Speechless

The door slides open and I walk inside. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. Not being able to leave my house for the past week makes entering the grocery store feel like the trip of a lifetime. It might be another errand in any other situation, but today it is a much-needed break from the monotony of constantly staring at a computer screen. At this point, anything other than listening to my anatomy professor lecturing or scrolling through social media sounds amazing.

I continue to walk forward as the door slowly closes behind me, entering into the familiar, yet strange, scene. As I grab my cart, I look around, noticing all of the masked figures nervously walking through the store aisles and quickly glancing at me. Alarmed, I reach at my own face, worrying that I have forgotten my most important item: my mask. The feeling as my hand brushes against the fabric of my mask gives me relief and I reassure myself. Remembering my roommates’ request earlier in the morning, I walk through the aisles searching for cereal and boxed mac and cheese.

Suddenly, I catch a glimpse of something I feared I would see here. Even though my natural instinct is to run away, I freeze. The figure slowly approaches me from the end of the aisle. My brain jumps back into action, and I try to quickly turn around in the other direction. My escape is blocked by a mother shopping with her two kids, and I have no choice but to continue forward. The figure shows no signs of relenting and is getting closer every moment.

With every step he takes, my opportunity to avoid the situation disappears. I struggle to think and grasp a way out. If I speak up, will it be enough to stop him? Why has no one else confronted the figure? Why are they staying silent? Seeing the figure within six feet of me, I realize all my hopes of stopping him are gone. The figure catches my stare at his unmasked face, a face of coldness and indifference I’ll never forget.

I don’t just worry for myself. I worry for my close friends and family, especially my grandma. She continues to grow older and her heart conditions have worsened over the past two years. Since moving in with my parents, she’s had access to necessities without needing to leave the house and put herself at risk. The pandemic has not been easy on anyone, but I thought people like this man only existed in other parts of the world. The fact that someone in my community would be so ignorant to the spread of the virus upsets and frightens me.

In defeat, I quickly hurry down the aisle, attempting to avoid making a scene. I try to convince myself as though our short encounter was harmless, even though I know otherwise. After all, isn’t that what I’m supposed to do? For as long as I’ve grown up, my society has taught me to focus on myself and my own problems. Even if I say something now, it won’t make things better for me if I’ve contracted the virus from the man. 

Feeling frustrated, I exit the sliding doors of the store and walk towards my car, thankful to be out of the store myself. As I place my grocery bags in the trunk of my blue Accord and pull out the parking lot, I see an elderly couple exiting the store. They remind me of my grandma and I’m filled with guilt knowing that they were in the store with the figure. I’m not sure how many other people the figure affected and there’s no way of telling the damage he’s done. I regret the fact that I was too scared to confront him, too confused to speak up, and too silent to help others. I’m forced to wonder if I’m part of the problem and cannot help but think of the magnitude of the situation. I feel foolish and defeated. Why hadn’t I said anything?

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