[OPINION] Notes from a supermarket on the last day of freedom

I write this just minutes after returning from the supermarket. We had headed there to buy ingredients for dinner – just one dinner, tonight’s dinner, just enough sinigang for two – but knew full well the bedlam we were about to face.  

Since last week, and more so now that the coronavirus-borne lockdown is hours away, supermarkets and pharmacies across Metro Manila have been choked with panic-buyers, hoarding canned goods and packed snacks, whole liters of disinfectant and alcohol, and, inexplicably, rolls and rolls and rolls of toilet paper.  

The end times, it seems, asks for maximum absorbency.  

But it’s important to note that we had headed to Rustan’s Supermarket at Shangri-La Plaza mall, a high-end grocery catering to gated village residents and expats (we are neither, but it was the nearest spot to us at the time, and we are admittedly middle-class enough to get by). 

A study in contrasts 

It’s already unnerving to be in any kind of supermarket at the peak of a panic pandemic, but there’s something particularly sinister in the air when you know a lot of the people in these aisles will head back in cars to comfortable homes, to pantries that were full to begin with, to lives where money trouble means a failed business investment and not an empty wallet and a chorus of grumbling stomachs. 

There was a part of me that wanted to stand in front of the checkout aisles and shout at all the folks nursing their loaded carts: “STOP IT! STOP BEING SO SELFISH! Andaming nagugutom sa mundo! I don’t care if you’re just looking out for your family! You should look out for EVERYONE! What the hell are you going to do with all that tuna? How much toilet paper does your ass need? Why can’t we all just calm the fuck down and stop pretending the outdoors is a nuclear hellscape? (READ: [OPINION] Let’s not forget the poor during the coronavirus pandemic)

But there was a part of me – a huge part of me – that also wanted to grab as much food as I could carry before the next wave of Valle Verde titas could get to them.

And it wasn’t exactly because I felt pressured by the chaos, but because I knew what these hoarders were fearing the most. 

The blind leading the blind 

It wasn’t the virus. That was the least of people’s worries. There was something far worse, and that was the crippling uncertainty stretched out before them for who knows how long – an uncertainty over an uncertainty – because we have government officials who would rather baby an old man who literally cannot express a series of coherent thoughts, and were not fit for their positions to begin with, as they were chosen by said old man for their loyalty and not their competence. (READ: IN PHOTOS: Mass exodus before Metro Manila 'lockdown')

And now the rhythm of our lives is at their mercy. And we don’t know what that will mean for us. We don’t know what will come of all this. So we default to thinking only of ourselves, and avert our thoughts and consciences from the poverty and injustice that surrounds us, because it is the only thing we can do in a country that, frankly, has never truly protected any of us from harm. 

And that makes us horrible people. And we are aware of that, and accept that, unconsciously or not.  

So while I was standing there amid empty shelves, staring at the last two cartons of eggs just waiting to be snatched in rabid triumph, I was trying not to cry. 

Because this uncertainty, this chaos, and this selfishness, I realize, is nothing new to any of us. It has always been here, has spread far and burrowed deep, has been a grave illness whose cure we have yet to discover. – Rappler.com

Marguerite de Leon

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon heads Rappler’s Opinion section, and is (happily) wrangled into voice over and hosting work. She has been with Rappler since 2013, and also served as its social media producer for 6 years. She is also a fictionist.

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