The Benefits of Coronavirus – a short story

מובחרordinary-people

On a day like any other.

I'll take the dogs out for a walk. I'll get back home and give them their food, get

ready for the rest of the day, you know?

I'll take a shower, get dressed and put on the mask and gloves before going

out.

I'll look in the mirror before stepping out.

Nothing memorable, not with the mask on anyways.

It will be a bit warm outside, now being summer.

The mask is a bit uncomfortable, but at least it keeps people from staring.

I don’t think about being jumped by police or paying a fine for spreading diseases. At least if I'm a hypocrite for wearing it, so is everybody else.

I need money so I go into the bank. It's a bit crowded since they reopened just now. Even outside there is a small line, with everyone dutifully awaiting to get their temperature checked.

All are masked, anxious, yet docile and seem tired and indifferent. The masks equalize and us them faceless. The new uniform of the masses.

I await in line until I scram forth to reach the guard. He checks my temperature with an infrared thermometer. It takes just a second and he lets me through. I catch the smiling wrinkles around his eyes. We are co-conspirators in this charade.

It's always the busiest just before the weekend, when people are in a hurry to deposit their weekly salaries. There are five tellers all at it, with people more silent than usual, hoping to get it over with and maybe getting to rid themselves of the masks as soon as possible.

A few people in front of me, I scour the place. All are masked. Some clenching pieces of paper, most lean over to stare at their phone, as if their eyes are ready to dive into a deep pool. Every so often the number counter would change with a 'ting', causing several heads to lift, and then let out a sigh muffled by the mask, and the head would return to its previous downward slant right back into their phones.

I reached into my pocket to feel for the piece of paper which was my own to display that day. It was resting there, sure enough.

Several people were on the phone speaking a bit loudly. I stood there listening to them describing their most private affairs with the greatest of ease, as if they were entertaining a friend in their home. I could scarcely recall a time when such a thing was considered as rude, or even strange, behavior. The fact that you are able to do something doesn’t mean that you should do it, should you? I felt like I wasn't alone thinking this, but that everyone else were in silent agreement, staring into their phones, thinking they are able to use them as distraction, and so they should do it.

The line of people grows shorter. The bank had conveniently made people wait in a single line that split off when you got to the end into whichever teller in one of the five stations was ready to help you. A nice way of moving the line quickly and having it all done with in a hurry.

I dislike being hurried most of the times, but here it seemed like a relief in a way. I even didn’t care for the line being long. What usually was tedious though, was thinking which teller would you get and how cranky, or unprofessional they struck you. With masks on they all seemed perfectly similar in their indifference. All equally unconcerned with your business and all likewise less prone to pass judgment.

I was now first in line and it seemed like it would come down to either a young brunette teller, which was finishing up with an overweight couple, whose sweaty t-shirts and pink puffed necks she was probably eager to let go; and an equally young oriental gentleman who was assisting an elderly woman. For the last minute or so, he was no longer looking into his computer monitor, and stared straight at the old lady, who was perhaps done with her transactions but didn't seem to internalize the reality of that fact.

The couple slowly palmed a stash of bills which the brunette had laid in front of them, and commenced a triumphant exit, as if headed to celebrate with some food. I waited for the teller to look at me so to not barge in, as some people rudely do.

She took a few seconds to search for my eyes in the line, and gave a bewildered stare. I figured most people probably just go ahead and enter her line of sight without being called, like a conveyor belt of characters, just stepping into a slot. And now I was the odd one out for not applying this norm. I hurried to take my piece of paper out of my pocket so to not waste any time.

The teller's eyes glazed over me as I stood there. I slipped to paper underneath the glassy screen and allowed her to read it. She took a few seconds and then looked at me, as if searching for something in my eyes.

She was nice looking, or at least the top half of her face was, which was not hidden behind a piece of cloth. It took her another minute to count the money and put on the counter. She also handed  me back my note.

Her eyes were now looking straight at me, a look I became used to receiving, a kind of alertness mixed with contempt. I had almost grown fond of it by now.

I thanked her and said "have a nice day", which, while utterly banal as a saying, still feels like a common courtesy to me, which is why I don’t hesitate to use it whenever I bid goodbye to someone who is doing any service for me.

I went out of the bank and walked steadily home, making sure to pass through a few of the more busy streets, just in case I was being followed. I passed through the square, where the police had camped out to discourage people from walking about without a mask. I strutted besides them as if showcasing how good of a citizen I am to be wearing both a mask and a pair of gloves.

mask-and-gloves

I got back home and counted the money I got. Then, I wrapped it again and went over to the bedroom and opened the closet. "Safe within a safe" I muttered, and threw it in with the rest of the week's profits.

I took out the crumpled piece of paper from my right jacket pocket. I've written it with a black marker on top of a piece of some legal notices I picked off of the ground. Nothing flashy, but looks strikingly similar to your everyday bullshit bank notice. On top of it I had scribbled this lovely message:

"Please remain quiet. I have a gun and this is a robbery.

Put all the MONEY in your register into this bag – NOW

Do not call the police – or I will shoot"

I didn’t think much of it, except that I wanted something to get the tellers to do what I want without time to think. What got me thinking how easy it could be was watching everybody wearing masks and not looking at what anyone else was doing. It's as if people willfully became deaf, blind and dumb. And so I would be dumb to not use it to my advantage.

I needed the money, who the hell doesn't. And this was perfect. Nobody suspected a thing, not with my mask and gloves, which made sure I left no fingerprints there. I couldn’t be identified anywhere, not by anyone watching the surveillance footage, not by people on the street, and not by the teller herself. With everyone wearing masks now, I was free to walk unnoticed, a loose criminal in the disguise of an every-man.