Week Ten: Doomsday Outing

Fayes T Kantawala ventured out, not knowing what to expect

Week Ten: Doomsday Outing
I rent a small but bright work space in Brooklyn. Ordinarily the trip there takes about ten minutes on a direct subway, but for obvious reasons I haven’t been there in over two months. Indeed - other than a frenzied visit to gather supplies, cry and lockup back in early March - I haven’t set foot anywhere I can’t walk to in nearly three months. If I’m honest I’ve been dreading the day I’d have to, partly because it would mean a preview of what a post-pandemic day would look like, but mainly because the office building is in same zip code as the highest number of Covid cases in NYC right now, and I don’t have a delusion strong enough to ignore that yet.

But this week my powers of remote delegation ruptured, and I had to go there to go make sure someone wasn’t living in the place. I skipped my workout, spent the morning slithering into my hazmat suit and put on a brave mask to face the day.

Cue dilemma: how do I even get there? It’s an hour’s walk at least, and there is no way - NO WAY - I am about to get on the subway right now. The subway entrances that pepper the city were always grim, but they now look like cursed Hellmouths, gaping wide orifices funneling the unsuspecting into a subterranean microbiological warscape. I crossed the 14th street entrance last week ago and all I heard was a scream waft out from the tunnels, which, come to think of it, feels like the soundtrack to public transport here anyway. So I called the cheapest Uber I could, find which was already 50% more expensive than usual, and was relieved that the driver had put a plastic sheet between the front seats and the back, and there were little bottles of disinfectant everywhere.
We stopped at another traffic light, and I glanced at the sidewalk where a set of twins ran ahead of their laughing mother. But a dark presence loomed, and my view of the sun was eclipsed by a cyclist. What happened next unfolded in painfully slow motion

It was weird being in a car again. I felt like an 18th century farmer suddenly reeling at the fast paced invention of trains as we hurtled through the empty streets at midday. I distracted myself by looking out at the sad streets. Shop after shop either shuttered temporarily or, more often than not, simply out of business. You can tell the difference when the signage comes down. We crossed one of the bridges that boasts those TV show opening views of the NYC skyline, and before I knew it, we were in the flat-lands of Brooklyn. At some stage we stopped at a traffic light around a familiar place, and I was deep in some nostalgia when I spotted a friend jogging by the car in his mask.

I texted him, he laughed, we waved and that was enough to brighten my mood. I looked outside at the sunny day and sighed happily at a what I believed was the universes way of hugging me. “It’s fine,” I smiled to myself, “the world will survive!” I sunk back into my seat, less tense and at one with the world. We stopped at another traffic light, and I glanced at the sidewalk where a set of twins ran ahead of their laughing mother. But a dark presence loomed, and my view of the sun was eclipsed by a cyclist. What happened next unfolded in painfully slow motion.

I had barely noticed he was maskless before he put raised his finger to block one of his nostrils and blew out the other. As he did our eyes met, but it was too late.

A large mass of snot shot out, thousands of tiny droplets scattering with it, glittering against the sun like flying diamonds. The snot spattered across the window mere inches from my face, like blood on a wall. It felt like being shot at behind bulletproof glass. I screamed- loudly and fully - and jumped to the other side of the car. The driver saw the spatter, at which point the cyclist took off as the driver cursed him. In his wake I could still see the little aerosol droplets glinting in the air outside, just above the twins.

I was still shock when we came to my destination, and I used the other side of the car to get out. Breathing outside felt dangerous, but I needed to calm myself. As I did, no less than ten people walked into and out of the building, which is when it dawned on me that most of them must live in the area and walk here regularly. Any fiction of the building being derelict and consequently safe evaporated into thin, contaminated air.

I practically flew up the stairs to my office avoiding any surfaces (it’s amazing how many things a heavy pair of boots can open). I barely made it ten minutes before the realization of how different life would be crashed over me. This building wasn’t safe. Simple acts like going to the communal water fountain to drink or even using the toilet were rife with lethal consequences. I had just attempted my regular pre-pandemic routine and there was no part of my day that had not been fundamentally and completely altered.

By the time I made it back on another Uber and closed my apartment door behind me, I was a wreck; exhausted, paranoid and tired. I couldn’t believe only an hour had passed since I first went out. I do not consider myself an alarmist, but I am alarmed. Terrified even, when I realize that even with my socially distant schedule, “opening up” society probably means - at best - a repeat of the day I just went through.