I knew it.
I knew it the moment I heard her sneeze. The entire carriage froze in place and she continued to snuffle and rub her snotty nose, spreading her germs around her hand before grabbing hold of the pole once more.
Revolted I stepped back, but there was nowhere to go, no escape from her now airborne virus particles which I imagined were swirling around us at high velocity, infecting everyone throughout the carriage.
I pulled the front of my shirt up to try to cover my nose, but I knew it would be too late. Just my luck to be on the last train out of the city and be caught with one of the infected. Not that there was any proof but, I knew.
She glanced around apologetically as if that made her germ spreading ok. It doesn’t. She knows the penalty for being infected in public and I could see people reporting her on their phones already.
No doubt there would be enforcement officers at the next station to pick her up and it serves her right. How dare she risk the lives of us all.
Oh god, what if they quarantine the whole carriage?
I started to hear mumblings from other disgruntled passengers as they too ran through the potential scenarios once we reached the next stop. All this effort of keeping clean and being tested everywhere all the time and for what? For this idiot to sneeze and spread the infection through the carriage.
One guy at the end looked like a vein at his temple was about to pop as he started to flush red with - judging by his facial expression, rage. He wasn’t a small guy and his suit was clearly straining to contain his frame as it was, a few too many business lunches perhaps.
My eyes flicked between him and the potential carrier as I watched her own eyes glance furtively from passenger to passenger, darting away immediately should she make contact with anyone else’s.
To be fair, she looked guilty. Skinny frame, lank hair, she clung to the pole with a fervent air of someone that was using it to prop her up. Like someone, who was ill.
Mr Rage stood up, and the carriage froze. An interesting and hard to describe feeling, that when a group of about 20 people, all standing metres apart, all extremely cognisant of exactly where every person was, all watching each other's every movement, freeze to the spot in unison. It would have been quite the difficult feat to orchestrate normally, but this, was not normal times.
If you have ever watched a pack hunt, you will recognise the moment when the alpha of the pack looks towards two others and the three begin to move in unison. This, is what happened next. Rage, picked up his new found friends, and none of them looked like they wanted a long and fruitful conversation with Ms Sneeze.
She looked up and clocked the three of them beginning their approach and immediately stiffened, looking around the room now deliberately searching for other people's eyes for some sort of support, some sort of empathy.
It was our turn to all look away.
I’d heard the news, we all had. The attacks on suspected infected. Brutal swift community punishment for bringing it back into the cities and potentially killing us all, the establishment more than happily turned a blind eye.
And here we were.
My stomach sank and I began to sweat the cold sweat of fear and realisation that I was about to witness something very violent, and do absolutely nothing to stop it. Even if I could, I would dare not.
She started to back away and whimpered, scurrying to the back of the locked carriage (they were all locked for this very reason - infection control).
Rage and friends continued their determined March towards her,
The rest of us turned towards the wall, grateful, it wasn’t one of us that sneezed at the wrong time.
I put my earphones in and turned the music up.
Born in Melbourne and living in Perth Claire Turton is an avid reader and writer.
Inspired by the everyday, Claire finds writing to be cathartic and an escape from her day job in finance.