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Day 25 – Shopping in Times of the Plague

14.04.2020

For some reason, I had never seized my turn, by alphabet, or never succeeded in actually doing supermarket shopping for the family in these times of the plague. Once, I remember I did venture out, but I turned back because the trolley queue was too long at Winners in Bambous – it looked like Heathrow’s entrance for non-Europe visitors. Then I decided to go down to Cascavelle. There I found the queue coming out the other end of the Mall into the hot sun, so turned back again.


 So, yesterday was a first. 


 I carefully chose 1:30 pm as my prediction of least busy time. People will have eaten, and be letting their lunch go down. Then, the gods further blessed my choice by sending a huge downpour. That will keep the rest of them at home, I hoped.


 As I dodged out of the rain (I didn’t take my umbrella in case I left it in the supermarket, and had to queue a second time just to get it back again) past two gentle police officers at the entrance to the Mall, one asked for my ID. I said (joke petulant, making no attempt to dig anything out of any pocket), “I begin with a C.” So, I’m OK today. 


 And he said, “Ah, Lindsey Collen,” in a “Gotcha” tone. I said, more banter, “Mo met mask, u rekonet mwa?” He then pointed to the hand-sanitizer dispenser on the wall, which I pushed on with one gloved hand into the other. “Lordy!” The new conventions.


 Then I took my octagonal Rs10 coin, to unplug a trolley, and joined, as the eighth person, in a queue. Not bad. They let us in by batches of 20 or 30, it seems. 


 You are only allowed out to the supermarket in singles. No children. No couples. No pairs. This is not any law or regulation but an agreed-with newly invented custom. Everyone already knows all this. To me, it’s a new experience that I’ve only heard about.


 Anyway, I was joined as ninth and tenth by a jovial retired “couple”. Illegal. Clearly not Mauritians, masks or no masks it was obvious, they were blithely unaware of the customs of the people of this new supermarkets- in-times-of-the-plague land. The supermarket security man told them, in no uncertain terms in the rough manner of Mauritian small talk, to take a trolley. They signaled they did not need one, thank you very much. He then spoke louder, and in a form of French he had invented for such encounters. He knew they were already infringing the singles nature of the party. Now, they were refusing a trolley, to boot. They pointed to their shopping bags, again refusing. Both sides were adamant. So, I had to intervene. I chanced English, “The trolley is a measuring rod. You have to take one!” I had already learnt this new law of the land from Ram. So, they laughed and started digging for a Rs10.


 So, when the previous 30 or so shoppers had been disgorged from inside, we were being screened to be let in. This time I showed the edge of my ID card (being a conscientious objector to the thing) to the masked man who pointed a gun at my forehead, and signaled that I could move on. He was taking my temperature, it turned out. I got given more hand sanitizer – this time by a gloved lady – at the entrance. All new social codes, this shopping in times of the plague.


 As I went in, all in line, I was offered bread – it was not unlike being given communion. It seemed compulsory. Being on the strictest gluten-free diet humanly imaginable, I turned my nose up or rather I turned my mask up at the offer, in horror. I risked being branded a blasphemer for not taking the holy bread. I have been branded blasphemer once before, and so I nearly took the bread. Instead, I just filed along with my measuring rod separating me from the person in front of me. 


 I had a short list, so I really did not want to file along past the cleaning materials, baby products, canned goods I didn’t need and so on, so I kept nipping under the yellow ribbons (they had prohibition ribbons just like the police ones that mean “do not cross this line or else” at the scene of a crime), and thus short-circuiting various rows. 


 This turned out bad tactics because I missed the eggs that were placed somewhere I had not predicted. And I needed them.


 I then had to go under yellow ribbon again to get back – it is even more illegal to double back like that. “I will soon be ostracized,” I thought, as I took eggs in the only packaging available: egg-holding cardboard packaged sets of 18 eggs. Most unfair to real singles.


