It was the first of February.
We were on the way back from an athletics competition. My first one of the season.
Edging onto the long stretch of the road’s belly, we drove the long way back to town, our stomachs grumbling in their emptiness. Slapping our noses, the smell of the familiar fresh seafood and soup-based dishes demanded to be noticed. My mother and I turned to the local Chinese takeaway. The faulting fridge tripping the electric had left home foodless. As we walked up to the entrance there was shame in my brief hesitation. Freaked out by the eerie emptiness of the once people-packed establishment, my mind flooded to the daily news.
Coronavirus: The China, Wuhan outbreak.
Coronavirus: China’s death rate soars.
Coronavirus: Is it really just China’s problem?
And then, it all clicked. For the first time I saw just how the sound of its name had impacted a particular group of people, in addition to the pain and destruction that it had already caused. The once booming businesses and towns that had invited and served the British people of all faces were now being shunned. The same as other marginalised groups —now settled citizens had been before. But this was a new kind of aversion. Like Covid
D into cells, and empathy had quietly been
dashed to the wayside.
Yet I still remember the kind smile of the man as he passed over our order in a white plastic bag, slipping his work-break chocolate bar in for good measure.
“See you soon,” his voice echoed as we passed through the exit.
We haven’t been back since.
After training each day I would peer through the glass walls, hoping to see the number of customers rise like before. Week by week the restaurant grew dimmer. Conserving electricity to keep the rent afloat, only one side of the establishment remained lit. I would see the man standing still in the same spot. Looking out for non-existent customers. Day after day. Until I didn’t see him anymore. Was it around early March that I stopped peering in? I couldn’t bear to see the sight. Until I wasn’t allowed to look away.
A guy at training’s flatmate had been out with a later confirmed case. His absence soon followed.
“If you continue to progress, you might be able to trail for Nationals,” I remember the coach saying.
On the way to a session, I overheard a man on the tube talking about Covid-19 and how he was going to travel to Kenya. He coughed in my face as I exited the train, his mouth uncovered.
I lost my sense of smell, thinking nothing much of it at the time. The panic hadn’t plagued London yet.
The toilet paper and hand gel hoarding started.
My mother coughed.
My athletic training waned to a stop. Goals now crushed.
Food stockpiling ensued.
It’s Covid chaos now.