I SOMETIMES see Vera in the street, a small scurrying person with that slightly distracted look older women sometimes have, as if they might have left a boiling pan on. I met her recently as we queued outside a shop on newly painted socially distancing markers. I was looking for Vitamin D, hoping to boost my immunity against the virus.
‘Which virus?’ she said in her tiny high-pitched voice, the way a mouse might speak if it could.
‘Covid,’ I replied, wondering if she’d heard of another one on its way.
‘That’s what they want you to believe,’ she said knowingly.
I decided not to ask what the heck she meant, instead invited her to tea in my garden, a rash, even lethal, act but lately I’ve heard no voices apart from my own talking to myself, pundits on the radio using the crisis to re-fight the last election, and birds, once hardly noticed but now piercingly piping out their territorial disputes.
‘I have a side entrance,’ I assured her. ‘You won’t have to come through the house.’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ she said with a worrying amount of confidence.
My garden has flourished lately. I presented Vera with a home-made quiche using my own spinach and courgettes, followed by sponge cake stuffed with strawberries from the farmers’ market, twice the price of the hard pale ones in supermarkets.
‘You’re my first post-lockdown guest,’ I told her. ‘We can easily keep distanced sitting here.’
‘It’s all lies,’ she said calmly as I poured the Earl Grey. ‘There is no virus. This is all about global governance. Men at the top of the pyramid pulling the strings of the little people like you, who let them do it.’
Her remark seemed somewhat rude but she was probably just trying to warn me not to swallow things too easily, which is refreshing advice. She didn’t drink her tea and I pushed some quiche towards her.
‘Did you notice there is no longer a cash point at the shop?’ she asked, ignoring the plate.
I wondered if she’d gone on the ‘Boris diet,’ but was already as thin as a twig.
‘Annoying,’ I agreed. So was she; all that lovely golden pastry containing an organic egg going to waste while she sat there staring straight ahead, her long grey hair hanging down almost to her waist, like an ageing Virgin Mary in a grotto.
‘That’s been going on for a long time,’ she said. I took a piece of pie for myself.
‘This false panic provides the perfect opportunity to bring that goal closer. Next it will be an app,’ she said ominously and we both shuddered.
‘I don’t really like them either,’ I said. ‘You have to log on, or you already did and you can’t remember your password.’
‘That’s how they get you,’ she said, cutting off my sympathetic flow. ‘They’ve got all your details. I don’t have a smartphone so they won’t be able to get me but most people will be easy to track and trace. Phones are a multi-purpose means of global surveillance.’
‘You seem a little worried,’ I said, the way my mother sometimes did if a neighbour had a problem, usually with a parish magazine being late or getting a third prize at the village produce show due, it was often said, to biased judging.
‘Soon everything will be controlled by Bill Gates and his microchip,’ she replied, as if that was going to be her final word on the matter. I hoped it was and began to eat.
‘As it says in the Book of Revelation [she said Revelations], “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor to receive a mark in their right hand, and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name”.’
‘Well, I’m glad I’m left-handed,’ I said, using it to push the cake in her direction. I was getting cross seeing the pleasure of afternoon tea slipping away.
‘Who are ‘They?’ I asked, starting to snap. ‘The Chinese?’
‘International,’ she said. ‘All of them. The powers at the top working through governments, NGOs, banks and corporations and Bill Gates.’
’Going to do it all through the internet, is he?’ I asked, starting to sound like a surly teenager.
‘No,’ she said, annoyed that I couldn’t see the truth staring at me with the intensity of my neighbour’s cat, Hypoxia, who’d quietly landed on the table between us and was ogling the cream cake.
‘He’s using vaccines to do it,’ she said. ‘It’s called “strategic philanthropy”. He’s aiming for global control, through vaccination. This lie about Covid-19 is all part of a deliberate campaign to terrorise people so we will all get vaccinated with his microchips. I’ve looked at the statistics, they are no worse than those during other epidemics. Boris says avoid the person next to you. Boris says cover your face. What will it be next, Boris says wave your knickers in the air?’
I could picture him saying that but not her doing it. But using her underwear as a flag seemed more likely than her noticing what I’d put on the table.
‘Try some of this cake,’ I said, more like an order than a request.
‘Didn’t I say I’m gluten free?’ she said. ‘And avoid cow’s milk as the greenhouse gas emissions it causes are almost as bad as the tea itself.’
‘Surely as long as the people producing the tea get a fair wage that’s OK?’ I said defiantly, deciding that a fight could be the only way of ending what might have been an afternoon of kindly conviviality.
‘You’ve swallowed that fair-trade propaganda, have you?’ she replied, smiling indulgently. ‘If those are organic strawberries, I wouldn’t mind just a few, but please scrape off the cream.’
I handed them to Hypoxia who licked off the cream as if she was starving, her pink tongue coiling around them until they were shiny as red buttons, while her suspicious yellow eyes flicked from side to side in constant look-out for any lurking rivals and competitors.
Vera was still staring straight ahead with a smile of contentment on her face at her own cleverness when I passed them to her. She sucked them a little, enjoying their expensive sweetness before swallowing. Hypoxia, unable to tolerate the sight of anyone else eating, leapt back over the fence. For a moment I longed to follow, but there would be little point as her world of ever-encircling invisible enemies seems to be much like mine.