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In The Time of Covid-23

Sandra turned over sleepily and reached for the swab to take her daily saliva test. She took her temperature, punched in her code, reported that she tested negative and had no COVID symptoms and closed her eyes for a few more minutes before her alarm sounded again. When she had showered and dressed, she drew back the curtains and opened the simulated window view, selected her favourite moorland within the permitted 20 miles travel, and gazed out at the live video panorama, trying to spot the skylark she could hear. She loved the moors and was lucky that she had found a vacancy here.

Her single occupancy flat was light and airy – pleasant, despite being artificially lit and ventilated. Like all apartments in the intensive newbuild blocks, it was an open plan hexagon, part of an elaborate, close-knit, space-saving honeycomb, modelled on wild beehives. The blocks had been rapidly created to isolate when necessary and accommodate all displaced persons from refugees and long term homeless to those recently bankrupt. Sandra had opted for a limited palette of natural colours and chosen a variety of partitions to separate the floor space into different living sections. She slid aside delicately decorated Japanese-style paper doors and entered her kitchen area. She prepared hummus on toast, and coffee, checked her WhatsApp groups and settled down with the news on her iPad. She could have ordered something from the assigned patisserie, but she liked to manage for herself and had requested a fully equipped kitchen. She ate privately, enjoying the moorland scenery; not yet in the mood for joining her friendship group in the Zoom chat room.

She supplemented her universal income with the bonus she received for a designated hazardous job in recycling and topped it up further with sales of jewellery created from items she could retrieve. The extra money enabled her to have greater choice over furnishings and, if she had wanted it, a wider range of clothing. It would have afforded her an exterior room with a natural view of the surroundings, but she preferred the greater variety of the televised scenes. Apart from leasing the latest in virtual reality, her needs were simple. She would have liked to travel but, like everyone else, had to content herself with VR.

Checking her diary, she noted that this evening’s community service was on the vegetable allotments. For that work, she was paid in kind. She made sure she kept up a good supply of coffee and a variety of chilli and other peppers in the tropical greenhouses. For tomorrow, she had scheduled herself for milking; a task that she enjoyed, particularly since she had acquired some skill. The early days had been comical. She had now made friends with all the goats and was especially fond of Betty who had been the naughtiest while Sandra was learning to milk her and had usually kicked the bucket over more than once. Sandra liked to help with milking at least once a week and was always happy to volunteer if someone had tested positive and was in quarantine.

Community service suited Sandra so long as she could pick outdoor tasks. She avoided indoor jobs as much as possible. Cleaning windows was one of her bugbears so it was perhaps fortunate that there were few windows to clean. Oddly enough, she sometimes reflected, she didn’t mind mucking out the animals whereas she only cleaned toilets when absolutely essential. Someone had to do the dirty jobs, and the universal salary did not come without obligations, but most people knuckled down and got on with it. It was possible almost to meet your quota with things you liked doing. There were enough people on each block for the less favoured tasks to come round only occasionally.

She saw that she had requested a slot on the early morning rota for hillwalking in two days’ time. She’d forgotten about that. She should have confirmed the booking ages ago. She skimmed through the options in the window view and picked a route that had special appeal, hoping it would have a vacancy. She was lucky. She checked the weather forecast, entered her code, and ordered a set of appropriate garments and walking boots that would arrive freshly washed and sanitised later in the day.

She enjoyed her long country walks. Moreover, among the available pursuits, all with monitored social distancing, hillwalking was one of the best for meeting people who also liked to spend time outdoors. Surreptitiously, she checked to see if Bob would be going. Hmm. His name did not come up. Well, she could still hope. He might not have confirmed yet. She wondered if he would look for her name. They’d met twice on the hillwalking rota but even though she was pretty sure he felt the same attraction as she did, it was early days and they had not yet exchanged details of their regular leisure activities.

Ah well, it was her allocated time to go to work. She fetched her biohazard suit and the key to her bicycle, tapped in her code and her preferred route and requested permission to leave.


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