The boundaries of my world have shrunk. I live on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. To the south lies food, to the east the pharmacy and to the west the bank. All the essentials. What more could a girl want?
Have mask, have disposable gloves, will travel. Today we’re off south to the supermarket. When my mother and I reach the entrance a gloved, masked, Asian attendant takes our temperature. For a moment my heart races. Then he nods and waves me through. I wait, holding my breath for the nod that will allow my mother through. He nods again. We’re safe. Never did 37 degrees Celsius give me such joy. Going through the supermarket with my mother is a race and a dawdle. I race she dawdles. She races I dawdle. I start to panic when we lose each other for a few minutes. But no there she is at the organic display. ‘Come on, no time for that Ma,’ I say hustling her to the checkout.
The checkout counter has had a makeover in the week since my last shopping spree. A clear plastic pane has been put up to separate the customers from the checkout attendants. The staff too have had a makeover. The checkout girl is wearing the latest in welder chic. Dark blue overalls topped with a plastic helmet, covering her entire head, and rounded out with light blue disposal gloves. Not an inch of skin is on display. I reach through the barrier to give her my card, our gloved hands touch for a moment, startled she snatches the card and starts swiping the groceries. Eggs, milk, cheese, gluten-free pasta, a loaf of bread, oatmeal, and some fresh vegetables. All in all about ten items. Ten items which cost the equivalent of $60 US dollars. A few weeks ago a similar number of items cost $30 dollars. Thanks Corona, now I’m going to have to rethink my shopping strategy. My temperature begins to rise, the complaint is on my lips when I see a young Sri Lankan attendant approaching to fill my shopping bags. I start to say no, I can do it, but then I look into his eyes. I know him, he always packs my shopping and takes it to my car. I ask him how he’s doing. ‘Ok madam ok’ he says but I can see his fear. Not fear of me. Life for Asian workers in Lebanon has always been hard. They have no rights, work long hours and are vulnerable to abuse. Their life today is made harsher with the Lebanese pound losing its value against the dollar, capital controls and now the fear of Corona lurking on every surface, animate and inanimate. I want to reach out and put my hand on his shoulder but I don’t. I tell myself I have two old people at home whose lives mean more to me than giving this young man comfort. I assuage my guilt by letting him pack my shopping and giving him an extra-large tip. His shoulders straighten for a moment and then slump back as he shuffles away. Driving out of the supermarket, I head up the hill, back home, grateful I have everything a girl could want.