 “You have got 15 minutes only. Please move along,” came over the loud-speakers. Being hurried while in a supermarket is the opposite of what one is accustomed to. They usually like you to stay in, buy more. Now they want you to nip through, grab fast. And, I know these supermarket loudspeakers. Once at London Supermarket in Vacuous, I lost my cheque book, and only realized I’d lost it when I got to the till. So, I asked the manager if he’d make an announcement on that system that they announce “special offers of detergent” on. He said, “You’re used to speaking at public meetings, come announce it yourself.” So, “This is Lindsey Collen speaking. I’ve lost my blue cheque book somewhere in here. It fell out of my blouse pocket. Please can you help me find it?” This spun the entire clientele into digging into frozen goods corners they had seen me leaning over, and so on. There was a hilarious frenzy of everyone looking for the blue cheque book instead of shopping. Someone did soon come up with it. I had leant over for a Time magazine, and the cheque book had fallen neatly into the rack in front of the “Paris Match”.


 Anyway. I panicked because I had not found raisins and our 15 minutes was up. Ram needed them for an apple-and-raisin-and-date chutney he is at this moment, as I write these daily words, cooking. This was urgent because the over-big bag of apples we had bought in these times of 18-eggs-at-a-time or nothing, were all a bit brownish in the middle, thus ideal only for chutney.  “Fine”, a young woman, also in gloves and yashmak, informed me, when I asked someone without a trolley (this is how you know who works in the supermarket and who is a customer, these days). “Everyone,” she said, “has been asking me.” So, Ram is making the chutney with dried apricot instead.


 So, when I got home, I had the new ritual. I carry all three shopping bags through the back gate to the back verandah – without letting the dogs escape. Koyla is an expert at blind-siding. But, I fooled her. Aristo is less of an escape artist. He is thinking seriously about this new behavior of bringing shopping via the back verandah. What could it mean? Catharsis?


 There is a table in these times called “the quarantine of things” table. Upon which I put all my things. (I had cleared the previous items from “the quarantine of things” table that morning, in expectation). Then, I took my one-part-to-36-parts bleach solution and sponged all the oil and diet coke and vinegar bottles down, and took off and threw away packaging on other things. On the back labware, I washed all the fruit and vegetables with soap solution then put them to dry in the quarantine section colanders. I took out my little wallet, my cell phone, and took off my glasses and belt, passed them all through the rag-and-solution, and put them into quarantine for a short while, too.


 Then, I went to the washing machine. We are a family that keeps its washing machine outside on the back verandah. There, I took off the outer layer. The dogs were thrilled with this new game. Stripping on the back verandah in times of the plague. And as I took off the outer trousers, they licked my ears, and pulled at the trousers. Then the outer jacket, then the socks, which they loved, and the washable sandals, and finally the washable mask. I put the Eco-egg together with the possibly infected clothing into the washing machine load, full in turn, as it was, of possible viral loads. Here, since we are talking about buying things, I would like to put on record that one of the best bits of buying I’ve ever done was the Eco-egg, so we don’t use detergent anymore, and the water from the washing machine goes straight to the violet patch, a lovely creamy root vegetable.


 I was now ready to nip into the house, wiping the door handles with the solution, and into the shower. 


 So, we are all acting like obsessive-compulsives. Normalizing what is extreme behavior. 


 We are living through extreme moments, I suppose.


 So, again, we have to think of how to come out of this best, and not go back to the bad old days from before the times of the plague – days of full jails and full jail-like schools and universities, of jobs that you don’t like doing, of pay that is not enough to live off, and having no job at all, and all the while, coveting useful “things”. And let’s hope that gone-are-the-days when any reasonable suggestion – like food security for all in the country, like lets’ all control all the capital in the country – was considered blasphemous to the lord sugar cane bosses who own the land and the bankers and insurers who own all the capital we all created together, and their sirdars in their Cabinet.


 


Lindsey Collen


for LALIT, a personal view.