As we here in the UK kick off our second indefinite term of social deprivation, I send my thoughts to the innocents cruelly imprisoned in their empty homes.
I met a dear old lady, out like everyone else to mark the last day of “non-essential” businesses being open. She sat next to us in the pub, with her glass of water, perusing the menu and looking around with big glossy eyes. She caught my eye and smiled. “That’s it then, our last night out,” she said.
“Yeah, it’s madness. Just as perfect pub season is coming up. Mulled wine, fireplaces, cozy warm chit chat, and it’s gone just like that,” I said forlornly with a snap of the fingers.
“I love eating out,” she added innocently. “It’s getting too cold to do gardening. Then again, I’m getting too old to do gardening. I’m eighty-three.”
I looked at her button face with glowing skin and barely a wrinkle. She had nice shiny white teeth as well. “You have incredible skin for eighty-three,” I remarked. I had made some very sad faces when she mentioned the gardening. “It’s so unfair. What are you going to do? Just watch TV and get more worried…”
“I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do. Not sure if I can’t knock on my neighbour’s doors or anything like that. I lost my husband ten years ago, you see.”
My heart almost fell to my feet. This is truly perverse. How can they do this in the name of “protecting” poor innocent folks? They are hurting them, instead, with the well-known torture technique of forced isolation. Blaring slogans from the loud TV, which the elderly use as a last resort to share the room with another human – though I would not go so far as to call those presenters human.
“It’s insane. Really. I suppose they’ll want our souls next,” I said to a lovely eruption of giggling from this sweet, upbeat old lady. “What was your profession back in the day?”
“I used to work at the bank just down the road. It’s a Marks and Spencers now. I met my husband there, and I haven’t set foot in there since he died. Too many memories, you know.”
I nodded and sat back. This explained her well-kept appearance. A retired banker, she had served the system for so many years, and now she was nothing more than a political tool. If she died of a nasty fall, or of despair itself, they could still pride themselves on averting another covid disaster, keeping those trendy numbers low.
“It’s so unfair. You shouldn’t have to go through this.” I tried to get the attention of the waiter, who had belatedly given her a menu and gone off to deal with the younger folks with more energy to complain if they were not seen to promptly enough. Our lovely lady had now been waiting for a good ten minutes to place her order, clearly forgotten in the haze of imminent close-down and agitated punters.
“What was your name, by the way?” we asked before leaving, after she had placed her order.
“I’m Molly. It’s so lovely to talk to some young people, makes one feel relevant again.”
Our throats tightened for the lonely Molly who smiled to herself as we left, glowing in the afterlight of genuine human contact. And in my mind’s eye I see the horrendous billboards of digital-age propaganda which try to shame the elderly into giving the Internet a try. “Catch up with your family online!” they spout inanely, pushing the technophobes to swallow their pride and get with the times. The times, of course, being as hostile to primal human interaction as ever seen in history. Worse than any war, which to the contrary was known to bring people together, budding steamy liaisons, epic friendships, and creating new communities between people all sharing the same experience.
Now, we “share the same experience” through video calls which pixellate our loved ones’ faces and make their voice crack, sometimes spookily. We relate to whatever influencer makes the front page with synthetic words of sympathetic support to the masses. Messages of confusion and fear drilled into our heads through the slimy TV set, warning us that there is no danger more deadly than our fellow, germ-bearing men and women.
Sadly, they also bear the antidote to our moments of despair and our submission to invisible powers who inflict all this upon us. “Divide and conquer”, a cliché that used to apply to geographical regions, now tears apart those who inhabit the same street. No matter how strong your will, being left to simmer in your dissent makes you a far less dangerous element than if you had some friends to potentially bolster your mistrust of the system. No social bonds, no uprising.
Shouting on the Internet won’t help, you are still alone and virtually howling into an empty cube (isn’t that right, Jen?). And although the cube doesn’t really exist, somehow your screams hit the walls and bounce back at you with excessive force, amplifying your doubts and fears but never assuaging them like a good old pub chat might have.