Life in the Time of Coronavirus #15

The Moniack Mhor Writers Group, led by Cynthia Rogerson, has been meeting remotely during the Lockdown. They have been writing pieces inspired by the situation. Today’s story is by Zoe Mackenzie.

A World Apart

Ella looked about her in wild-eyed confusion. People were wearing masks. She could not seem to avoid standing on the mass of bewildering zig-zagged tape marking where you should not stand. Her mother steered her into a space marked by a cross, telling her not to venture near the next person standing on another cross. Everyone was behaving very strangely.

As they stood silently with their trolley, Ella looked around her at the changed landscape. Was she allowed to talk? As a man in a Tesco uniform waved them into the supermarket and instructed them to wash their trolley and hands Ella stared at a series of arrows on the floor, wondering why she was suddenly restricted to this particular route. No-one spoke or looked at one another and as they pushed on in silence, Ella felt waves of panic and anxiety building up inside her.

She looked up at her mother. “I don’t like it,” Ella told her, with a shaky voice as tears welled up in her eyes and cascaded down her cheeks.

Her mum stopped to give Ella a cuddle, assuring her that this was only temporary. Ella looked at her in confusion. “That means it’s only for a while to keep us all from catching this bug,” her mum explained. They were suddenly aware of a queue of people building up behind them and hurried on when Ella’s mum suddenly realised she had forgotten to get a chicken for Sunday lunch and would have to go round again.

“Are you ok?” her mum asked as she scanned Ella’s face. Ella shook her head. “I’m not coming again,” she sniffed.

She used to love doing the weekly shopping. She used to feel so important as she scanned each shopping item and called out the money spent and would laugh when her mum groaned at the amount. People would smile and chat with Ella who thrived on the social contact.

Ella commanded a lot of attention wherever she went. She always had. With her magnetising smile and sunny personality people were irresistibly drawn to her. Her mother used to ponder how much of this attention – particularly amongst the older generations – was due to subconscious guilt from the treatment meted out to people like Ella in the not-too-distant past.

 Coins pressed into the palm of Ella’s hand would ignite anger in her mother’s breast. “She’s not a charity case!” she wanted to scream.” She’s a young woman!”  Instead she forced a smile of gratitude, silently seething as Ella looked in confusion from her mother to the strangers.

Not so long ago, people like Ella would rarely have been seen in public. They would have spent most of their lives locked away – segregated from an ignorant and intolerant society.  Used to very little stimulation, their lives were confined to within hospital walls while steel barricades kept them away from contact with the opposite sex.

 Very gradually people began to realise that not only was locking anyone away inhumane but that people with learning difficulties were just as entitled as anyone else to live a full and active life.

As a result people like Ella lived varied, active lives. Ella attended college for half the week while the other half was spent with a group of  young adults at a centre where they used spreadsheets to budget their weekly shop, cooked delicious Italian dishes and attended dance and swimming classes at the local leisure centre. Some of them lived in small groups, had partners and part-time jobs. In the evenings they went out to clubs.

But suddenly this vibrant, sociable existence ceased.  This mysterious Corona bug had them playfully banging elbows one minute and the next they were confined to their homes and forbidden to see their friends and go to college.  Ella was thrown back onto a life of dependency at home, while her siblings were less than impressed with her constant presence.  Her child-like ways severely irritated them. They resented having to put up with her constant, involuntarily loud grunting while she sat at her laptop or played with her dolls. It made her cry when they burst into her room telling her to: “Shut up!”

Ella’s mum suddenly spied her daughter’s favourite dessert in the next aisle. “Ooh Ella!” she trilled nodding towards the rice pudding. “Your favourite! And there’s a bakery in town that do takeaway hot chocolates. We could have our own picnic in the car!”

The smile was back.  “Yeh! Chop, chop mum! Let’s get on with this shopping – I haven’t got all day!” The smile was now a cheeky grin and despite his mask, a man in front of them turned to display smiling eyes and gave Ella a celebratory wink.

Views/opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not represent those of any individual from Moniack Mhor or Moniack Mhor itself. Copyright remains with the author.

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