Oh 2020, how did we get here? You were supposed to be the start of the new decade of refreshing possibilities, positive changes and a whole host of things to look forward to. Or so we all thought. If only we knew. Since the COVID-19 outbreak everyone is having to deal with the same unique situation in our own individual ways. For me though it feels like only the beginning.
A week before Christmas 2019, I was prescribed bedrest for a possible pressure sore. Initially I expected to be in bed just a couple weeks but as it turns out, life had other plans and I was only given the all clear to be out of bed in the 2nd week of April this year. So essentially, I had been on lockdown months before “lockdown”. I did have a week here or some days there scattered around that time where I was able to get out of bed for short periods of time. But for most of the last 5 months, I’ve been horizontal. Everyone around me and online kept me updated with the madness going on outside though. Everything from toilet roll shortages to coughing becoming taboo. As far as I knew, I was well aware of what society looked like outside the 4 walls of my room. And then last Thursday, I was given the green light to get out of bed freely as my skin was fully healed.
After the excitement of being able to whizz around the house in my chair again had worn off, I decided to hop in the car and tag along for a fuel run. A rare opportunity to leave the house for the first time in months and see this apocalypse in the streets with my own eyes. Everything seemed fine as we drove out of my neighbourhood. There were fewer cars on the road but not so few that I would have noticed otherwise. I sat in the car at the fuel station as the tank got filled and diesel got paid for so had a few minutes to watch the world go by while I sat waiting. That’s when I noticed the first signs that something was definitely different. The queue to get into Tesco express, mostly made of people paying for fuel, stretched from the doors right along the length of the building for roughly 15 metres… but there were only 6 people in it. The 2 metre gap between everyone was so strictly and subconsciously adhered to by everyone in the queue, but there was no tension in the air, no expressions of anxiety on anyone’s faces. This was clearly the new norm, and I officially started to feel a little uncomfortable. Then I noticed the queue didn’t extend in through the shop but was merely to get into the doors as a staff member stood making sure customers only entered when another would exit. Clearly to control the number of people in the shop and understandably so. I had been told this was now common practice in pretty much every business with face-to-face customer service. And then it occurred to me, he wasn’t a security guard, but someone working in a likely untitled professional role that literally did not exist at the start of the year. And technically someone in most if not every shop across the country now occupied this role to some degree. Standing at the door, making sure only a certain number of customers were in the store at a time, like a very unintimidating bouncer at a very boring nightclub. Again another facet of life that didn’t exist before. Then I looked around me at the cars driving in and out of the parking lot, past the pumps or parked up beside the pumps and thought to myself, it all looked normal but that could not have been further from the truth. Everyone who had driven any of those cars were going to, coming from or at least ending up at their homes where they were basically under house arrest, living under a veil of fear so thin it its existence could be questioned, and underneath it, an air of normality. To most of them, whether this is temporary or permanent, at this point in time it is all perfectly normal, and simply the way things are right now. And I was about to head back home and do the same thing.
It appears the apocalypse I believed I had woken up into did not look anything like I thought it would. No zombies, no people running in the streets away from someone who coughed, no dodgy character on the street corner discreetly trying to sell off bottles of overpriced hand sanitiser. Nothing even remotely chaotic. The apocalypse I had awoken into was one in which people had adjusted and just carried on with their lives, at least on the surface. Regardless of whatever chaos they had or were going through in their lives because of COVID-19, in many places, like this fuel station, life had just continued like normal with only a few subtle changes.