Thursday 19 March.
A man came out of a London gym, turned a corner and was approached by a second man, who he didn’t know. The second man was in sportswear too, and looked agitated. He said to the first man: “Have you just been in the gym?”
“Yes,” said the first man, wondering when he was going to get asked for spare change.
“What was it like in there?” asked the second man, very intense. “I’m a member. I usually go five, six times a week.”
“A bit quieter than usual.”
“Is it safe?”
“You don’t really know, I suppose.”
“You get old people in there,” said the second man. “They’re the ones that catch it.”
“Well, they’re the ones most often killed by it…”
“You don’t know who’s got it, though, do it?”
“You don’t,” agreed the first man, taking a couple of steps back. “I might have it. You might. We both might have it, we just know it yet.”
“Are you going to the gym tomorrow?” asked the second man, stepping forward.
“Probably not,” said the first man, stepping back again. “I think they’ll probably be shut down soon anyway.”
“By the government.”
“They can’t do that!”
“I think they can.”
The second man thought this over. “Well, thanks, brother. You take care, yeah.”
“You too,” said the first man and hurried off before the second man could offer to shake hands.
Friday 20 March
“Four pounds, fucking four pounds!”
The man was departing a small convenience store. What he’d paid four pounds for was not clear, but he was seething as if he had been mugged.
The shopkeeper shook his head. “People are so rude,” he said to his next customer, a nice woman. “They are becoming quite aggressive. It is not my fault prices are high.”
“Oh, are they high?” the nice woman asked, slightly concerned. She had a full basket and was feeling a bit bad, but she really was quite low on pasta, and you can never have too much bread flour, and the children love brioche.
“We have to put some prices up,” the shopkeeper said. “It is because suppliers have put prices up. They say, if you don’t want it, we sell it to someone else.”
“I see,” the nice woman said. She knew the shopkeeper, a Turkish man, well. She liked him. She said: “You have to think of your business, of course you do.” There were three other people working in the shop: a barista, a shelf-stacker, a cashier. The nice woman liked them too. They all had to be paid.
“I don’t know why they put prices up,” the shopkeeper said. “Maybe ingredients prices go up. Maybe they just greedy. But if I don’t buy, nothing for customers.” He began totting up the woman’s purchases on the till. “We had a lady come in early, she want three bottles of whisky. I say, I can only sell her two. She say, ‘That’s not enough. They’re shutting the pubs. What else is there to do’?”
“Could you hold on just a second?” the nice woman said. “I really should buy some more wine.”
Saturday 21 March
The park was empty of children but still had its usual drunks. The shopping street was quieter than usual. An elderly lady was at the front of a queue for a cashpoint. She was struggling: her card kept popping back at her, but no money would come out. The had felt impatience behind her. Eventually, she gave up and shuffled off. She wore a woolly red cap and a large anorak. She looked completely lost.
A man and a woman approached her. They had had been looking on. “Are you alright?” the woman asked. “Can you manage?”
“Oh, I’m terrible,” the elderly lady said.
“Can we help you?” asked the man.
“Well, if you like.”
There were other cash points round the corner. As they walked, the elderly lady explained. It was the other people behind her, she thought they’d be impatient, everyone worried the cash machines would run out. She must have put her number in wrong. The cashpoint screen kept showing her an advert for roast chicken. “I didn’t want a chicken,” the elderly lady said. “I just wanted to get my money out.”
They walked together to the other cashpoints. The elderly lady explained that she lived on her own in Manor House, but she had moved in with her daughter because of this corona thing. They arrived at the other cashpoints. There was one without a queue, and this time the elderly lady got her PIN number right. She checked her balance. The woman, standing by her, saw that it stood at £47.32. She took out £20. No roast chickens appeared.
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