THE BOTTOM LINE
José from flat 5D tuts as he discards the butt of the cigarette he's been smoking at a carefully chosen spot in the middle of a trampled flower bed two metres away from the busy pavement. He reluctantly raises his mask over his mouth and nose (well, almost) and moves back to the group of neighbours on the bench near the front door.
"Bloody regulations," he says. "There might be a virus around, but they're making our lives a misery. Fancy getting fined for having a smoke with your mates. But still, if it means I'm protecting my family..."
At the same time Julia from 3C discreetly leaves the building, not wanting to get into the conversation with her neighbours. It's happened before: she's explained about how stressful her job at the hospital got at the height of the pandemic; she's described the pain at seeing so many patients in intensive care; she's told them that while she's no scientist, just a nurse, and can't comment on how droplets work, anything they can do to avoid that situation happening again, must be done.
Julia's glad she hasn't run into Anna from 6A. While José complains but accepts the rules, even if it's only because he can't afford a 100-euro fine, Anna's attitude is, according to Julia, potentially lethal.
Anna will stand for hours in the doorway, on the landing, in the stairwell, anywhere she can find someone to preach to. "They're just doing it to control us. These politicians are on a power trip," she says. "They just want to lock us in again and attack us with 5G. Covid doesn't really exist; it was invented by the governments," she continues, quoting endless alleged scientists she's read about on Facebook to support her arguments.
There is one neighbour who Anna tries to avoid, however: Toni from 1B. He knows that Anna is wrong and, unlike Julia, who just explains what she sees, Toni can come up with dozens of scientific explanations and quotes as to how dangerous Covid is and how, if people aren't more careful, half the planet could be wiped out. He keeps a close eye on the figures announced in daily government briefings and almost triumphantly passes on the latest details to Anna when their paths cross as he brings home yet another bottle of bleach.
And then there's Sami from 2C. At 16 she feels that she's already wasted valuable months of her youth being cooped up at home and now just wants to go out with her mates. People talk about the dangers, that she could bring the virus home to her grandparents, "but that won't happen to me", she says as she reads the latest WhatsApp messages about the party someone's organising in a warehouse that night.
The names and flat numbers are fictitious, but these characters live side by side in neighbourhoods across the region. All these people have access to the same information, yet their views are all different. None of them can really predict what will happen next week, next month, next year; but let's hope that soon they'll be talking about the weather and football in the lift as they did before.