The worst day in Diego’s life began as any other in the last six months: he opened the door a crack. Just far enough so he could peek out.
The street was empty as it should be. The watchmen had already gone through the street in the morning and shouldn’t be back till late afternoon. That should give him enough time.
Already in his mask and gloves, Diego put the hood of his sweater over his head. He took a deep breath and stepped testily on the sidewalk as if it was some kind of dangerous terrain. Although he had left the house every day around the same time and nobody had ever caught him so far, leaving the house felt weirder and more dangerous every day. He had read on the net that they were shooting people on sight now.
Of course, he had no way of knowing if that was true. Nowadays, nobody had any way of knowing what was true or not. There was so much misinformation, Diego had decided months ago not to trust anything or anyone. Trusting in himself had to be enough these days.
Diego walked with fast, holding the straps of his heavy backpack. He tried to keep in the shadows of the buildings but of course he would be spotted immediately on an empty street like this. All he could hope for was that –as usual– everybody was watching the situation report right now which was broadcasted live on every channel for the next three hours.
When he knocked at his first client’s door, nothing happened.
Not Mrs. Goldstein! Diego thought and knocked a little louder. Still nothing. He could not just leave Mrs. Goldstein’s package on the porch. Not so much because it might be stolen, but because the watchmen would know immediately that somebody had broken quarantine if they saw it.
He decided to walk around the house and leave the package in front of the back door. Diego climbed over the fence and crawled along the high grass that had overgrown the yard. It was quite a strain, but he wanted to keep out of sight of Mrs. Goldstein’s next door neighbours. Even though their windows were nailed shut, and they probably sat in front of the TV right now–you never knew who peeped through the many peepholes in the wood. But better safe than sorry.
When he finally made it to Mrs. Goldstein’s back door, he could hear a silent whimpering sound coming from inside.
“Mrs. Goldstein?” Diego tried to find the right volume of voice. Loud enough so Mrs. Goldstein would hear him, low enough so that her neighbours would not.
“Diego!” Mrs. Goldstein was sobbing. “I am so glad you are here.”
“What happened, Mrs. Goldstein? Why didn’t you come to the door?”
“I’ve fallen. I can’t move. Please help me, Diego.”
There was no way to look through the nailed down windows and see if she was hurt badly.
“You know I can’t come in, Mrs. Goldstein. I’ll try to phone for help.”
Diego took out his mobile phone and dialed 911. For the first time ever he prayed that really everything on the net was a lie. The phone kept beeping. Nobody picked up. According to social media, 911 hadn’t been responding for days now. Nevertheless, Diego tried for almost half an hour until he finally gave up. Somehow, it all made sense. Why keep answering 911 calls when nobody would come for help anyway?
“Mrs. Goldstein?” he asked. She didn’t answer.
Diego found the key under the flowerpot. Before he went in, he checked that his face mask was covering his nose and mouth tightly. He found Mrs. Goldstein unconscious and naked on the bathroom floor. Diego fetched a blanket and covered Mrs. Goldstein’s body. She was all cold. It seemed that she had fallen the night before when stepping out of the shower.
The old lady was tiny and Diego had no problems picking her up and carrying her to the sofa. He looked for a hot water bottle and found one under the kitchen sink. He put a kettle on the stove, boiled some water and filled the bottle. When he came back to the sofa, old Mrs. Goldstein was conscious again. She looked at him astonished.
“You came in!” she said.
Diego nodded and handed her the hot water bottle.
“To get you warm again,” he said.
“Thank you!” Mrs. Goldstein took the water bottle and put it underneath the cover.
“So I guess, nobody’s coming?” she asked in a soft voice.
Diego shook his head.
“Are you hurt badly? I didn’t want to take a closer look,” he said. “Maybe I’ll get you some clothes, first?”
Mrs. Goldstein nodded, her face was red with embarrassment.
Diego helped her into the clothes he had found in the bathroom with averted eyes to make her feel more comfortable. But of course, he had seen her naked body and felt closer to her because of it. Mrs. Goldstein’s old withered skin reminded him of his grandmother’s. He had always liked looking at his granny’s wrinkles, they had fascinated him. All of them were connected. Her lines had been like a maze, a maze of life. A life that no longer existed.
Mrs. Goldstein cleared her throat.
“You can look now. I’m decent,” she said, wearing nothing more than her undergarments covered more bad than fair with a see-through nightgown. Had it been any other time, she would never have said such a thing, leave alone let anyone else than her husband see her dressed like this.
Diego started to examine the old woman. She had a large bruise on her right thigh.
“Can you bend your knee?” he asked.
Mrs. Goldstein bent her knee.
“That’s good, you might have been lucky after all. Nothing seems to be broken. Let’s see if you can stand up, just to make sure your hip is okay.”
He came closer to Mrs. Goldstein and put her arm around his neck.
“On three!” he said.
When he helped her up, her hand got caught in his mask and it got ripped off his face.
Mrs. Goldstein looked at him with wide eyes.
“I am terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to…” she said and burst into tears.
“It’s okay,” said Diego although it wasn’t. He had been too close.
Diego put his face mask back on properly, although it was actually useless now.
He was just thinking about whether it would be safe to leave or if he should rather stay at Mrs. Goldstein’s place when they heard the front door being kicked open.
“Somebody must have seen you coming in! Leave now!” urged Mrs. Goldstein. She propped herself against the couch with one arm and looked determined.
“I’ll do my best to stop them. I won’t tell them anything. Promise! After all, they won’t hurt an old lady.”
Diego was already through the back door and at the fence when he heard the shots. He felt his heart beating in his throat. It was unlikely there would be more than two watchmen. They always worked in pairs. He climbed over the fence and saw their car parked on the street, empty and still running. Luck was with him after all! He got into the car, put it in gear and raced off. This should buy him time, albeit little as all the watchmen’s cars had a tracking device in them. He needed to get rid of it. And soon.