When Oliver woke up that morning, he could sense something was amiss. For one thing, he felt rested—which never happened. Even more significantly, the only thing coming in through the open window was—silence.
He looked out onto a street full of slumbering cars. It unnerved him.
Finding the remote, he turned on the TV.
“We are potentially all at risk as it is yet unknown how quickly the virus may spread,” the reporter was saying in a cheerful, peppy tone. “The government has therefore declared a state of emergency, banning all citizens from leaving their homes without a face mask.”
While the words were still fading into his consciousness, he heard his phone vibrate—briefly but resolutely.
“Due to present health crisis, all employees are to work from home until further notice. Email communication to follow.”
Although Oliver had occasionally worked from home before, it had never been on his boss’ orders. He looked up from his phone and in a single glance captured the entire living space of his studio apartment. Instantly, something gripped his throat with an ever-tightening squeeze.
“Must go out!” his brain was screaming.
“Must go out!” his legs were pulling him.
“Must go out!” every single cell in his body was chanting.
Pulling on yesterday’s pants and the sweater he’d meant to have washed a week earlier, he tied a bandanna around his nose and mouth and broke out of the confinement of his four walls.
He sped down the stairs and was out of the building in seconds, but didn’t stop running until he reached the park.
Predictably, there were no people around. It was barely ten minutes after seven.
Oliver looked up at the sky—the vast, endless canopy overhead—and felt the grip around his throat relax. He could breathe again. He could enjoy life again: The crazy birds with their boisterous arguments, the air fragrant with nascent spring. It was all there.
He made his way to the pond where the ducks and the moorhens observed their breakfast quietly. But as he leaned over, to get a closer view of this spectacle, he noticed his own reflection and saw the unnatural muzzle. He could have sworn it was beginning to tighten around his face.
His throat closed up again. His nose refused to take in air and his mouth was just gasping and gaping. In a fit of panic, Oliver took to his feet again and did not stop running until he had shut his apartment door behind him.
“Free at last!” he announced jubilantly to no one in particular as he ripped off his makeshift face mask.
His smile soon faded. Here it was again: The same four walls closing in on him.
He looked at his watch. The dial read 7:25. And a voice inside his head came mocking him, “Until further notice.”
It was going to be a long day.