“We need to attack the virus! We are at war!” it marches from the loudspeakers. The leaders of the world declare war again. Without a tremble in their voice. You don’t become a leader in this world out of concerns. Where there is war, there is propaganda.
“We have lost the war, dear comrades.” would be actual annunciation, and confession. But, where there is war, there is a deathly pallor of the nation and there is heroism.
“The war has just begun.” might be closer to a truth, taking in consideration that there hasn’t been peace. The almighties versus the slaves. The wealth versus poverty. Rarely there was a time when it was the poor against the rich.
We are not at war, we watch a system falling apart and repairing itself simultaneously, like a terminator, the bad ones obviously. The self-repairing cells are us. In false solidarity we stand ground, in corporate solidarity against a parasite which is a rather cruel enemy, in comparison to the sadistic, relentless machine.
Both are sharing features, as there is the invisibility, the unpredictability and that it feeds on us. Though in one aspect the machine captures, the virus does not mutate as fast, adjust to its failure as it happens and moulds its triumphant successor. To observe this taking place is the actual crisis of the crisis. That there is no escape.
It’s grounds deeper than any concept can reach. It’s in all of us. In our believes. In our reason. In our morality. It is life. It is life as we know it even it ends constantly, with every single life which dies because of. It’s a vicious, sadistic perpedomobile. And the wheel keeps on turning.
“Side by side we need to stand together and fight.” but actually it says YOU need to stand together. You need to survive and you will! Here is are some blankets, a package of emergency, some rules our war ministry prepared for You, some supplies, and of course as always a collection of promises against hopelessness. And last but never least, we are granting You loans, with no interest, to make us richer, because WE WILL take care of you! That is a promise.
I can hear crowds cheering. Milliseconds between flash lights reveal women waving face masks, children clinging to their parents full of joy, men standing strong and getting ready to get their hands bloody, disabled and elderly people jumping and dancing. Then I am back again, queueing up at a supermarket. After a long discussion we have decided to stop discussing and act, for once, before we regret someday to have never acted at all, not for us, not for ourselves. We set forth to buy some canned food and rice, in case things will turn really bad, in Cambodia, where things never have been really good. I don’t know what to feel, there are too many feelings. There is shame me being here and doing this, stocking. There is concern that I haven’t bought enough, that I should take advantage of my ascendance, of my funds, as others, the majority in this country does not have any, life is their daily crisis. I am worried not about myself. I am worried that I will act against my idealism to survive once the situation will demand it, once survival will. Then I have a moment of clarity, clarity in a sense that what happens is not build on anything which I experienced before, it’s like a dream which afflicts you for the first time. As soon dusk falls the dream awakes with you eyes still open. But my eyes are closed and I laugh about myself, about the world beyond my lids, like a lunatic who can see – but never the world of others. A feeling is never only one feeling, it is always a hybrid of many, and I can feel this bone-deep. And like a starving dog I am baring my fury and despite.
“What you bought a gun?!” A man next to me is shouting out loud, in english. Not many foreigners are in this part of the city. His accent sounds American. “Sorry.” He looks around already knowing that nobody will have cared, seeking a conversation, one of these can we talk about what just happened conversations, stranger or not expecting a common sense agreement. “That was my mother. I hung up on her.” he informs me as if I have followed his conversation and would only wait to lay out my judgement. “Not all Americans are arms fanatics or fanatics in general. Not all Americans want to make war great again. Not all Americans – “ I interrupt my silent monologue. “Ok.” I answer, and I end my monologue with “Don’t care about America, you or your mom, who maybe is not even American, like you.” “Sorry, my name is Michael, and my mother wants to buy a gun.” he laughs. “So I hung up on her. She is out of her mind, this is exactly why everything is so fucked up, man.” I am not your man, man – he might truly be American. “Ok.” I don’t know what he expects me to say. Guns are not ok. Or does your mother know how to use it, not that she shoots someone of their own. Or guns are the beginning of the end. Or flower powder instead of gun powder, or love always wins or praise the Lord. Because I don’t care. Because there might be a time when I will wish to have a gun, and know how to use it. I could now claim that I will never shoot someone, except myself, but I also don’t believe in the power of love, especially once things turn really mad. I just don’t know. That differs us from a terminator, a terminator convinced itself to know everything and if not it creates something to make it true. It is everything. “Anyway, peace and love, man, stay safe.” He interrupts thankfully this time my line of thoughts. I feel ashamed again. “Ok.” And overcharged. “You too.” I don’t know what else to say. His queue is faster so he is passing. I am relieved. I don’t see any point to discuss guns or America or listening to his family issues. I also don’t want to share any of my concerns, opinions or forecasts. I don’t know shit, I don’t want to know shit. I don’t want to feel I know shit knowing I don’t, in the very end. It doesn’t matter as people are people following leaders, solutions, the comfort of pretending things are taken care of. I don’t belief. Nobody does, everyone just hopes.
