Dystopia on my doorstep
I just had a moment.
Stood in line at the post office waiting to pick up a parcel, the radio finished playing whatever song it was playing and the news came on “The Premier announces that it is likely that the current restrictions will be lessened on Monday, provided the case numbers remain low. We now have 15 live cases of the virus in Melbourne…..” I looked around me, taking in everyone wearing masks, the plastic screens the post office workers stood behind, the display of giant containers of hand sanitiser, the ‘Stand here’ markers on the floor, the maximum occupancy sign on the door. When did this start to blend into the background, when did all this stop being new and strange?
I’m used to reading about worlds where weird things are normal and my usual (pre-covid) way of life is nothing but a dim and distant memory of the main characters… how did I come to be here, in my own dystopia?
She signed as her watch buzzed with an alert “Your parcel has arrival at the Collection Center” the parcel was supposed to have to gone to a self-service locker, now she had to deal with going physically going inside the Collection Center. While there was nothing wrong with the Collection Center as such it just usually meant a long wait in the street, sanding on the blue ‘stand here’ circles as customers slowly entered the building that was ‘one in one out.’
Grabbing her face mask she made her way out the door. The law was that her mask was supposed to be on as soon as she stepped out of her front door but, living in a open apartment building, she chanced not putting her mask on until she got to the main gate, savoring the feeling of the air and sunshine on her face.
She timed her arrival at the Collections Center well. With only 3 other people already in line she didn’t have to wait outside in the wind.
Moving slowly from one blue circle on the floor to the next she was soon at the head of the line. Idly her eyes glanced over the prominent display of hand sanitiser — she hated the stuff. After it peeled the skin off her hands in winter she made sure she carried a less toxic one with her, just in case she needed to get past the Store Entry Wardens. After brandishing their temperature check guns (usually aimed, without warning, right in the middle of your forehead) the Store Wardens usually then demanded you sanitised your hands right there and then as they watched. The Collections Center didn’t have a Warden though, she wasn’t sure the exact reason why not but was glad of their absence.
As the Collection Center worker called her forward, she moved to the blue circle a little way back from the counter. Speaking from behind her mask, she gave her name so they could find her parcel. The worker nodded wordlessly and disappeared into the back. She was left to look at the thick plastic screen attached to the counter and remember the days when none of this was here — no screens, no masks, no Wardens. The days when you used to freely hand over your ID to the person behind the counter without a thought. Not anymore, we don’t touch things anymore. We don’t touch other people anymore…
The news came on over the loudspeakers “Melbourne has X number of cases but the Premier reminds people that the numbers still need to be validated — people must stay alert! Citizens are reminded they must stay within 5km’s of their homes….. our borders remain closed….” then news from elsewhere — People being pulled off the street and bundled into unmarked vans by the Government; fully identified Press officials being shot at by the Peacekeepers; women seeking refuge yet being sterilised by the Government without consent; hundreds of pilot whales beaching themselves and dying.
The world felt so different a few months ago. A few months ago she used to go outside whenever she liked, now she was only allowed out for 2 hours each day and had strict rules about what was allowed and what wasn’t. It happened so gradually and yet all of a sudden, until now it feels normal to see playgrounds taped off and locked up, to see people physically avoid getting closer than 2 meters to each other in the street, passers by with their faces covered by masks or plastic shields. Needing permits to travel outside of the curfew and / or if you are going 5km from your home… libraries operating with a “click and collect” service, the days of browsing the shelves gone… periodical shortages in the shops as stock from overseas takes months to reach our shores.
Spring was starting and her mind was already thinking ahead to fire season — how much of the country would be on fire this year? For how long would it burn this time? She thought about the possibility of the red toxic skies returning and shuddered.