Image © Ricky Clark 2020
|by Ricky Clark||May 4, 2020|
I stood on the corner of Charlottenstraße wearing a white hoody and bright yellow washing-up gloves, handing out postcards that read something along the lines of:
Your favourite vegan café is still open! You will not go hungry with us! (psst – Please come. We’re desperate to keep our jobs so bring your friends. You can’t sit inside. No. Or use the loo either but please come. Your cash is not welcome. Please bring a card.)
I heard a disgruntled yell three cars away as I slid the remaining stack under the wipers. Soon enough the guy was on me. He was a mean, old, hairy looking builder howling something in German along the lines of – “Oi! You fucking idiot! What do you think you’re doing?!”
“I’m trying to help,” I replied calmly. I diverted my eyes away from his fierce gaze and caught my reflection in the shop window. A veil of absurdity settled like dust around me as my thoughts spun a web of paranoia – Is this a joke? Am I conscious? If this is reality, then who am I? If this is a Marvel movie, then which role has been left for me? – I dread to think.
I finished work deflated and so decided to take the scenic route home to better my mood. I entered the park to the sight of children running wild as parents looked on. One toddler slipped away from the crowd to climb a hill, her tiny hands steadying herself on the rusty railings. I felt like pinching myself. I veered away and found a tight metre between irrupting pockets of carefree families. One half of me was in shock at the madness, the other observing how upbeat and relaxed they appeared. I should’ve taken more toilet paper from work. We all should have. Then we could wrap the children like mummies and have them chase everybody out of the park. There might be some sense in that but I doubt it.
I spotted a young and exhausted man pushing his trolley past before thanking Lady Luck. He looked newly homeless. A week or so. It wasn’t the trolley or his clothing that told the story but the eyes that gave him away; a pink-worn stare as though he’d seen too much in too short a space of time. He looked in a daze, shut in from the world and all I could muster in support was a pathetic sob. I hope I continue to see his face before the end of this mess. I wonder if the homeless are factored into the death toll. A sad thought, I know, and I prefer to speak figures than write them. No doubt sports fans are intrigued at what’s beginning to look like an interesting league table. No World Cup, you say? Yet as China continue to top the group, it appears Germany have a huge advantage in goal difference, and still the UK’s leaky defence conceding more over the last few matches.
I walked over the bridge to the island of youth and sat by the spree sipping cool beer. I badly wanted a cigarette so asked the guys with beards behind me. The bald one lit it as I guarded the flame from the wind, making sure not to touch his hands. We high-jointed before the Berliner joked, “Have you thought of any cruel ways to make money yet?”
I headed back to the park and was startled by a middle-aged man with two yapping dachshunds in his bag. The sack was strapped to his chest and his look of frustration gave them the mythical appearance of a modern-day Cerberus. I sat against a tree and heard a whistle from behind me.
After scoring herbs I noticed my friend Shawn strolling by. I smiled and waved him over, his Cheshire-cat-grin beaming back at me behind rose-tinted glasses. His tall and thin figure cast a long shadow against the tree as he asked, “What are you up to?”
“Nothing much. About to blaze. Just been sent home.”
“No, I’m good. That stuff fucks me up.”
He sniffed before asking, “How can you smoke pot during a pandemic?”
“What better time to loosen one’s inhibitions?”
“Common-sense more like.”
Shawn took the afternoon sun with him. I was left with the scent of barbecue and a sense of guilt. I wondered if it was the weed speaking or if I felt ashamed to be out in the open making deals in the park, using cash machines, railings. Oh god, the railings! I reckon I ought to go home. I don’t want my imagination to get the better of me. No one is equipped for this, let alone a zombie apocalypse. Maybe there is reason for a country to prioritise tax expenditure on arms rather than healthcare. After all, we are at war, the walking dead already among us, the rich kept at arm’s length from the whole mess. Maybe we are already infected. Is that what this dream is telling me? Luckily my place is on the top floor so that, if anything does go down, I’ll have a sniper’s vantage. I wonder if I bought a rifle, would it bring us closer as neighbours?
I imagine myself screaming in panic, both hands on my girlfriend’s shoulders and shaking her, trying to get ahead of the situation:
“There’s no time! We have to split up and look for survivors!”
She pulls away and slaps me hard on the jaw, “Oi,” she yelps, “you fucking idiot! What do you think you’re doing?” Suddenly my imaginary girlfriend morphs into a disgruntled builder, coarse black hair sprouting from her nostrils, the odour of cheap tobacco on her breadth. “It’s a living nightmare out there,” she continues, “need to rise up and smell the virus, boy! This ain’t no daydream you’re havin’ and no point setting an alarm. Do what you can today or wake up tomorrow in your own piss.”
The effects of the herb hit me as my soul begins to fade. Not forever. Just temporarily. Off to find another vessel perhaps. One with more ideas. More drive. As my cares lift I welcome the numbness, savouring the ebbing glow of the afternoon.
Ricky is a storyteller from London currently residing in Berlin. When he is not writing he is either making music or vegan food.