Cart in corona

At 6 a.m. on a Saturday, I grabbed my weathered IKEA bag, zipped my coat over my nose and plunged into the fiery, shopping-cart-infested heart of Dante’s Inferno.

In other words, I went grocery shopping in the time of corona.

Slovakia is taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach to the coronavirus, closing its borders, schools, churches and public buildings. A majority of the population is working from home and limiting social interaction, while masks have quickly become can’t-leave-the-house-without-them accessories.

Although I found these measures a bit overkill at first, I applaud the Slovak government for its measured urgency. We have 816 confirmed cases, a figure that would likely be 35 percent higher had Slovakia not undertaken these measures.

For obvious reasons, grocery stores remain open, and good grief are they scary places to visit during an epidemic. I’ve heard similar tales from my family back in the U.S., where toilet paper has become a treasured commodity.

Surprisingly, I found almost everything I needed during my trip to Kaufland, the Bratislava equivalent of Hannaford. However, the store was already teeming with frantic people shortly after opening, and the real fun began when I joined the endless queue at checkout. This gave me ample time to observe my fellow shoppers and their loot.

A young guy directly in front of me had two overflowing carts, which, among other questionable items, included 12 large bags of sugar. Much like sailors feared scurvy following a severe lack of vitamin C back in the day, I suppose this guy wanted to avoid the many unknown, utterly dire consequences of sugar deficiency.

In stark contrast, the man to my left had a cartload of carrots. If these two gents teamed up, they could probably provide every person in Bratislava with a healthy slice of carrot cake.

By the time I got to unload my groceries at checkout, I was greeted by the shimmering, jovial face of the cashier. Seriously, she was so pleasant, despite having a front-row seat to Armageddon. She joked about the curious habits of panic shoppers, greeted each anxious customer with authentic pleasantries, and went about the back-breaking business of scanning copious amounts of supplies among a chorus of impatient sighs.

I echo the sentiments that health workers, police officers, rescue personnel and government officials deserve our praise for confronting the coronavirus head-on to protect the health and well-being of the public. But, let us not forget to also sing the praises of the unsung heroes of the coronavirus. Grocery cashiers are putting their health at risk every day around the globe so we can purchase the supplies we need, or think we need, to sustain ourselves during this epidemic. Their hours are long and their pay substandard, yet most of them manage to keep a level head and assure the rest of us that everything is going to be okay.

So, hats off (but masks definitely still on) to the mighty grocery cashiers of the world. You are warriors!

Anna Fay is a graduate of Keene High School and Ithaca College, where she studied creative writing. She has now returned to her childhood home of Bratislava, Slovakia, as a writer and editor for the Slovak Spectator.