We waited in line outside the supermarket, huddled close together as the chill wind pulled at our clothes. Kyra swore softly beneath her breath with every fresh gust of wind while I watched enviously as another person left the store with a trolley piled high with goods.
“Why the hell does he have so much toilet roll?” Kyra asked, and all I could do is shrug in reply as I looked back over my shoulder.
“You think we should fill the car up too.”
The line moved forward as someone was allowed into the store and I pushed our shopping trolley ahead of us as we followed the people in front of us.
“This is stupid!”
I couldn’t agree more but I was wise enough not to mention it. Behind us, on the road, an ambulance drove past, lights flashing. A few moments later two police cars followed after.
We took another few steps forward and stopped, while another group left the store with a trolley almost overflowing. I looked over the compact single-storey building and wondered if there would be anything left inside by the time we got in.
“How many people in this town?”
“About thirteen thousand,” I said. “Why?”
“Just wondering how many of the fuckers are in line ahead of us.”
I grinned mirthlessly and waved in apology to the old lady in front of us who turned around to glare at Kyra. My friend had always been hot-tempered and foul-mouthed, and I had always liked that about her.
When most people were sucking up to the managers, she would tell it straight and damn the consequences. Sure, it had cost her a couple of jobs over the years and she had certainly not made friends back at the office, but she had earned the respect of her colleagues.
She stamped her feet on the ground, the stiletto-heeled boots entirely unsuitable for standing in a long queue. Her jeans, fashionably ripped at the knees, were likely not the warmest either. At least her coat was fur-lined and she had the good sense to bring gloves and a hat with her.
My own attire was much more low-key. Simple black trainers and jeans, with a thick jumper and a heavy, waterproof coat over them. I had no hat, though I wore a scarf and woollen gloves. My hair, dark brown and cut short, was not much protection from the cold wind.
“Fucking about time,” Kyra muttered as all but the old lady in front of us moved into the store. The apron-wearing staff member stopped the old lady from moving forward and Kyra swore again.
Another police car rushed past and I followed its passing with a mild look of concern on my face. The ambulances I could understand, but why there were so many police, I wasn’t sure. Which annoyed me, as I hated being unsure about anything.
“Come on!” Kyra snapped, flapping her arms as she hopped from one foot to another.
“Bit cold for you?”
“Bugger off,” she replied, without any real bite to the words.
I just grinned and slipped my hands into my pockets, fingertips touching the wallet nestled there. One thing at least that was going my way, I had plenty of cash available.
The staff member waved us forward and we went inside the building. I paused a moment, eyes adjusting to the harsh light. It was not a welcoming sight that greeted us.
Most of the fresh vegetable section was empty, as was the fresh bread and baked goods. Moving with Kyra beside me, we headed down the aisles, grabbing what we could and loading up the cart. There were two large storage freezers in the cellar of the house so I grabbed four loaves of bagged bread, knowing that I could freeze most of it.
Salt, flour and sugar were next and I went for the larger bags of each. I had no idea how long we would need to use them or how often we could get to the shops, so figured it was best to be prepared.
Tinned vegetables took up a large portion of the tray along with rice and lentils. Stewing meat and tinned corned beef were added to the pile, along with a number of cans of soup. The meat section was lean, but I grabbed what I could, reaching for larger packs that I could freeze until needed.
“Why are you getting bottled water?” Kyra asked as I grabbed the two six-packs of 1.5-litre bottles.
“I don’t like tap water.”
“And you called me a snob.”
She laughed and I followed her to the coffee section where I claimed two large half-kilo tubs while Kyra loaded up on creamer and speciality blends. On to the sweets section where she went hard at the chocolate aisle, while I grabbed a few packs of ginger biscuits, which were good for my stomach and the heartburn I tended to get.
On we went, moving through the store and loading the cart almost to overflowing. When we came to the final section, the booze aisle, Kyra strode purposefully back towards the entrance and returned shortly after with two hand baskets.
I didn’t ask questions, just helped her load them with a nice range of spirits and added a few bottles of red wine too.
The cart was groaning as we took it through the checkout and I paid without quarrel despite the eye-watering total that I was presented with. We left the supermarket and crossed the carpark to the silver BMW that Kyra liked to drive everywhere.
We loaded as much into the boot as we could and piled the rest on the back seat. I returned the shopping cart as Kyra settled herself in the car and set the heater going. By the time I returned and climbed into the passenger seat, her mood had noticeably improved.
“Back to the house,” I said. “Then lunch and a walk down to the beach.”
Kyra squinted up at the grey sky and shook her head. “How about, back to the house and you make lunch while I pour us a drink.”
