Masked Meeting

Episode 10

Sofie and Carlo, the two interns working for this renowned festival somewhere in Europe, are also facing times of uncertainty.

The sun was shining and people were venturing out to meet at safe if inconvenient distances. Those who mumbled were no longer heard. The art of vocal projection across a pavement and through a face mask became a new and important quality in a friend or colleague. Oxana, festival General Manager, had never had a problem with projection. It was always fierce enough to bounce off a distant wall.

Carlo was naturally loud, even occasionally operatic. Sofie, though, was invariably hard to hear. As well as being quietly spoken her voice had the naturally low pitch of many from the Baltic. Her voice carried weight but not volume. Put a mask over her face as well and the result was a low undulating murmer, like the rumbling of a distant earthquake.

On the first Monday morning after café tables were once again allowed to be set out on the city's pavements, Oxana called her two faithful interns and invited them for coffee. They made their way to the city's almost main square, the one that was large enough to have lots of pleasant terraces but too small to make major demonstrations against the Mayor any fun.

Sofie was punctual as ever and at two minutes to ten was striding up the street, masked against stray viral droplets lingering in the sunshine. There was a piercing whistle behind her – the sort that summons police or greets a goal by the opposing team. She ignored it, assuming such indignities were not aimed at her. She should have known better.

“Hey – Sofie! Wait.” Carlo came scurrying up on the other side of the street and started to run across.

“Stop!” Sofie ordered. Carlo did and was almost run over by a Skoda. The driver had assumed, as had Carlo, that he would be well out of the way by the time the car reached him.

“Per che?” He spread his arms in a shrug then waved a hand of apology to the shaken Skoda driver.

“We must keep our distance.”

Carlo finally reached the same side of the street without accident and fell in behind Sofie with the regulation one and a half metre gap. “So I am saved from catching your virus but I am killed by the traffic. Great. It's nice to know you care.” Sofie was not sure she did but she was also not sure she liked Carlo talking at her from behind, yet there was not enough space on the pavement to walk apart and let others going in the opposite direction pass. A true virus time dilemma.

Luckily they reached the square before a decision had to be made and they quickly spotted Oxana waiting for them at a table for six: the new table for three. The clock bells on a nearby church were striking ten.

“Together – amazing!” said Oxana facetiously as they sat. “No doubt you will be wanting the festival budget to buy you coffee.” They agreed. Frankly, on their pay, they thought they deserved pastries as well. Oxana already had her disposable container. After her interns had ordered theirs from the masked waitress (after much repetition as all three struggled to understand each other's muffled accents) Oxana got down to business.

“So, a decision has been taken. Thanks to your sponsor, Sofie, the festival will go ahead in seven weeks from now.”

Sofie spoke. The earthquake rumbled closer. “How?”

“Not as we anticipated,” Oxana admitted. “I will tell you the details later but today I just want to tell you this. You will be busy. It will be helpful if you do not fight.”

Sofie and Carlo looked at each other. Sometimes masks were a very good idea. Were they thinking peace or war?