Remember Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone? I had an experience yesterday that reminded me of that TV series I used to watch as a teenager. It was a cold and sunny morning yesterday, temperature 6°C (42°F), when I left my apartment at precisely 9:30 am and strode briskly to the office. It should be mentioned that the last time I saw my office desk and chair was on Wednesday March 18th. Since then, the entire staff, except for top management, is (temporarily, I hope) laid off from work. Furloughed, as the Americans say.
It was a terrific walk, one of the best I’ve had in a long time. In fact, it was the first time since March 18th that I’ve ventured further than my neighborhood. I saw NO ONE. No one on the bridge, no one on the Esplanade, no one on the metro that passed by as I crossed the bridge, no cars or trucks, no noise. It was sunny and cold and the sky was a magnificent blue and the river Seine, as I crossed it via the bridge, equally blue as reflected in the sky. When I reached the pedestrian-only Esplanade de la Défense, the trees were blooming and the birds were chirping loudly in the branches and there were a few joggers and one or two people out walking their dogs. I stopped to stand still in the chilled air and feel the sunshine on my face and breathe in the clean unpolluted air. Clean air! Unheard of!
Arriving at the office building, I pushed open the door and stepped inside. The lobby was completely empty, save for one man operating a floor-cleaning machine in a far corner. I took the elevator to a higher floor then stepped out of it into an empty corridor. Using my security badge, I opened a series of sliding doors then walked into the large Open Space where I work, normally a clamor of voices, ringing phones, clacking machines and people laughing and shouting out to one another. Complete silence. I stood in that now Empty Space and looked at the rows of deserted desks: my colleagues’ desks, and my own. I saw half-filled coffee mugs, food wrappings, cardigans on the backs of chairs, shoes under desks. Unwatered plants. Signs of human life, but no humans. It was strange, very spooky, as if there had been a disaster: a nuclear attack or a viral pandemic, causing people to flee.
That’s when I thought of that Twilight Zone episode, Where is Everybody?
I hadn’t gone to the office to work, we’re not allowed to yet. I had gone to cancel my upcoming trips: Lille this weekend and Portugal in June. (I use the Booking website at the office because of the security firewalls there.) Also, to print out two dozen government-mandated Attestations because I’m tired of writing them out by hand each time I want to go outside. I don’t have a printer at home. Then I walked down the long corridor to chat with my boss. There he was, fidèle au poste (dutifully at his job), a lone lawyer working hard in his office. Keeping the home fires burning, or whatever that expression is.
Here’s the closing line of that episode “Where is Everybody?” that you can view on YouTube, written by Rod Serling:
The barrier of loneliness: the palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man. Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting… in The Twilight Zone.
Na na na na, na na na na.