The two women stood on their respective doorsteps and look across the road at each other, despite having both lived on this road for years they’d never spoken, not even a neighbourly wave as they left for work. It’s what comes for living in a city I suppose, everyone wrapped up in their own little worlds. But here they were, both on their doorsteps waiting to see what would happen. It was 8pm on warm April evening in south London and the country was about to show its appreciation for the National Health Service as they battled the new coronavirus which had gripped the world.
Tentatively, the younger of the two women raised her hand and shouts across a greeting, wondering what response she would get. ‘All well?’ the older woman replies. ‘No’, responded the younger woman, ‘my mother phoned this morning, she thinks she has the virus’. Normally she wouldn't have dreamed about being so open with a stranger but she hadn't seen her mother in over three weeks, and the worry was getting to her. The woman runs her fingers through her long black hair and smiles at her neighbour across the road. 'I'm sure she'll be ok, it's just you hear all these stories'. The older woman nodded sympathetically and pulls her old cardigan closer around her, she knew her own children were worrying about her too.
'Yes, I know. You just don't know how it will go. I'm Sheila by the way', the older woman calls. 'Nancy' came the reply. 'Is your mum on her own?' Sheila asked, keen to keep the conversation going. 'Yes' replies Nancy, 'she's down on the south coast, so it's not even as if I can pop over and sees her through her window, or drop some shopping off. She has no one down there to help, not since my brother died'. 'It's the hardest thing, missing your family isn't it? But I bet your mum knows how much you care' Nancy nods in response. 'What about you?' she asks, 'do you have family nearby?', Sheila shakes her head, 'No, they moved away years ago, down to the south coast - like your mum. Hove, lovely place only a short walk from the beach'.
At this, Nancy's face lights up. 'Hove?' she repeats, 'that's where my mum is. Connaught Road, right near the Tesco. Beautiful place, I would move there myself but for work, husband's in the city you see.'
She looks away, disappointed to see her neighbour has got out her phone. She waits, sure the conversation is over, willing for the clap to start so she can go back inside.
Slowly, the rest of the street begin to emerge, and tentative greetings were called across the street. Some showing relief that others had decided to join in. 'Alright?' the chap next door asked, as he grabbed his escaping Labrador by the collar and pulled him back inside. Nancy nods, her eyes staying over to Sheila's door, which is now empty. As more and more neighbours come outside the clapping begins. One of the kids from a few doors down has decided to bring out their recorder and blow it like a whistle, another had a wooden spoon and a saucepan.
The noise was almost deafening, the clapping and cheering bringing a tear to the eye of many of those taking part.
Two minutes later and it was all over, waves were acknowledged, and doors were closed. Looking back across the road, Nancy sees that Sheila has come back out for the last of the clapping and is chatting to the kids next door. Feeling sad that the connection had been lost she turns and goes back into the quiet of her house, closing the blue door behind her.
No sooner has she sat down, there comes a knock on the door. Pulling herself up she wonders who it could be but when she answers the door there’s no one there, though she thinks she notices some movement across the street. Glancing down she notices a piece of paper had been put through the letter box. Slowly Nancy bends down to pick it up, unfolds it, and starts to read.
My daughter's number is 07863865262. If your mum needs anything, she can give her a call. We have to look out for each other in these times.
Nancy stares at the note, not really understanding what she's seeing. That a strangers daughter has offered to help her mother is almost unbelievable. She knows what she has to do.
Quickly she reaches for the first piece of paper she can find, not caring that it's an old envelope.
Thank you, she writes, my number is 07836234760. Nancy
Nancy slips her shoes back on, grabs her keys and sprints across the road, slowing as she approaches Sheila's door. She knocks tentatively as she puts the old envelope through the door and steps back the required two metres. She waits, but no answer comes.
Disappointed, Nancy crosses the road back to her house to call her mother. Known to be a stubborn woman, Nancy is surprised when she agrees to take the number for Sheila's daughter.
It's another week before Nancy sees Sheila again, at the now weekly Clap for Carers.
'Thanks for your note', Sheila calls, 'How's your mum?'
Nancy grins, 'Much better, her seven day isolation period is up now. Though I hear from Chloe yours is just beginning?' Over the course of the last week Nancy had begun speaking to Sheila's daughter. Initially to thank her for delivering the shopping, and then to discuss Sheila who herself had developed a nasty cough. Sheila nods, 'It's really taking it out of me, I can hardly walk upstairs. I'm hungry but too exhausted to cook anything. Plus I have hardly anything in until the delivery on Saturday'.
After the clapping is over Nancy calls back over to Sheila, 'Wait there'. A few minutes later she emerges with a tupperware box, and a carrier bag. 'Lasagna' she calls as she walks over, 'it was going to be dinner for Mike and I tomorrow night but it can be yours for the next day or so. And some goodies too, nothing exciting but will tide you over.' Nancy places the food a little way down the drive and moves back. Sheila stares at it in shock before slowly moving forward to pick up the offering.
'See you next week' smiles Nancy as she walks back across the road. 'Yes' Sheila calls, 'and thank you'.
(c) Mary Macread