She spoke to me behind a mask. Her hands shook but her legs were still, her voice broken, but I could hear what she was expressing. She then sang the REM hit It’s The End Of The World As We Know It. Clarity and assurance went hand in hand, the rendition of a beautiful touch, and never a challenge for clean lungs. Throughout the execution and delivery of the song, I felt alive, though the track was a bleak assessment of a decaying planet, a world we have ultimately left on life support.
After she stopped, I didn’t know what to say. Should I have said it was the most wonderful sound I have ever heard? Or should I have clapped and cheered on? Well, I nodded, a nod of approval. Whenever I turned my head I’d see men holding guns, and their raucous voices shuddered my spine, so nodding was a safe way of telling her she had talent. And talent in these times? Survival is more of a fundamental attribute. But she was an exception.
As the rules stated that we all had to stay at home, she secretly gave me a note with her phone number and address written in red lipstick. A note for my disenchanted self, a golden ticket to normality and validation. As she left, she blew a kiss at me and sang the song again. These fruitful days were only dreams in my pessimistic head, which held a shrivelled up brain, and a mind, sunken in, and deeply fragile. But I knew she’d opened up new horizons.
I can remember her attire. She was gothic like a renegade for these unprecedented times. A soul colliding with obstacles, but overcoming them. For only those split seconds, I could see goodness in her, even under the constraints of a mask. This mask was worn through the pandemic we faced. A new world order put in place, a disease which moved fast and wide in a matter of days. No one had the durability or resources to eradicate it, and it was up to the government to put measures in place.
I departed through an alleyway that day. I can remember it rained, which washed away the debris and cigarette ends. The rats were scurrying faster than normal; it was like they knew Armageddon neared closer. Under the strain, the pipes burst and precious water flooded out and the rats swam for their lives. This, the only time I felt for them, no food, no life.
I walked towards a house which stood for a hundred years. A home my grandfather built. A centre point of love and heart. These days, lights barely flickered and the front of it crumbled. It was a shame, as we grew up in that building, sharing secrets and anecdotes, playing card games and watching eventful TV shows.
Breaking away from the pact, I’d leave the house to pastures too. I then regretted it and came back, but my parents were both gone. My father smoked a pipe, my mother smoked cigarettes that were called Fever Blue. I can still remember the bright blue packet on the kitchen table. Cigarette smoke is a distinctive smell and stays with you.
I would sit that day on a sunken couch looking at the clock. Looking to see if time would clear up the mess and confusion. Time didn’t matter much anymore. The disarray etched on faces; the chaos bubbling under the surface, mattered.
Temptation took hold of me. I had the address and number of this girl I barely knew. She could have been the leader for the voiceless, the disfranchised, the alienated children and adults who were lost and broken. Slightly nervous, I called her. She’d answer, speaking slowly, and her voice was groggy.
I asked her if she knew my voice. She said yes. I asked her if she knew what day it was. She said the day of reckoning. I then asked her she was standing. She said the rooftop of her apartment block looking down at the soldiers.
Concerned by this, I quickly alighted from the cold house into the mouth of the behemoth. I tried to stay on the phone, but she hung up. I had no vehicle; I had no timescale, and I ran through mud and blood, broken glass and used needles.
I entered the apartment block and ran up the staircase to the summit. I saw her jacket, which had the word Renegade stitched into it. She was standing there sinking into disillusionment.
I shouted at her; she turned around and said I’ll JUMP.
I stood back and sang the Gloria Gaynor hit I Will Survive.
She turned and sang the rest of the lyrics.
I grabbed onto her thin arm and comforted her.
She would, that day, remove her mask to let me see her beauty in all its glory. The disease, I thought, was surging through us. But we couldn’t care less about it, as in that moment.
I felt more alive than ever before.