Mary has spent the last thirty years in Hull perfecting the art of invisibility. Though seldom seen or noticed, she’s fastidious about her appearance; always clean and smartly dressed, confounding stereotypes. During the day, she hides in whichever condemned property she uses as her temporary home. In the early hours of each morning, she forages for food.
Over recent years she has witnessed the ever-increasing numbers of the homeless. This saddens her; she lives as she does from choice; ‘they’ survive as best they can from necessity. Throughout 2020 she followed the news of the pandemic in discarded newspapers. She was horrified and angry at the total ineptitude of the government; she often regrets no longer being in public service.
It’s a cold winter’s night in 2021 and the death toll from Covid has exceeded 100,000. Mary, wearing a heavy Tweed overcoat and a Paisley scarf for a mask, forages in a green wheelie bin; she remembers once seeing film of a polar bear scavenging in such a bin in Alaska. She smiles. Good old Ursus Maritimus, she thinks, a fellow survivor. She finds little edible food, moves on, and parks her shopping trolley against another bin behind M&S Simply Food. As she lifts the lid she wishes for a ‘best before’ ready meal, eminently edible but unable to be sold. Using her little torch she sees a body. Hello, are you okay? she asks, fearing the worse. Looking closer, she sees it’s a woman. Oh, my dear, how did you come to this?
Mary hurries to the deserted main road. Eventually, a police patrol car approaches. She flags it down.
Hiya, Mary, out of hours shopping, is it? constable Wilks asks.
It’s Madam to you, officer Wilks.
Wilks smiles. What’s up?
Who’s she? Wilks’ new partner, constable Shipley asks.
Mary Shelley, in her seventies, of no fixed abode, no ID, no credit cards, and skint.
Posh cow, isn’t she?
The constables confirm the woman is dead, call it in, and establish she is not known to Mary.
You do know you’re breaking the law, Madam? Shipley sneers.
Foraging is not illegal.
Breaking the lockdown is.
If that poor woman is dead from Covid, then my so-called crime is as nothing compared with her blood on the government’s hands; they have a duty of care for all citizens, not just those they favour.
You what? She was a nobody.
Her rights were, and remain, the same as yours.
I pay my taxes.
Listen. The equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace.
What’s that? Some commie rot?
No, it’s from the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Brexit’ll have changed that.
No. It remains the basis of all international human rights law.
Who the hell do you think you are, telling me the law?
Someone who worries that your ignorance makes you a bad officer.
You’ve got a nerve.
Yes, I have – so arrest me.
I hope you enjoyed this story. Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
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© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.