“If there is a good thing coming out of the pandemic then that it affects us all the same which shows us we are all the same.” The corporate solidarity shows its first effects. The average middle class test object reacts to the campaign. Magnificent! The poor call it revenge. The rich, not part of the test group though, a purge. “We will get over it.” We does not include You. “The homeless does not feel the same standing on the street, cut off any supply chain. The peons does not, he stays one day at home and starves tomorrow. The low-pay workers who loose their jobs. That is already the majority of the worlds population who is not in the same situation like you right now. And they are all healthy still.” The test object starts crying. Or I imagine, I hope it would. In a community each link is of value. To weaken one weakens the edifice of solidarity. In times of crisis it has to be only about strengthening each other as this is the key to resistance. In good but in particular in bad times.
My thoughts are again interrupted by the adjacent queue. Some liquid sprinkles splash on my arm and my instinct reacts immediately with panic mode and closes like a shy plant, which results with me nearly dropping my phone. An elder lady is spraying herself with a small refill suspender which makes me right away think of a storage room filled with sanitiser containers, in her trolley are two more to barrel the space bottom to top. She will probably die slayed by one of them. Her face mask is inflating and deflating like nostrils, heavy, in panic mode. I expect caused by the foreigner to the right line who is watching her. The odour of 2020. It takes her two more pushes on the spray head until not she but her eyes tell her that alcohol is not applicable to eyes. Her nostrils show definitely her panic mode now, I can nearly hear the folds of the mask lashing. She opens frantic her handbag, half blind digging for tissues I assume, with cheap transparent oversized single use plastic gloves, the ones sellers use, though its rustling weaves in like a disastrous crescendo murmur. And then for a moment she holds a package of clinical wet tissues and I am close to jump on her like she just chose to bite in the forbidden fruit. I nearly drop my phone again and once my attention is back on the scene she already tries to opened a boxing of tissues, with the plastic of the gloves sticking to the packaging strip. I think of offering her my help, at the same time I am scared she will attack me with her hand sanitiser spray, now that she knows the pain she inflicted on herself. The scenery is like a sad clown. I laugh, and at the same time I am shell-shocked.
My phone notifies me. I have a new message. Family or friends from Germany maybe. When you live far away from your previous life, and your past has lost its right of veto in the now because social reality requires assimilation of perspectives and therewith performance of experience, opening a message from the past is like reaching into the topper of a magician, it should be a white rabbit, but what is if the rabbit has rabies. I might have to rethink that metaphor again. No messages from the past, which is like no rabbit in the topper. A friend from the village I live in is asking “You want protection from monks against the virus?” I reply reassuring if she is serious, not that this doesn’t happen, but if she is dead serious asking me. “Why not.” Why not yes, except the fact that there is a bunch of baldies in orange robes wandering through the village, blessing with water gates and religious bigots, and nobody asks if they are actually healthy. “This is literally death knocking at your door.” – pissing against your gate. “Monks can not get the virus.” I think once she sent the message she realised what she just said. I start immediately to type, “I don’t care about your beliefs. Spiritual or you believe in Mickey Mouse with save us –“ Before I can finish the sentence the notification banner quotes my friend, “Do you really think I believe this?” I want to reply and ask why she sends me then this death note. I want to resolve, I want to accuse, I want to point with all my fingers on all of those who burry their hearts in a bed of flowers where there is a fire storm raging the earth, not since the virus. I want that my fingers are snakes, spitting poison in their blind eyes to open them like an infected wound with its reservoir of purulent malady. I delete what I wrote and answer, “Ok.” “Good.”
