It was Saturday, about three in the afternoon when I got a call from my mother that Governor Murphy was closing all non-essential businesses and urging citizens to stay indoors. I closed the book I was reading and quickly got up to fetch my key from the keyring on the wall.
After snatching my keys, I barreled down the stairs, out the door, and into my car. I kicked the engine over to life and raced out of my apartment complex onto the road.
The roads were barren. On the 20-minute commute, I passed only a dozen cars on the road where a dozen was lined at each of the twelve lights on the long strip of road. It was also odd not to see a single person wandering on the side of the road, or a group of cars being led with an escort with the sign "FUNERAL" on their dashboard.
Finally, I arrived at the ShopRite parking lot.
The air felt thin, almost hollow, as I entered the grave hush of the outdoor atmosphere. My car was always one of the 23 parked in a distorted parking lot that often held approximately 50 to 60 cars. I was shocked that the place was not mobbed to the gills.
I walked into the store entrance where roughly 150 shopping carts were neatly tucked against the wall. Besides the massive line was a woman holding a Clorox wipe bottle who was vigorously massaging the handle of her shopping cart to cleanliness.
I drew a breath and grabbed a small orange basket next to the sliding glass automated door.
Inside, customers were browsing. All with carts beside me, a fool amongst the prepared. Each person stood at about 10 feet in length from one another. A month ago, this place would be crammed like shrimp in a fishing net, and the only way to move would be to say "excuse me" repeatedly until an opening arrived to walk.
Today wasn't a day of shopping, but a day of fear. Fear of the unknown.
Carefully, I moved around people, looking down some aisles that were barren and stripped down to just metal shelves.
The pasta gone. The soup slurped. The tuna bagged and tagged.
People in the aisles were moving quicker than normal. Instead of pondering at each item's value, it was being wrestled into the carts like wild game.
Mothers moved with their kids quickly down the aisles, stacking up cartons of eggs and gallons of milk. Elderly women and men with their faces covered in white, using electric chairs instead of walkers.
I watched grown men change direction at the sound of a cough and turn a walk into a speed walk at the drop of a hat. Truth be told, I unknowingly gathered my items at record speed and piled my goods into an open cashier lane.
The young woman at the counter was wearing gloves that were too big for her hands as I dug in my pocket for a TD Bank money envelope. I pulled out a crisp Benjamin and handed her the fresh bill. She handed me back $1.78 in change in the palm of her thick, rubbery latex gloves.
I bagged my items and carried four bags in each arm to the car, with a little pep in my step. Opening the back hatch of my car, I loaded in the bags and hopped in the car. I pulled out of the driveway back onto the road now lit by the basketball orange sun falling from the sky.
This story seems like a work of science fiction to some, but to me, it was horror.