Perry nodded at Izzy, who looked about as ragged as he felt.
He waved her down, sucked in a breath and joined her. They clustered together over a cafe table to the side of the hubbub. The throngs swarmed back and forth across the plaza. Fragments of conversation bounced through the air. “Hey, Iz.” Perry nodded. “How’s it going?”
Izzy raised her eyebrows, face ashen. She blew air out of her mouth, cheeks puffed out. “Terrible, Per. I can’t even do my job as I normally did.” She shook her head. “Life’s awful now.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I mean—” Izzy gestured at the crowds “—look at ‘em all!” She pointed. “Mask. Mask. Mask. Mask. Mask.” She shrugged. “I mean, what the hell?”
“I know, for every moron who wears the covering beneath their nose — and thank god for the morons, am I right?”
Izzy raised her hands. “Praise God for the morons who don’t wear the masks properly.” Right on cue, she pointed to a bald man with his nose exposed over the sleek black canvas of his mask. He had a leather jacket, collar popped like a caricature. “Look at this douchenozzle!” Izzy cupped her hands around her mouth. “Hey! Hey, douchenozzle! I love ya!”
Perry chuckled. “But for every moron, there are ten people who wear them properly.”
“Bastards,” said Izzy. The word hissed through her teeth. The word dripped venom, it oozed from the syllables.
“Bastards,” agreed Perry.
“Look at them.”
“Just look at them.” Perry shook his head.
“And what’s with all this social distancing, too? Fewer parties! Fewer one-night stands! Fewer meals in restaurants and drinks out at night!”
“I couldn’t tell you the last time I was with a group of friends, sharing a pint and shooting the breeze.”
“It makes me sad.”
“It makes me sad!”
“And—” Izzy pointed into the crowd. “Look at all this two-metre crap! So much space between everyone. What. Is. Up. With. That?”
“It’s infuriating, Iz, that’s what it is.”
They eyed a group of girls, who walked right behind two gentlemen. Mere inches between them, with every step.
“But every now and then, there’s a ray of sunshine.”
“A mouth-breathing ray of sunshine. I don’t know what we’d do without the people without a sense of personal space. These nutcases were weird even before the pandemic. But now?” Izzy spun her finger by the side of her head and whistled.
“Where would we be without those cherished members of society who don’t understand the basic rules of society? I just pray — pray! — that nobody brings to their attention how much of a dingdong they’re being.” Perry leaned in as if to share conspiracy. “We need those dingdongs,” he whispered.
“Dingdongs in the supermarket. Dingdongs waiting for the bus. Dingdongs prop our lives up, that’s what they do! We’d be out of a job if it weren’t for the dingdongs.”
“I’m just hanging on, hoping that we don’t learn our lesson from this pandemic. Fingers crossed COVID-19 will just be a bad dream by this time next year, and we’ll be back into old habits. Otherwise—”
“Don’t even think like that, Per.” Her face had paled, and her lips pressed together. The words squeaked out of her as if forced by will. “People will forget about COVID. They have to.” She shook her head at the hordes of people. “I can’t imagine if this is the new normal. Don’t even put the idea in my head, Per.”
“Sorry, Iz. Didn’t mean to stress you out. But we do have to think of the worst. What if people keep on washing their hands after going to the bathroom?” Perry scrunched his face up to show his disgust. “What if people keep using tissues to sneeze into, keep coughing into their elbows?”
“Stop it! I remember the good old days when people would sneeze without covering their nose. When people would cough without so much as a hand over the mouth. All those droplets sprayed throughout public spaces, shimmering, diamondlike.” Izzy’s eyes glazed over as the reminiscence took ahold. She sighed. “So. Many. Germs.” She gave Perry a wistful smile. “It was beautiful, wasn’t it?”
Perry returned the grin. “Those were indeed the days. Remember—” he chuckled “—when people who were ill would still come into work? How they’d infect every single one of their colleagues? Customers too, if that was the industry they were in.”
Izzy laughed. “I hope we get to see those disease-ridden days once more, Per.” She reached across the table and took his hand. “We have to believe that things can go back to normal. We have to. It’s the only way to stay sane.”
“You’re right, Iz. And we’ve got to hold on in the meantime. Gotta keep a white-knuckle grip on reality and hold on. Take every chance we can get, spot every advantage there is. We’ve gotta fight tooth and nail to survive. We can’t give in and we can’t give up.”
A fire blazed behind Izzy’s eyes. “Never give up the fight.” She glared at the people who swarmed in the square. She jutted her chin in their direction. “That’s how they win.”
“Exactly.” Perry exhaled. “Wow. This conversation got very real, didn’t it? Sorry. Seems every conversation I have always comes back to the same old topic. Every damn time.”
“I know, right? But don’t worry. It’s nice to chat with someone who feels the same.” She gave him the side eye. “So many wackjobs and conspiracy nuts out there, these days. Just goes to show how many people failed GCSE science, huh?”
Perry laughed at that. “Yeah, I know.” He stood up and glanced at the thousands of people. They bustled this way and that, a swarm of cockroaches. “Listen, I gotta go. Gotta get on with work. You know how it is, people to do, places to see.”
Izzy got up as well. She took in a deep breath and let it out. “Yeah, me too. Duty calls. But this has been a nice catchup, Per. We should do this more often.”
“I’m always saying that! Can never somehow seem to find the time. Hey, you take care of yourself, yeah, Iz?”
Izzy smiled. “You too, Per. And say hi to the family for me.”
“Will do.” Perry stepped into the crowd. “See ya later!”
Izzy went in the opposite direction, against the constant stream of people. “Talk soon, Per!”
And then they were gone. Izzy Influenza and Perry Pertussis parted ways. The two disappeared into the faceless horde, where people buzzed about like flies.