The supermarket is crowded, not much more as usual it seems. I have never been here. It’s a hypermarket. Mainly SUVs and luxury cars are filling the parking lot. Security is testing body temperature at the entrance. It was my first time. I tried to stay calm. In a second the worse case scenario was hurtling through my head. An ambulance. A sordid empty room with a bed frame in the center. Me sitting with a the blanket in front on the floor. Blurred faces of parents and my sister on a display. Blackout. Cats dying of hunger at home. Me being forgotten. Me being the only survivor after the civl war. I wanted to touch my forehead to check if I have fever, I decided not to as I might reveal myself. “Remember, it’s Cambodia.” Locals were detained for elucidating people about the situation. The quarantine office at the airport of the capital is staffed with two men playing games on their phones. The security shows me the display of the infrared thermometer. 37,7 degrees, which means I needed to step aside and wait in the shade as I came right out of the sun, where it has these days about 37 degrees. Foreigner are advised to wear a face mask all the time. We foreigners are these days infected by nature. A friend on facebook, meaning a facebook friend, a nobody, who cares, regardless, she exists and she described in a comment such racist reaction as cultural defence. Another moment I wished for snake fingers, but this time they a have the permission to bite these humans their heads off.
Inside of the hypermarket the trolleys are the only natural social distance zone. Someone sneezes. I am not turning around. I am not letting fear change my behaviour. Sneezing again. I am still resistant. “No change of behaviour might in serious cases lead to exponential escalation of fear. Stay cautious.” I read an imaginary sign-board dangling over our heads next to the bleach promotion. I start to draw an icon to it. Not many might be able to read english, though the average customer of the hypermarket should have a sufficient education. Others are not able to afford, neither the SUV in the parking lot nor fear. But before I can finish the drawing of a demolished alarm clock which would have caused only more confusion too, the sign is blown away with another sneeze. I turn around. Right in this moment he is sneezing again, 5 trolley units behind me, two queues left of mine. He lifted his face mask to sneeze again. Nobody around him reacts in any way. They seem to be paralysed by fear in denial of reality. “Rigor mortis.” Now I catch the attention of two people. I think I can identify a smile behind one face mask, upper part of the cheeks is tightened, eyes narrowed. He is throwing me with his both hands thumbs up. I answer with a one handed thumbs up. The tattoos and beard. “Yes gangster.” I answer to myself and like on auto-play a video starts showing a monk with Sank Yant tattoos and his friend with a huge machete trying extremely hard to cut his arm, but not one single drop of blood will touch ground. “Gangsters of paradise” I turn back to my trolley, eyes front. Another sneeze. I can’t recall a situation I observed here in Asia where someone advised in public the action of someone else. They do record though, but not intervening. “Cultural defence” how my friend would call it.
Most of trolleys are filled with soap, other cleaning supplies and cooking oil, and of course instant noodle soups, boxes of. My trolley has also one box, I think containing 40 packages. I dearly hope for the sake of my nutrition that I don’t have to open them. And instantly “Not enough!” flashes through my mind. I would prefer to blame this thought on someone else, someone inside of me who summons all acquired behaviour patterns, common behaviour patterns, naturally modern behaviour patterns, strategies of survival in modern times, doom of mankind, with working title, in the shadow of the cultural origin, “I deserve absolutely more”; but I had this thought, it was me, followed with a heavy irate feeling of shame. Accompanied by “How can I save the world”, which equals to either I want to be shamelessly a hero or I want to heal myself or both. That shame is then tracked by disgust and I have an urge of knocking myself out, with lots of alcohol and whatever drugs are available. I leave the queue and my trolley, and aim straight for the liquor section of the hypermarket. Rum! In 3 days I am for 7 months drug free. 8 months ago I had dengue fever which hit me badly, due to my physical condition at the time. It cleared my head. I did not take care of myself, for like two decades, so it just broke me, nearly literally in half, the skinny brittle brick I was. And I decided to finally sober up, to face life, as pathetic and true as it sounds, with sobriety, which I always considered one of the most dangerous weapons each human has to enforce change, I just never was brave enough to reach out. Leaving the romantic and romantic world of despair and fatalism. Escaping the escapism, the corporate escapism which plays so well into the hands of termination instead of determination. Also I am in an age where are wrinkles where there haven’t been before – and doubts hit you deeper than the word revolution. And I had in the last 7 months not one moment of escaping again. “And I will not now.” I leave though the bottle in the trolley, just in case, “Whatever burns.”
