Eddie Sinclair had loved lockdown. He revelled in the lack of contact, the isolation, the chance to be free from other people’s germs. Microbes were everywhere. He was Birmingham’s answer to Howard Hughes. His late mother had taught him that cleanliness was next to Godliness and this was how he led his life. Eddie would clean the flat from top to bottom every day. His cupboards were packed with cleaning products from CIF to Mr Muscle to own brand, glass cleaning fluid.
Eddie invariable dined alone. It wasn’t that he didn’t have friends; he just chose not to keep in touch. Eddie shunned Whatsapp and the like. When he did have his mobile phone switched on, he might reply to the occasional text but no more than that. He hadn’t been for to the pub in months. If anything, his need to be alone had intensified, his mental health (to Eddie at least) had improved. To anyone looking in, they would have said the opposite was true.
Tonight’s dinner was a takeaway. The doorbell rang and Eddie wandered up to the door, peering through the spyhole at the delivery driver in the hall. Eddie took the catch off the chain and stood back as the masked courier placed the cardboard box down, turned and left - the days of waiting for a tip consigned to history.
Picking it up, the box was whisked into the kitchen and placed on kitchen roll while Eddie washed his hands. Opening the box, he transferred the slices of pizza to a dinner plate before sanitising his hands. Picking the pizza box up with tongs, he placed it at the back door, popping the tongs into the dishwasher before sanitising his hands one more time. Fomite infection was to be avoided at all costs.
Falling into his favourite chair, Eddie clicked the remote control, the TV screen flickered into life. The news was on. Wall to wall coverage of the Pandemic. Eddie felt safe inside. He scrolled through the TV listings, settling on yet another viewing of his favourite movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. He imagined having his own Clarence Odbody, he imagined living life in black and white. Simpler times. Maybe. He heard a bell ring - another angel had got its wings.
Eddie had enjoyed those weeks when the public were only allowed to go outside once a day. He would take a short walk at night and that was it. He had encountered very few people out and about. That pattern had persisted even if things were back to normal in terms of passers-by when he was outdoors. His evening walk was due. Making his way down the hallway, he had soon descended a flight of stairs that led to the shared access door and emerged out into the surrounding estate. Eddie was usually out for no more than half an hour. He had never been completely comfortable with the alleyways that adjoined some of the pathways he took. At this time of year, it was dark by 5pm making them even more menacing.
Eddie’s favourite band was “The Jam” giving away his age. He had passed the big 5-0 but still found himself listening to Paul Weller et al. “All Mod Cons” was his favourite album. He approached one of the alleyways he so despised. He could see what he thought was the shadow of a man cast by the neon street light a hundred yards or so further on. The shadow seemed to be lingering against the graphited wall in the alleyway. There was nothing to signal either the sex or intent of the lurker.
His pace quickened. Before he knew it, he had made it passed the leering passageway and was moving on. His mind sang “Down in a tube station at midnight” as he heard “The last thing that I saw, as I lay there on the floor, was Jesus Saves painted by some atheist nutter.” The drum beat pounding in his head, the tube train buffeting away from the platform….as the club laid him out from behind.
Eddie awoke after an unknown period of time. He could feel his head thumping as he opened his eyes. Gingerly, he leaned up with one arm and looked around. As his sight came into focus, he saw other beds – hospital beds. There was the sound of conversations with some patients on their own, others surrounded by family. His breath began to quicken, a rising sense of panic. Touching the side of his skull, he could feel a bandage around his head. Eddie saw bugs all around – flesh eating bugs; bacteria to die for. Pulling back the bed sheet, he sat up slowly and scanned the horizon looking for an escape. As he was about to lift himself to the floor, double doors opened and a doctor strode in, clipboard under armpit.
“Mr Sinclair, I presume” declared the latter day Henry Stanley
Eddie felt groggy with all the effort he had made to sit up. He lay back against the pillows and gently nodded.
“How are you feeling?”
“I’ve been better” muttered the reluctant and now trapped patient.
“Good, good. We were worried about you for a while”
Eddie considered this and vaguely remembered his walk; his mind floated to the moment when someone had floored him from behind.
“I can only just recall last night. I think someone mugged me.”
“Last night? You’ve been with us for a while.”
Eddie looked quizzically at the doctor.
“You were out walking, I think. It seems you collapsed or feinted. A young man found you. He called for an ambulance.”
“So how long have I been here?”
“A couple of weeks. It seems you were suffering with the virus. It looked like you had been infectious for a while. You’ve been through ICU.”
Eddie heard the doctor’s words as his head swirled. He considered this for what seemed minutes. But he was so careful, so clean, so thorough. He shuddered inside at the thought of being violated, microscopic entities running around his body. It was too much to bear.
“But how?” he started to ask with a look of bemusement and horror on his face.
“It’s airborne. Unless you’ve stayed in your flat for months on end, you could have got it just about anywhere. I imagine you go out and about, even if it’s just in your tower block or maybe out walking.”
Eddie’s world was shattered but he realised there were people there to bail him out. Going solo in life, it seemed, wasn’t going to work. Perhaps he needed others after all.
“The lad who found me?”
“From memory, he is a fast food courier at Domino’s. It seems you have a guardian angel”.
Eddie thought about this. And smiled.