My friend looked at me over her frayed fine turtleneck, her chin drooping slightly over its threads. The exhaustion wafted from her eyes.
“This whole thing is just stupid…”
“Well,” I said, “just because something is stupid, does not mean it won’t last long.”
When the pandemic came, it struck my friend, Rachel Ransom, as very surprising. She was a millenialist and did not think it possible, in our progressive day and age, for a pandemic to come. Aren’t microbes a little daft?
She owned the local Tea Tree Greenery café off of Windsor street at the intersection of Concord. A nice, pliable owner she always procured some healthy intention behind the various vegetarian victuals she served. Behind the café was her own organic garden where she prided herself in studying small doses of microcosmic farming and herbery. When she had started to vote recently, she tended to tilt Democratic as long as things didn’t become too political.
At the very beginning, she had decided that the state of affairs was the natural consequence of sinful living: Earthly recourse for our pride and gluttony. For years the Earth had forgiven our many tremulations, but finally its mercy was shifting into deliverance. This sentiment was expressed in the many posters embellishing her cafe: exhortations around climate change, meat production, and duality.
One such flyer could still be seen, a large brussel sprout, underneath a peeling poster of Uncle Sam. I slowly sipped my Rose-balm tea and watched her tired face.
“It’s not so much stupid,” she amended, “as absurd.”
“It is certainly absurd, but we are all in this together.”
“Well, I won’t be!”
When the shut-downs and travel-bans came, my friend was able to tolerate them because they were, after all, good for animals. But the recent government mandates were an affront to her pursuits and personal principles as an American. If we gave away our freedom of choice, the plague had won. She had decided that they were finishing the terrorists’ works.
So, she fought to prevent the plague from besting her. She first went to the local chamber of commerce to get an exception for her business. After all, she had told them, she was involved in the business of health. They conceded the point, but told her they could not show favoritism. So she went to the city counsel, and asked them to make a loophole in the mandate for residents without underlying medical conditions. They shrugged and told her it was the state’s jurisdiction. So, she finally linked up with a regional group petitioning for an injunction to the rollout of the vaccine orders.
“I would rather have the calamity I know, than the uncertainty I don’t,” she explained.
“Are the vaccines really that uncertain?”
“What do the doctors and scientists know? They’re fascists.”
“That’s why we are in the middle of a pandemic. We don’t know we are losing.”
So, she continued to put up a heartrending struggle to recover her lost happiness and to balk the plague of that part of herself which she was ready to defend to the ditch. This was her way of resisting the bondage closing around her and she did it with a rightous pride.
When recourse to lawful methods proved impossible, she was prompted to sometimes foolhardy actions. She refused to wear her mask and she started on the litigious path of forging a vaccination card. She noticed some of the police refused to enforce the mandate, and so she zeroed her interactions and sweetened their purchases. She allowed indoor dining without proof of vaccination.
The fight at least, was good for her. While she was involved in her struggle with officialdom, it took her mind off the predicament. In fact, the rapid progress of the plague practically escaped her notice. It made the slow slog pass more quickly, and to be honest, every day lived through brought everyone, provided they survived, twenty-four hours closer to the end of this ordeal.
The waitress brought over her Rose-balm tea.
“It’s very good tea,” I noted.
She sighed. “The government is telling us their bad dream is more important than my lived happiness.”
I paused and looked up. Several children were staring through the window of the cafe.
“You think you still have freedom — during a plague?”
“Yes, I should be able to do anything I have been able to do.”
“No, the plague cancels plans, cancels features, cancels the future. Freedom presupposes that plagues are impossible.”
We swirled our tea.
“They can exist out there, but they aren’t going to get the best of me. I still use zoom. I’ll still expand my shop once this is over.”
“Look, our plans and memories do not make sense in plague times. The quicker we can stop fighting for them, we can start fighting the plague.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, plague is in our midst, and there seems to be only one choice. Resist.”
“I am resisting,” she said, her voice starting to rise above her scarf. “All I do every day is refuse!”
I rubbed my arms and looked at one of the kids in the line outside.
“Look, we all have the pestilence in us. We are all carriers of the plague-germ, and if we do not act as if that is a possibility, it will most certainly be. And we are all weary and sick of this plague. But some of us are weary having it, and some of us are weary trying to resist it. In life, there are pestilences and there are victims, and the only resolution we can do is take the victims’ side.”
“What does that look like?”
“Some form of common decency.”
I went to get up to leave and get back to my work in the school. Nowadays, the families either adore you or despise you, but in either case, a thin veil had come between us.
“And the least you can do, if you will not fight it, is try not to propagate it deliberately.”
This story is based fully on The Plague by Albert Camus, Vintage edition, trans. by Stuart Gilbert, 1975.