Meeting people, and by people I mean women, in this post-apocalyptic world is a little different from before.
With the financial industry in disarray because of all the goats now being traded on the stock exchange, and by stock exchange I still mean down the local market, it is difficult to judge how much a date with somebody is likely to cost.
Some people, I’ve heard, have forgone dating altogether and have instead started staying at home with their goats until the markets become less volatile. Whether these people, at home, alone with their goats, remain celibate is another question entirely.
I don’t own a goat and so I’m left to rely upon my natural charm and wit to woo what I hope is a female. The Hazmat suits really leave everything to the imagination, it is always pretty difficult to differentiate anyone from another these days. You’d have thought we’d have been given colour coded suits. Blue for the boys, pink for the girls, rainbow for the gay men…errr, dungaree’s with a frown for the dykes (would that be possible to put on a hazmat suit?), and, I don’t know, a big question mark down the back of the trans ones. Well, if they can’t decide, how on earth is a protective suit company supposed to?
With our infected whiskies in hand, we turn our backs to the bar and survey the hunting ground. This evening there are eight other hazmat suits in the pub. A group of three a little further down the bar, two sat at a table in the corner, two playing darts around the back near the breathing area (it was once a smoking area but needs must and all that, these suits can get quite stuffy after a while), and one person stood on is own in the middle of what was once the dance floor. They’re holding a Corona so I’m guessing he isn’t here to meet anyone.
‘What about those three foxy ladies?’ Dave, my old mate FJ-1623-M256 says, pointing at the three Hazmat suits leaning over the bar at the end.
‘Dave, that’s Bob, Clive and Phil, the old timers who stand there every day drinking their infected whiskey in silence.
‘Are you sure? That one on the end looks a bit of alright.’
‘You mean Clive? And in what way does that particular Hazmat suit “Look a bit of alright?” Is it the way the industrial stitching accentuates his saggy old arse?’
‘Are you sure it’s Clive?’ Dave asks.
‘Well I can see his moustache through his visor.’
‘Oh. Well what about…’
‘That’s Bob, Dave. You know it’s Bob. You spoke to him yesterday when he was stood exactly where he’s stood now.’
Dave shakes his head, ‘It’s just so hard to tell these days.’
‘Tell me about it, I mean even if you locate a woman one, there’s no telling if she’s wearing dungarees underneath the suit.’
‘Or a frown.’
‘Or a frown, exactly. Or a question mark.’
‘Question mark?’ Dave asks and I wave the query away.
‘Come on, there’s got to be something out there for two young, fit, single men.’
‘We’re not that fit.’
‘We’re not dead. The majority of the people on the planet now are.’
‘We’re not that young either, not anymore. With the oldest man in the world being forty-four now, that makes middle aged twenty-two which means we’re ancient.’
He does have a point, but I don’t need his statistics putting a downer on the evening, the night is young and so were we before the virus.
I hear a muffled laugh coming from beneath a visor from of the two in the corner. Women alert! Women alert! Tapping Dave on the shoulder I see he has heard it too. How any of us hear anything with these suits on is a mystery to me but nevertheless a squeaky cackle did originate from their table.
We walk over smiling. As long as your suit visor isn’t steamed up other people can see basic facial movements like smiles and frowns. Things really aren’t that different after all.
‘Evening ladies…’ I say, regretting my choice of words instantly as they both turn around and I see it is in fact a bloke and his missus sitting together. ‘Oh, errr, sorry.’
The guy smiles, at least I think it’s a smile, my visor has steamed up a bit from uttering my own words. ‘Just the one lady here I’m afraid,’ he says, his own visor now steaming up for a moment.
This is the life we now lead, having half conversations, waiting on visors to de-steam so you can gauge reactions, it’s ludicrous, but it is also law. Since the eradication of COVID-21 the world governments have become sensationally paranoid. Scientists have admitted, with absolutely no evidence to the contrary, that COVID-21 could be lying dormant and if it arises again it will likely have mutated again. The world took a better safe than sorry approach and thus the suits we all have to wear when going out in public.
More than that though, every dwelling in the country has been installed with a “clean room” where we get into our suits. Instead of a porch where we might have stored coats and shoes at one time, now there is a sealed off room from the front door where, while we are still wearing the suits, they clip into the dividing wall. Once clipped in, a button is pressed and the suit is sucked towards the wall creating a barrier between the outside world and your home. Unzip the suit and walk right into your living room. It’s a bloody nightmare. For starters, if you invite somebody over you each need to go through this rigmorole individually. You can’t get out of your suits at the same time, oh no. There is only one opening. Unless of course you opted for the two man “clean room”, but I don’t have goats to burn. I don’t even have a goat.
