I can’t hear a word he’s saying. It’s not for want of trying. His words are all locked in by the blue mask. His face seems friendly – what little I can see of it, vivid blue eyes and puzzled brows – but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been fooled by skin-deep shallowness.
Maybe he’s a key worker too, not locked under the same strict house arrest as most people. He could be unlocking everyone else’s isolation - except mine.
Apart from that he’s keeping to himself. It’s his weekly shop, a full basket far less adventurous than my trolley would be. A couple of loaves with fillings for sandwiches, soup aplenty… I’d say he’s working late. Tut! Tut! Two ready meals – they’ll be for the weekend. A four pint bottle of fresh milk, two cartons of long-life, perhaps his fridge is on the blink.
His hair is straggling. Nobody at home to cut it and he won’t risk a trip to the barber. Who am I to criticize? In days of old, we’d both have been up before the fashion police, close-cropped Roundheads all. ‘And when did you last see your stylist?’
It's a whole year since my final rendezvous with Lizzie and her curling tongs. I’ve gone straight for so long I should be due parole, yet I can’t escape. It keeps on growing. I’ve coiled my tresses. To leave them hanging to my waist would be so unprofessional. I won’t try to cut them. I can’t escape that picture of my awful fifth form mullet.
One day, we’ll all be unlocked - haircuts all round as well as freedom to roam. If this keeps up much longer, though, I could let my hair down like Rapunzel for my true love to rescue me from the locked tower.
I used to dream of deliverance; but not by hunks with rippling muscles or knights in shining, or even rusty, armour. (I’m wearing the visor now, but it’s only clear plastic.) Intense specialists would furrow their brows over me, peer through their spectacles and offer hope. It all came to nothing in the end. I was ‘an interesting case’, but there was no escaping the silence.
We’re all prisoners of conscience now. How could you live with yourself if you passed this awful plague on to somebody vulnerable? One of my badges explains that customers are allowed to unmask in order to speak to me, but few are willing to unlock their jaws. His silence behind the mask is deafening, yet he’s told me so much.
He hands me the cash – no card, he’s old school, locked in his ways. I give him change. He’s already picked up the receipt. He waves farewell. I think he’s cottoned on at last. Perhaps he saw the other badge: ‘I am Deaf, but I can Lip Read’. I’m less locked in than people think. I blow a kiss and watch his forehead blush…