I held up my hands in surrender and she grinned, happy to have won as I rolled my eyes at her competitiveness.
We set off out of the car park and she paused as an ambulance and police car drove by at speed. She watched them go without comment but followed after a little slower. It wasn’t too far back to the house, perhaps ten minutes and we were in no rush so she kept at an easy pace.
She turned into a side street and slowed to a halt. Ahead of us were the ambulance and the police car from before. They had pulled up outside a house and the police officers pushed their way inside with the paramedics following along cautiously.
With the emergency vehicles blocking the way we had no choice but to sit and wait, and it wasn’t long before the police officers came back out. One of them was missing his hat, while the other spoke rapidly into his radio.
Between them was a naked man, scrawny frame pale with his rib bones showing. His arms had been handcuffed behind his back and a hood placed over his head. From beneath it, blood seeped out, covering his chest.
I shared a look with Kyra as they forced the struggling man into the back of the police car. Behind them, the paramedics were escorting a young girl from the house, bandages pressed against her bare arm with blood soaking through. Her dress was damp with it and following her out of the house was an older woman who wept loudly.
“The fuck is going on?” Kyra whispered, watching with wide eyes.
“Domestic,” I muttered, looking away. “Probably see more of them with everyone locked up together.”
“Nah, mate. It’s more than a domestic violence call. That shit’s weird.”
I could only shrug and returned to my own thoughts as we waited for the police, and then the ambulance to pull away. As soon as the road was clear, Kyra set off again and we made it the rest of the way back to the two-storey property we were staying at without incident.
The house I had rented was one of six that sat atop the hill that overlooked the beach. They were at the far northern end of the town, and the only other houses nearby were a triangular group of cottages full of mainly older people.
Paved stone driveways sat in front of the house with neat gardens behind. We could drive the car right up to the door which made unloading all the easier. There was no one in the house to the right of us, and a young couple with a kid in the house to the left.
They weren’t that noisy and seemed to spend most of their day out exploring the area, which gave me the solitude I needed to sit and brood without much interruption. Kyra, being the exception to that, of course.
We spent the next thirty minutes unloading the car, half-filling one of the freezers in the cellar and overflowing the cupboards in the kitchen with the tinned and packaged goods. Once done, I sat down and flicked on the TV, while Kyra set about making coffee.
I left her to it as it was something she insisted on doing alone, being particular about her coffee and how it was made. Back at her own house, she had a ridiculously expensive coffee machine with all of the bells and whistles, and she complained bitterly about my not having one at my flat.
She had once threatened to buy me one just so she could use it when she stayed over, and if I hadn’t pointed out the lack of space in my flat, she would have done exactly that. She was as generous with money as she was with everything else when it came to her friends and loved ones.
I couldn’t say the same.
“Drink,” Kyra instructed, coming into the room and placing a plain white cup of steaming black coffee on the low table before me.
I rolled my eyes and lifted the cup, blowing on the steaming liquid before taking a tentative sip. Despite the heat, it had a pleasant, almost earthy flavour with what I suspected was a hint of hazelnut.
“It’s very good,” I told her, and she let out a breath, beaming from ear to ear.
“You’re not just saying that?”
“Of course not, it’s really good. Your own blend?”
“No, but it’s one I tried a while back and wanted you to taste.” She paused. “You really liked it?”
With that she headed back into the kitchen, no doubt to brew more so that she could refill my cup. I took another sip. It wasn’t bad at all, but not quite to my taste. I could tell that she was excited about it though and didn’t want to spoil it. So I drank it down and smiled as she refilled my cup.
“Oh, neighbours are back early,” Kyra called from the kitchen.
“As long as they’re quiet, I don’t care.”
She came back into the room and settled on the couch beside me. “Kid looks sick. Sneezing and coughing. Hope it’s not the virus.”
I shrugged, what could I say? Damned near half the country seemed to be getting the virus and every week we were being told it had mutated to a more contagious version, or a stronger version, or a version that affected the lungs or throat.
There wasn’t anything I could do about it and from what I could tell, a mask could only do so much and was mainly to stop you from touching your face with hands that had possibly touched a surface covered with some random person’s virus-loaded sneeze.
Kyra took the remote from me and flicked through the channels, skipping the news reports full of video images of sick people and overrun hospitals. She settled on a cooking show and nudged me with one bony elbow, right in my ribs, eliciting a grunt.
“Go make lunch.”
I rubbed at my side where she had poked me. “Fine, what do you want?”
“Whatever you want to make.”
Which was no help at all. With a roll of my eyes, I pushed myself up from the sofa and swallowed the last of my coffee before heading into the kitchen to make lunch.