‘Ahhh,’ I say, stopping my approach to this couple’s table.
The guy lifts up his hand to signal that no offence was taken and Dave and I walk back to the bar.
‘This is crazy,’ Dave says, slumping back down on the bar stool. ‘How are we ever going to find women?’
I look around the bar to check that, in our short walk over to the couple in the corner, the pub hasn’t filled up with hundreds of hot and horny hazmat wearing potential beauties. It hasn’t. It is still just Bob, Clive and Phil stood at the end of the bar, the two playing darts around the back, and Mr Corona, still on his own, on the dance floor. He smiles and waves. I ignore this but Dave waves back.
‘Dave what are you doing?’
‘What? He waved.’
‘And now he’s coming over. Well done.’
‘He might know where we can find some single women.’
I take another look at Corona man, an eager smile coming through the fog of visor condensation.
‘Are you for Real? He’s moe likely to offer to buy us one of those bloody lagers and we’d have to accept because it’d be rude not…Hi, how are you?’ I say as Corona man bumps visors with me.
‘Not too bad, not too bad, just checking out the action, not bad, don’t you think FO-3492-K652?’
Dave gives me a nudge. Shit, he’s talking to me still. I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t yet learned my government issue “tag” and still just prefer Rob as a name. Call me behind with the times, call me stuck in the past, I know, but Rob tends to roll off the tongue a lot easier than FO-349…ohh, you get the picture.
‘Yeah, errr, not bad,’ I reply.
‘Not bad at all.’
I shake my head, ‘I’m sorry but who are you?’
Corona man smiles, pivoting so I can see TW-4782-P839 printed down his suit’s arm.
‘Ok, and did you have a name before the regime decided this was you for the rest of your days?’
Corona man a.k.a TW-4782-P839, shakes his head, ‘You know what, I’ve almost forgotten it, it’s been that long since I’ve used it. I was called Ben.’
‘Nice to meet you Ben,’ I say, bumping visors.
‘Sorry no. I don’t choose to identify with that name any longer. That is the person I was before, when my lifebearers dictated what I should be known as.’
‘Lifebearers? You mean parents?’ Dave asks.
Again Corona man shakes his head, ‘No, not since the government told us to leave the past in the past. They were my parents before the Virus, now they are referred to as my Lifebearers.’
‘Ok, great, well it was nice to meet you TW-4782-P839. Chin up and all that, we’ve got to leave.’
‘We do?’ Dave asks.
‘We do. Come on, lets move onto the next pub.’
‘Move on, like it’s across the road? The Ox and Plough is four miles away.’
‘Regulation Public House 323?’ Corona asks.
‘I still prefer to call it The Ox and Plough,’ I say.
He laughs, slapping me on the back, ‘You are something of a maverick aren’t you…’ a pause to check my moniker, ‘FO-3492-K652.’
‘Again, I’m more comfortable being called Rob.’
Another laugh. Imagine still going by your birth name? What a crazy notion.
‘Of course you are.’
‘Anyway…it was nice to meet you…Ben.’ The visor frowns. Well, Corona Ben frowns, the visor doesn’t do anything other than steam up from time to time. I sigh, correcting myself, ’Sorry, it was nice to meet you TW-4782-P839.’
‘You know what? If you don’t mind I’d like to tag along with you two. It’s been a while since I’ve visited Regulation Public House 323.’
‘You mean The Ox and Plough?’
‘No…that’s not its na…’
‘Alright, fine, Jesus lets just go shall we.’
And so the three of us leave the local and head out into the big wide world. In a couple of hours it’ll be curfew. Not that this would change much. People don’t tend to venture out much nowadays anyhow.
‘So,’ Ben asks, ‘What do you fellas do for a living these days?’
Dave and I shrug, ‘Well I’m a writer and Dave here is a musician.’
‘Really? What do you write?’
‘Words usually, although sometimes I go crazy and write letters first.’
Corona Ben nods, completely unaware I’m taking the piss, ‘And you FJ-1623-M256? What do you play?’
Dave smiles, ‘Music mainly, but when I’m feeling out there I’ll try playing a few notes.’
Satisfied with both our answers we go forth in silence. How on earth did we manage to pull the village weirdo?