A determined but simple man from the mountains, Harrier could not believe that he was living through the times of a pandemic in the city. Here he was, walking to the grocery store with a surgical mask on, wary of other people around him. Everyone was wearing masks.
“Bandits!” he mused, since he loved old Westerns. His dad reared him on Clint Eastwood movies. He looked at everyone around and realized that all he could really see were their eyes. “The windows into one’s soul.” he told himself. “This will be an excellent way to test if I have finally figured out these big city folks.”
There was no panic in the air. No one was filling up three carts. Everyone seemed calm and took only what they needed. Upon seeing an entire aisle of toilet paper, he wanted to take a photo and post it on social media: We’ve got all the TP you need, America!
He then saw his friends, Mhel and Boy, shopping for supplies.
“Mhel,” Boy said, “I got some alcoholic drinks in case they implement a liquor ban.”
“Partey!” Mhel happily replied.
Looking up, Boy recognized Harrier, who was intently observing them.
“Harrier!” he called, walking up to him. “I see you’ve hoarded your way into the lockdown.”
“Hi, Boy!” Harrier responded. “I see you guys are doing the same. With all that food, you’d think you were feeding an army!”
Claudia let out a laugh while Mhel surveyed the two carts they were pushing. Harrier did not notice that the woman on the same aisle was a companion.
Boy immediately introduced them, and they awkwardly offered to shake hands before realizing that they shouldn’t. They let out a light laugh as they just waved “Hi!” to each other.
“Better to be prepared, Harrier.” Mhel interrupted. “If I know you from Boy’s stories, you’ll be knocking at our door soon enough, requesting for meal rations.”
“With all this alcohol I got,” Boy said, “we’ll need his help!” They all giggled, amused at the thought of being locked up but partying non-stop.
While lined up for the counter, Harrier and Claudia talked about how they were all neighbors but they had never met. She explained that she had just moved into the apartment complex through the recommendation of Mhel, who apparently was an officemate. She mentioned that she left her hometown and a relationship she needed to get far away from. “Leave the awful memories behind, you know?” This left them quiet.
But Harrier could not take his attention off Claudia. She had these brown eyes that he couldn’t help but stare into. He knew he had to slow down time. With all the groceries paid, and they made their way to the parking lot, Boy realized that the two carts of groceries would not fit with Claudia in the backseat.
“Excellent!” thought Harrier. But before he could open his mouth, Mhel said, “Maybe Harrier could help us.”
Harrier was about to burst from smiling so much! The timing and opportunity to spend a little more time with Claudia was fated! He was about to speak when Boy said, “Of course! Harrier, my friend.” This was it! Harrier could not believe his luck! “Could we put some of our groceries in your car so that Claudia could fit? I can just walk over to your place and grab the rest of the bags.”
Harrier’s jaw dropped. He reached into his pocket to find his keys, as if looking for the words that seemed to have abandoned him. “You are such a silly guy, Boy!” Claudia exclaimed. “Why would you give Harrier groceries as a companion? I’m sure we can…”
“Ride with me.” Harrier suddenly said. “How about you ride with me, Claudia, and I can drop you off at your building?”
The stillness of that moment seemed to take more than just a few seconds. Harrier looked Claudia straight into her eyes. She didn’t respond, but a step forward gave away her answer.
The sound of crinkling paper interrupted them as Mhel and Boy loaded the bags of groceries into their car.
They shared the drive together talking and getting to know more about each other. Harrier told her about his family’s mountain province and Claudia talked about the family rumor that her ancestors arrived with the galleons, fathered some children, and sailed away before they had to own up to the responsibility. They had a delightful laugh at that one. They enjoyed the heavy traffic more than anyone else on the road. The trip took them an hour, but it was the shortest hour they have ever encountered.
“Too short a trip.” Harrier said. “I hope we can talk again soon.”
“That would be great!” Claudia said, almost letting her giddy excitement show.
There was that stillness, again, as they just sat there in the car. They sat there with so much to say but not willing to speak because they both knew that conversations always have an end. Kindred spirits, they seemed to realize, as they sat in silence.
“Hey!” yelped Mhel as she loudly knocked at Claudia’s window. “Did you hear the news? It was just announced that no one may leave their homes starting tomorrow! Let’s go up now and hunker down.”
Harrier walked up to Claudia’s fifth-floor apartment to help her with her groceries. Inviting Harrier in, she signaled to the table where he can place the groceries on. He placed them down and turned to say goodbye. This was when he saw her for the first time. Claudia had taken her mask off, and he finally saw how her eyes wonderfully matched her beauty. His awe was clear as she smiled at his expression.
“Would you mind if we talked more? I would like to get to know you better,” he said.
She suddenly hesitated to answer. The look on her face told him something wasn’t right. “I’m sorry, but not tonight. This isn’t the time.” She was unexpectedly upset. She opened her door and ushered him to leave.
“I didn’t mean to upset you…,” he said.
“You all never meant to,” she muttered as she closed the door on him.
The next morning, Harrier went about his day as best he could. He set up his workstation at home and checked on the internet signal all around the apartment. The directive from the office was to work from home. “All set,” he thought to himself. But his mind cannot focus. “I got to fix this.”
He crossed to Claudia’s building, asked the front desk to buzz her. They called, and the guy wrote something. He hung up, handed Harrier the paper and said, “That’s the number of Ma’am 504. She said to call her.”
Harrier went back to his place and called the number. She answered with a somber, “Hello?”
He opened with, “Ma’am 504! Good morning!”
The silence meant she was not amused.
“Harrier,” she said, “please don’t take this the wrong way. But I don’t think I should get to know other people right now.” She reminded him she had left her town to get away from pain, and now she was risking herself again. And with the pandemic, she should really focus on herself first.
Harrier’s only response was, “I can help focus on you, too.”
She hung up.
He could only stare at his phone as he sat puzzled by what was happening.
“I’ll try again tomorrow,” he thought. “I’ll give her some time and space.” That’s what all the books say, anyway.
Next morning, he did as he planned. Calling Claudia’s phone, he asked her just to listen. He told her about how plain his life has been and that he has no other interests other than work. If she gave him a chance, maybe it would only be friendship, but at least it was not nothing. He also told her he has never had so much of nothing since their call ended yesterday. From that time until now was, for him, what emptiness was like.
She reluctantly agreed to see him and said that she would host dinner with Mhel and Boy at seven in the evening. He can join them, and they can talk then. She also said it would be okay for him to come early. Like 6:00 p.m. early.
As he stood outside her door at exactly 6:00 p.m., he touched it and thought to himself, “I will remember this day. Despite a pandemic, the person who lives behind this door means more.” He took a few deep breaths, closed his eyes, and whispered to himself, “As I travel on the road to Ithaca, I pray that the road is long.”
Claudia opened the door, stared at him, and smiled.