“Did you tell him who you are?” a woman on the street asked me.
It was below freezing and the sky was a thick gray. Behind me two women bundled in heavy coats and scarves drank coffee together at a fire table. To my left, plate glass windows barely hid racks of pre-made sandwiches and baked goods in what used to be a dining area. The tables and chairs were stacked against the wall. In front of me was what looked like a hastily constructed mandap with a green metal roof instead of draped silk fabric. One of the legs of the structure had a crack running from the bottom of the post to my eye level, stopping just short of the edge. The only adornments on the mandap were a laminated sign with a typo and a round sticker encouraging six feet distancing. The canopy shielded the takeout window of a farm-to-table cafe. A man hustled between the window and the food preparation room behind the plate glass, delivering orders to customers.
Did you tell him who you are
I told him that I was here to pick up the order that my husband Andrew placed online. I never said my name. I may be the only person in the entire world with my name, so if I had mentioned it, there would have been no question of who I am.
Did you tell him
I didn’t tell him that the empty streets, the people huddled over upscale barrel fires scared me. The way no one got close scared me. Most of my time outside has been not on the streets but in the woods and fields where we are surrounded by the earth’s life and its sounds.
I didn’t tell him that the reason the city felt so strange is that while everyone else had been staying home I’ve been going to work. The environment has changed, for sure, but I see a lot of people each day. Parking attendants direct traffic on campus. We walk into a row of screeners who squirt sanitizer onto our hands. They dangle a mask for us to grab from the black plastic tongs that used to come with hospital catered food. We don’t eat with each other anymore, though, because the risk is too great. I still talk and joke with my colleagues; sometimes it feels as if we’re all speaking in hushed voices, like at a funeral. My face is shielded from my patients, my voice muffled, yet in the course of my doctoring, I can’t keep six feet away from them. It’s both a source of stress and of relief.
But the small crowd waiting on the sidewalk for our sandwiches, we were appropriately spaced out, masked and not talking to each other.
The woman was waiting for my answer.
I nodded yes.
She stepped up six feet away from the take out window and said loudly with just a hint of New York City in her voice, “I’m Eliza and I am waiting for a batard.”