US Virgin Islanders have been fortunate in the management of COVID-19. Our Governor has listened to health experts, instigated common sense practices and after a period of lock down has been opening the islands up in a measured manner. There is a strict mask policy, with shops stating in large letters, No Mask, No Service, No Exceptions. Big burly men comply. Children over the age of five comply. There appears little reason to not comply. Our islands have had some deaths but nowhere near the numbers seen on the mainland, which has allowed our hospitals to withstand the stressors of treating those seriously infected. We wear our masks!
I, along with everyone else, am learning a whole new way of reading people. Are the eyes crinkling in laughter or distaste? Is a slipped mask a sign of belligerence, or just a slipped mask?
I don’t go in for public shaming but I did feel moved, after dancing around a young man wandering the aisles of my local supermarket, to suggest that wearing his mask across his chin was as much use as a condom on his big toe. His girlfriend, suitably masked, burst into laughter and dug him in the ribs.
“I told you,” I heard her chortle, as her beau got caught up in his gold chains in his haste to protect himself. And others.
I was encouraged to encounter them again, this time at the cashier, and see his nose and mouth was suitably covered. The girl grinned and waved.
My weekly outing revolves around the supermarket. Actually three of them. The only way I am able to gather all the items on my list. On Monday, as I tied my mask in timely fashion before approaching the ramp to the store I was surprised to be haled by a tall, masked woman I did not recognize.
“Wait!” she called. “I want to ask you something?”
Her tone was peremptory. I am, by nature, suspicious of unknown, over-friendly people, dreading a monologue on the glories of Jehovah. But what the hell? In these days of isolation and fear a brief encounter might help ease someone’s day. Mine included.
“Sure,” I replied, waiting by Otto, our truck, as she ferreted around in her handbag.
“Which do you think?” She waved two strips of paint swatches in front of me. “I can’t tell the difference. They’re both grey. And that,” she jabbed at a duck-egg blue square, “is meant to go with both.”
“Um,” I replied.
“My decorator said I must decide.”
“Well,” I said, pointing, “that grey has yellow undertones which is why it’s a bit murky. And that one has blue tones which makes it sharper.”
“How do you know that?”
“I was an interior designer.”
“Hah! And I find you in the parking lot.” Her laughed trickled around her mask.
“So it would seem,” I said, hoping my eyes reflected my amusement. “What room are they for?”
“Kitchen and lounge. Together.”
“Have you lots of windows? Lots of light?”
“Then I’d go with the blue grey.”
Her brow wrinkled above her mask – a clue I took to mean she wasn’t relieved at my profound judgement.
“Um…” I said again, dithering in the blistering heat as to whether I really wanted to continue the conversation. “Do you like the colours?”
“I’m not sure.”
“That usually means you don’t. If I were you, I’d get some more samples. Good luck.”
We parted ways, she to her car, me to my trolley. My mask hid my smile.
Scanning the shelf for ginger cookies, my sole reason for being at the store, I was surprised to feel a tap on my shoulder.
“Oh, hello,” I said to the woman, again noting the intricate braids and marveling at the patience required to attain them.
“Are you still a decorator?” She asked.
“No,” I replied, hoping my tone was firm. “I haven’t practiced in twenty years.”
“I don’t know what to choose? Or which paint. Sherwin Williams. Behr. Benjamin Moore. Who?”
“Why don’t you get your decorator to put together another storyboard with different colours, a different theme,” I said.
“Oh,” I said, and explained. “Look, the colour should reflect you, not your decorator or what she deems is in vogue. Do you have favourite plates, dishes, or a sofa or cushion you can take a colour from? Something that ties the walls to your things.”
“Huh,” she said, looking again at the two strips of paint samples.
“Then buy a small tin of a couple of colours you like, brush a bit onto each wall. Each wall will show the colour differently depending on the time of day and night. But ma’am,” I said, “It must be something you like, not something someone else thinks you should like.”
“I’ll tell my friends I found a decorator in the parking lot?” She laughed, and patted my arm. “Thank you. “
“My pleasure,” I assured her.
The masked lady went down the ramp and I wandered along the aisle in search of ginger cookies. My heart laughing and my smile broad behind my mask.
No mask, no service, no exceptions taken to new dimensions.