In the US guns are sold out. In Europe toilet paper is the new gold. In the Middle East rockets are enraging still the skies as nothing has hit the international community – as there is no international community, not even in crisis. In refugee camps people are left to die, now literally and we don’t need to have a bad conscience about it, finally we have our own crisis to evacuate others. Political and economic leaders, hard to tell the difference in regular cases, are using the pandemic to take condemnable decisions – as it is business as usual except there is less need to hide. Artists are promotion to be creative, to use the time as now we have plenty of and timelines are replete with paintings of people wearing face masks and abandoned landmarks, and calls to donate and save the arts, the artist’s inability to truly create than being a incarnated document of time himself. “Fucking artists. Fuck art.” I take a break from scrolling my borrowed timeline and lift my head, 6 trolleys to the cashier. I get gradually nervous, not impatient, but questioning my decision to come here and be part of this trolley parade, and being that bored to zap through social media channels. An elderly person in her pyjama on my right is staring at me, even once I catch her, she keeps on staring, without any chance in her facial expression, which is a facial play, until her maybe daughter tugs her sleeve. “Sorry Sir.” with folded hands in front of her chest. I want to say “Don’t worry, I like her pyjama too.” but judging by her english pronunciation and the color of her skin she might not understand the second part and my Khmer is even after years of living here not close to managing a joke, judging the ignorance of my skin. So I answer with folded hands to accept her apologies, and the edifice of shame is maintained again, with no relation build. In their trolley one box of instant noodles and a huge canister of cooking oil. The daughter is wearing a pair of red flip flops, with a bulky face of a cat on top and either it might squeak once you push it or probably nothing happens but they look cute. Black trousers with crease. A gold and white coloured Gucci sweater. The glossy fabrics manufactures a short attack of sweating and itches under my clothing, which is not close to as clean and neat. She has a pink butterfly hair clip, two gems seem to be missing and the right antenna is kinked. At that very moment I feel her eyes on me and she immediately touches her hair as if something is not right. “What did I say, my face.” I smile at her wishing the embarrassing situation away, for both of us, in particular for me but she doesn’t know. Cultural defence is doing its job again. Make cultural defence great again. Four trolleys to the cashier.
Now I feel even more nervous, or not nervous but more anxious. I think about their life. The simple Nissen hut they have. The man of the house who is mostly drunken. The abuse. Women and children in quarantine trapped with their abusers, 24 hours, and the situation becomes every day more terrorising, less income, nowhere to escape, despair cringes through every crack in the two room apartment, one unit in a apartment complex of hundreds of units, a world-spanning complex of mute screams, more than ever. If you feel closely you can hear them, shock waves, like after an explosion. I remember a quote of some minister or whoever spoke out loud, “Before it gets better it gets worse.” When can we finally return to bad. This crisis does not bring out the best in us, it makes the invisible naked, it let’s us see how vulnerable we are, as a community and how we are at the mercy of our own being, our blind deference, our need for easy answers to questions we don’t want to listen to. Two trolleys to the cashier. My hands are shaking. I can’t breath, I feel like in a plastic bag, in a blister pack, a superhero character, 2020 history limited edition, Survivors of The Pandemic, special features, a german passport. The blister pack is stuck between cans, in a trolley, in an queue at an abandoned hyper supermarket, someday in the near future of mankind.