Sure, some popular holidays brought out the worst in people and absurd greed and irrationality. But one could choose to switch that off to a degree. This time, just getting your hands on some basic necessities was now an unknown, and the hysteria it was inducing meant that there was very really limited supplies available. This was not some fad toy or fancy kind of cosmetic that might have sold out, here he was experiencing the staples being in short or no supply. As such, he felt he had no choice but to take unusual measures to put some bread on the table – like standing in a shopping line for opening on a Sunday morning, as if it was a line for the new model of some stupid phone. He resented himself for it but suspected that others did too – but we were all here.
Even a health emergency was becoming a class issue. You see, the people who could afford to drive from shop to shop picking up limited supplies, could at least amass enough to isolate themselves for a while. But what about the folks on public transport, single mums, the elderly and vulnerable? Anyone who could not get to the shop at the right time lost the chance to access the more affordable staples – if there were any left at all.
He saw a man barefoot, hauling a heavy shopping bag in each hand along the footpath. It made him feel like screaming and his chest tightened more, almost to breaking point. He had to breath to avoid the panic. But he didn't stop the car and offer the man a lift. Why not? Was it fear? Was it not also his responsibility to help out, to do what he could? He wanted to but felt the lull and pull of this society of everyone for themselves. Then he remembered the woman at the counter at the supermarket, looking so stressed and drawn. The endless line of people took away even the most intermittent break. He smiled at her when it was his turn and tried to seem appreciative, but really he was just another customer and quite generally part of this problem she was living through.
He didn't know where all this was going, but it did not seem that there would be an escape from it for some time. It felt that he was at the beginning of a trying time and one that was unparalleled. But somehow, it also seemed that this sense of deep tragedy and catastrophe was embedded in his psyche, perhaps from previous times and generations. The feelings he had had under the surface began to form new meanings.