This month, Holly Peters Mayflower 400 Young City Laureate contemplates the 'new normal as she heads back to her job in retail in the city'.
It was about a month ago. The vibrations of the phone made the arm of the chair tremor until it dove off, landing with a thud onto the carpet. The slices of sun rippled against the cream floor as though it was water.
The world was beginning to shed its petals, unfurling like spring into summer. Even if some weren’t ready to bloom. Resuming. Confusion buzzed around, hordes of guidelines and rules to get lost amongst.
“Are you ready to come back this weekend?” they asked.
I answered questions about Covid-19: do you currently have any symptoms? Does anyone in your household display any symptoms? Do you feel safe to come back to work? The usual small talk.
I scoured my wardrobe and pulled out a new pair of jeans, ones that had yet to be worn in the wild. I curled my hair and swiped mascara across my eyelashes. Taking a second to pick out a mask that would match my outfit. I reset the time on my watch, because there had been no need for the arms to waste energy ticking as all the days had been the same.
When I arrived at work for my first day, someone stood at the door as a gatekeeper, eyes darting like mice as they watched for people leaving and arriving.
“Please follow the arrows and sanitise your hands,” they repeated on a loop like the chorus of a song. Customers nodded and tapped their feet having heard it a million times before.
Glass screens. Matching blue masks. Paths taped in black and yellow.
I was given a piece of paper and a pen and reminded of my login details and door codes; it’d been so long they’d escaped my memory. We trundled in laps around the store as they point out how things have changed. I scrawled them down in a spidery scribble. There wasn’t as much to remember as I’d expected. Everything the shadow of normal.
The lanyard felt strange dangling around my neck.
Anxiety bubbled away beneath my sweaty palms, laced in waves of shortened breaths. A sea of people in a headache of colours rushed past, feeling caught in a current. It took a second for me to adjust. Greeting what seemed like hundreds of people, strangers who I had never seen and wouldn’t see again. A novelty I’d forgotten.
When I got home, I could feel the tiredness sinking in my knees. A day unravelled that was unrecognisable to the past one hundred spent hidden from any hints of chaos. The quietude called my name and I crawled into its warmth.
I was reminded that most people are anxious, that most people are adjusting. Perhaps that’s why people were quicker to raise their voice, or impatient that they couldn’t walk straight into any store as our past selves would have.
By the next shift everything got easier. Slipping into the routine. The one after that even better still. People more understanding, more compassionate. The apprehension doesn’t go away, but we get used to the one-way systems and the new policies.
The new normal not nearly as scary as it had seemed.
This entry is an extension of collaborative commission by Plymouth Culture and Literature Works. It has been reproduced from the original, posted here.