A Covid-19 Chronicle – by Judith Pearson

Primrose Hill Short Story Entry

Who’d believe it? I just read this witticism on the internet:
“Jewish Irony: Passover cancelled because of a plague.”
Made me laugh and wondered if I should mark my door – even though I’m an atheist!

But it’s not funny, living alone, in the vulnerable category – 70+ with no relatives or support – makes it even scarier. It’s Monday and I have to go out and get groceries because I can’t get a home delivery from any supermarket. I’m not happy. Really scared. Wish supermarkets would up their game and check who really needs help rather than the selfish panic buyers who need 200 toilet rolls a week.

I return with only half of what I need because they’ve been in there too. Groaning, overloaded trolleys acting as tanks up and down the aisles, taking no prisoners. Very intimidating. I’m glad to be home where I find a note’s been put through my door from a local help group. I check them out. You never know whether it’s a scam. There’s a name, Alan, an address and phone number so, swallowing my pride, I give him a ring. We chat, he says he’ll call me weekly and if I need any shopping just to let him know. He says put me on their list so if he gets struck down, someone else can take over. I feel reassured.

Tuesday. The Council housing officer rings me to check I’m ok. They must have a list of us aged folk. He says they’re doing an initiative with AgeUK. Food door drops. I tell him I’m ok for food (I’ve just been to the supermarket) but he wants to put me on the database just in case. Two back-ups in two days – I feel much happier and safer.

About an hour later there’s a knock on my door. I can see a carrier bag through the glass panel. I open the door and there, two metres away, is a young man dressed in a white jumpsuit, masked, goggled and a 4 litre carton of milk in one hand. I try not to laugh. He explains where he’s from – AgeUK – and leaves the food. It would be churlish to refuse but what am I going to do with 4 litres of milk? I check the carrier and the box, even more perishables I won’t use. Eggs – yuk. Huge sliced white loaf. It’s not that I’m not grateful, I just won’t use it and I can’t waste it! But the sugar will be useful – I’m running out – supermarket shelf empty.

So what to do? Take it to a food bank? I check on google, all closed until Thursday. Then I remember there’s a Salvation Army hub just down the road. Perhaps they could use it? I ring but it’s answerphone. Seconds later a man returns my call. He’s from the Sally Army and is sorry he couldn’t turn off the answer phone in time. I tell him my dilemma and ask if they will they take perishables?

“Anything” he says, “we’ll take anything. I can collect.”

“No need” I say, “I’m five minutes away. I’ll bring it”

I add more items that I know I won’t use – a big box of milk chocolates, kids sweeties – Haribo – who knows where they came from. Twix and Bounty bars (was it panic buying?). Shortbread biscuits and crisps (or them?) All packed up and I’m off down the road – like a rocket. It’s like I think they’ll perish if I don’t get them there immediately.

I arrive at the entrance and ring the bell. He told me I’d have to ring the bell as they’re closed to the public. A uniformed man appears from a side room and opens the door. I go in and put the goodies on a table. We stand at least 10 feet apart and I tell him about the AgeUK initiative. It’s not that I’m ungrateful but… He thanks me for the donation and information as it’s useful for them to know who’s doing what. Communication between organisations can sometimes be a bit thin in trying times. I tell him if it happens again they’ll get anything I can’t use.

As I turn to leave he asks me if I believe in prayer? Prayer? Me? But I don’t say anything. There’s a short, awkward silence. He continues.

“I was just about to go to Morrisons. Just before you rang I’d taken a call from a desperate mother – divorced, three children, benefits not paid and she can’t feed them. This will keep them going for a few days. I can’t tell you what a difference it will make.”

I could feel my eyes filling up. I swallowed hard as I tried to push the tears back in. I didn’t know what to say. So in my usual flippant way I said:

“Does that mean I’ve earned my wings?”

We laughed and said our goodbyes. As I walked back home, feeling pleased I added the sweets, biscuits and chocolate. Treats for those kids. I know what it feels like to have nothing. The tears started welling up in my eyes again but this time I didn’t try to push them back in, I just let them roll down my cheeks.

This lockdown’s tough.

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