Last Sunday, at about 3:00 pm, my radar starting beeping. My younger sister, who usually was in good spirits during our Sunday call, sounded exasperated over the telephone. When I asked her what was wrong, she paused before responding. “Well Eze, I think I’m really starting to hate all people.”
I burst out laughing at my sister, the canny misanthrope. “What? What do you mean? Why do you hate people?”
“Well, I went to the supermarket this morning,” she said. “Oh, my god! Eze. It was pandemonium in the store. There were people everywhere, running here and there, stocking up on every single thing that they could find. Shopping carts were overflowing with food and the shelves were empty. People were running out of the store with five or six cases of water.”
“For real. The shelves were empty?”
“Yes. Eze, the toilet paper. It was gone. There was nothing left. I’m going to have to buy some toilet paper on Amazon!”
“What? The fuck is going on?”
“I don’t know. I don’t see bodies collapsing on the streets. We’re not at that point, are we?
“I know people are getting anxious about the virus, but I didn’t know it was getting to this level.”
“Are you going shopping anytime soon?”
“Maybe next weekend.”
“Text me what happens if you go.”
A few days later, A Quiet Place II, a movie that I’d been anticipating since a sequel was announced, was delayed by the director. After bemoaning the postponement of this movie to my work compatriots — we’re still required to show up for work — I made sure to inform them of my amended plans.
“I’m going shopping for food this weekend,” I said. “You all going to wish me luck?”
Melissa, a mother of three girls and a fellow client services representative, waved me over to her cubicle. “Come here Eze,” she said. “I want to show you something.”
“On my way,” I said.
I walked across the way to Melissa’s cubicle space. I bent forward as she queued up a video on her computer screen. We allowed a few moments for the video to buffer.
“Come on now,” said Melissa.
And then suddenly I was watching two irate women interact while not observing the six foot rule. They were standing nose-to-nose actually, bug eyed, veins throbbing, bodies tensed, screaming obscenities into each other’s faces. I felt my mouth hang open as I watched the next scene of this mini movie. Fist were flying between two women in that scene.
“Good luck Eze,” said Melissa.
I woke up from sleep at 7:00 am on Saturday, but stayed in bed until about 10:00 am, as I was still recovering from watching last night’s evening newscast. I left the house at 11:00 am, with an inkling that hundreds of panicked people had probably rummaged through the store shelves before I woke up that morning. The parking lot was nearly filled to the brim with cars, nary a parking space was left for new entrants. I had to drive through the parking lot for some minutes before a spot opened up.
As soon as I stepped out of my vehicle, I felt the urgency rise within me like water from a hot spring. I need to get in there, I thought, increasing the pace of my steps as I approached the opening of the store. I caught sight of a shopping cart and bolted for it, fearing the encroachment of another customer.
All of the bananas were gone. Oh, no. Not my bananas. I needed those for my oatmeal. Heart thumping, I pushed my cart toward the fruit section. I saw packages of strawberries situated in their normal spots. Should I take more than one package? I wondered. No. No. No. If I grabbed too many strawberries at one time, then they might go bad before I’m ready to eat them. And I didn’t want to have to throw away any of my strawberries, so I grabbed only one package. As I collected some apples — at least there were some of those left — I scanned the faces of people streaming through the store. I didn’t see abject hysteria, but there was an intensity in the movement of customers that I had never seen before. I searched for the oatmeal. It was gone. Raw meat and chicken? All of it was gone. The delis were stocked though. There was still some pieces of Chipotle fried chicken left to purchase. The assistant manager’s — a normally calm and self-assured woman — eyes were bulging out of their sockets. Her subordinate approached her and said, “Are you all right?”
“Yes. Yes. I’m doing all right.”
No you’re not.
Many of the store shelves were empty, with the toilet paper and napkins shelves being completely bare. There were no eggs, no cow milk, no almond milk, and no coffee creamer. I grabbed a loaf of bread and what was left of the Pillsbury croissant roles that I love, drove my cart over to the section of the store where the bottled water was stocked, and snatched a couple of water jugs from off the shelves. An attractive woman parked her cart just in front of mine and started collecting jugs of water, a weird smile plastered on her face. She reminded me of a co-worker in New Jersey, who smiled the same way when she knew she was doing something wrong. I counted eight jugs of water in the woman’s cart when she was done.
I stared into shopping carts as they were pushed past me, because I wanted to get a sense of what the others were buying. Am I buying the right things? Am I buying enough? Other shoppers were scanning the contents of my shopping cart too, which prompted me to tighten my grip on my cart. I drove past a woman with two kids in tow, the cart overflowing with food supplies. She smiled at another shopper and said, “I’ve got to keep these kids fed.”
Yes, you do.
When I arrived at the checkout line, I performed an inventory of my stock. I decided that I’d secured half of what I needed and began girding myself for a trip to the local Walmart. I pulled out my cell phone and texted my sister.
You were right all along.
A few minutes later I received her response. I told you so. Didn’t I tell you? These people need to know that this is not the apocalypse. At least not yet.
Indeed. But I need to go to another store. I don’t want to have to do this again for a long time. Oh my goodness. The panic virus has come to Denver.
I hurriedly placed my products on the conveyor. As the tall young man pushed my items across the scanner, I asked, “Has it been like this all day?
“It was even busier this morning man,” he said. Right now, it’s more manageable.”
“More manageable? This is manageable?” I said.
“Believe me man. This is much better.”
The bottles of water were the last items to be scanned. I was juggling them in my hands until a bystander, an anonymous guy with a cap, placed his hands under my own to help me stabilize what I was carrying. “There you go man.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Thanks a lot.”
We’re going to need more of these types of gestures to help break the fever.