A frigid sun, not bright, lights this scene. A car park, rarely so busy at this time of day, is crammed with shoppers on errands of desperation, pattering busily to and fro carrying bags stuffed to the gills with toilet rolls, tinned foods, more toilet rolls…
Tomorrow is lock-down day (again). Another month of incarceration by the organs of the Nanny State. Although enforcement of any kind, left in the hands of the local constabulary, seems unlikely. Envisaging our beloved but utterly work-shy County Force in a role best delineated by George Orwell in ‘1984’ requires a stretch of anyone’s imagination: nonetheless guilt nips at my self-confidence, reminding me I should not be in this place, that my presence here is forbidden – if I am caught…
I glance about me, trying not to think how furtive I must look. I have parked my car between lines as my OCD demands, and now I must give the signal we arranged, but dare I? Suppose my contact is late…suppose this is A TRAP! Hunched low in my anxiety to avoid recognition I hit the horn. The building is close by, its windows darkly shuttered, its bland brick faces staring back at me. It gives no sign of recognition in reply.
I blast the horn again. Every head turns. A bumper pack of toilet rolls falls to the floor. All eyes are focussed on me, and my little white car. The woman who has dropped the economy twelve-pack pins me with a glare of annoyance over the shawl collar of her blaze red cardigan as she wrestles it back into her carrier bag, but still the building remains, silent and inscrutable.
There is nothing else for it. Disguised and cowled by hoodie and mask I leave the shelter of my car to head towards the only interruption in that unforgiving wall. A small door: a plain door – a very closed door.
I knock. I pound my fists upon the panels.
The door opens. Thank god it opens!
A face appears, a man’s face, masked. The eyes above the mask glance quickly to the left, to the right.
He mutters, “Come in!”
Inside, the surgery looks much the same as it always has; the same consulting rooms, re-tooled perhaps for COVID victims such as I. My doctor, too, would look the same if there was any feature of him I could see apart from those eyes. In scrubs, with a cap to cover his head, he is almost a stranger. To meet demands set in train by events of recent days, I must be tested for an urgently-required prescription and the only way to keep an appointment with him, given my sentence of self-isolation, involves masks and emergency doors after the fashion of a 1970s narcotics deal. The surgery may be a clean, modern building, but in the face of a pandemic it has a new, more sinister face.
“I said come alone. You got the cash?”
“Yeah – you got the stuff?”
“Show me the cash!”
The meet is concluded quickly, the deal done. I return to my car more confidently, glad the moment is past. I drive home. As I pull onto my drive, my neighbour’s curtain twitches. One of the most damaging side-effects of lock-down is mistrust. Mistrust is everywhere now.
Whereas isolation is of no consequence to me, the forfeit of trust is harder to bear. I can imagine there are those for whom it will remain engraved upon their souls forever.
Thank you to everyone who has sent me their good wishes since my diagnosis for COVID. I am pleased to say that with two days of self-isolation remaining I am still completely asymptomatic. Of this, more to follow...