Now, of course, as many people are aware, flu season runs throughout the year with the exception of two weeks in July. However, in the University bubble, the most debilitating time for flu is in the winter. At that point, catching the flu is easier than sleeping through a morning class. I don’t know how Chacko caught his, but all that mattered was that now, by virtue of his brilliant decision to park himself in the middle of the foyer, I was stuck in my room feeling on the verge of death.
I’d woken up about four hours after I hit the bed—around noon. Never had I had anything catch up with me so quickly. I sat up and started hacking, turning my head every way I could in the vain hope that somewhere there was a sweet spot that, if I’d find it I would stop coughing and would feel, once again, like a normal human being. Of course, there was no such thing.
I swung myself out, fell into the chair—still coughing—and turned on my computer. If there was one good thing about owning a Mac (and there were several), then it was that they started up very, very quickly. I turned on Skype, saw that Chacko was on, and sent him the following message: “I’m coughing all over my shit, fuck you, man. What the hell? Who coughs on another person as a form of greeting?”
The response was: “lol ur sick now? I just got over mine. I have Lemsip if you want :)”
I shut off Skype, leaned out my window, turned towards Chacko’s, coughed a few times, and shouted, “Gimme the fuckin Lemsip!” Then I coughed some more and had to retreat into the fetal position.
A little bit later, Chacko knocked on my door to give me the Lemsip. I covered my face in a towel opened the door, and scowled at him as I plucked it out of his hands. Then I shut the door, filled a mug with water, and poured the stuff in.
Now, in America, we have good old NyQuil. For the Brits: NyQuil is a wonderful drug. It’s a step below absinthe in terms of potency, and it makes you better from just about any illness you might have. The drawback, of course, is that it tastes like black liquorice. However, it is a miracle drug. Once, in my freshman year of University, I took some NyQuil around ten in the evening, thinking that it would take an hour or so for it to kick in. I turned to my roommate, said, “I’m” and collapsed into a heap on the floor. My dreams that night consisted of nothing but exploding colors and, when I woke up in the morning, I was drunk. Some people might say that is a drawback, however, whatever bug I was coming down with was wiped right out of my system.
Lemsip, sadly, does not do any of that. It’s somewhat potent, but we Americans like our drugs to be overkill. Flavoring paracetamol with lemon and throwing it in a mug of steaming water doesn’t jive with the American spirit and, while I was thankful for any remedy I could hope to get, I really wished I had some NyQuil with me.
Next, I called The Student. “Hey,” I said, coughing.
There was a pause. “Now, I’m not a man trained in the deductive arts, but I would hazard a guess that you’re sick.”
I coughed once for yes.
“Okay,” he said. “What do you want me to do?”
I took a deep breath. “I want you to be my flu buddy.” I coughed more.
“I’m sorry? Your flu buddy? You want me to catch the flu with you?”
“No,” I said. “I want you to make sure I don’t die. You know, come over from time to time, get me water, orange juice. I can’t go outside. Sick.” That sentence took five minutes to get out, with coughing interspersed between and within words.
“Okay, I’ll go get you some stuff. I’m guessing you’re going to be locking yourself in your room like a good little biohazard and not coming out.”
I coughed once for yes.
“Good. The last thing this college needs is an epidemic.”
Three days later, I was coming out of the sickness, and three quarters of the college was ill. It happened like this: The Student, between hanging up the phone with me and coming over with some groceries, bought a biohazard suit from a military surplus shop in town. It was a massive green thing with a gas mask and respirator. He assumed that it was in good condition, so he didn’t check it—and because he didn’t check it, he didn’t notice the hole in the neck of the suit. So he walks into my flat after I drop him the keys and retreat back to my quarantine, starts breathing in the air, and all of the germs pour through that hole and into his respiratory system. The next day, he and Rebecca were sick.
After that, I called The Drunkard. I still needed a flu buddy. He told me to fuck off. I told him I hoped he got sick and, wouldn’t you know it, he did. Apparently, one of the French existentialists had slept with someone in The Student’s flat that night. The French existentialist, in between leaving the flat in the small hours of the morning and returning to his own flat, infected six people who were also coming back from one night stands. Being friendly, it seems, is a dangerous thing. From there, he infected half of his building by putting his hands on the guard rails as he walked up the stairs and, finally, infected his flat before going into his room and coughing. From there, seventy five percent of Woolf College had come down with the flu.
Towards the end of the second day of being sick, I was in bad straits. I had started laughing for no reason other than my fever was running and I was going mental. I tried to counter it by standing in a cold shower for long stretches at a time—a trick I’d picked up from a hippie at my job over the summer—and, while that worked temporarily, I still needed someone around to pass me drugs. There was only one person I knew who could have withstood the onslaught of viruses. One person who had been around enough to know how to avoid getting sick when everyone around him was in misery. One man who could have been my salvation.
“Yello,” The Traveler answered when I called.
I coughed three times for “Hello.”
“What?” he asked.
I managed to tell him who I was.
“Ah, you got sick, too, huh?”
“You need someone to help you out, I’m guessing.”
I coughed once for yes.
“Okay, I’ll be over in a bit. I’ve got some stuff my parents sent me that you’ll be very glad to see.”
I would have been glad to see a faith healer at this point, but I said thanks and hung up the phone. Now, somehow, my keys had been floating around our group since The Student fell ill. I didn’t know who he got them from, but, somehow, The Traveler had my keys. (I was very glad I didn’t see The Stalker in my flat—in fact, I hadn’t heard from him in a while, and was wondering just what the hell he had been doing, when I realized that I probably didn’t want to know after all.) There was a knock on my door and I heaved myself out of bed to answer it.
I pulled it open and instead of the biohazard suit I expected to see, I saw The Traveler standing there as if there wasn’t anything wrong. As if Woolf College weren’t a diseased zone on par with Europe during the bubonic plague. “Yo,” he said. “You drinking water?”
“Yeah,” I said.
He nodded. “Good. Keep doing that.” He reached into his messenger bag and pulled out a little purple bottle I’d been yearning to see for three days. “The Medication Fairy sends her regards.”
I grasped the bottle like it was the One Ring and I was Gollum. “NyQuil! My precious.”
“Yeah,” said The Traveler. He checked his watch. “Look, I’ve got a date in town in a bit and—”
“You have a date in the morning?”
His right eyebrow raised up. “It’s six in the evening.”
“What?” I waved him inside my room and went to open the curtains to my window. Indeed, it was dark outside. “What have I been doing all day?”
“If I had to guess, judging by the puddle forming in your bed, I’d guess that you were laying around all day with your body trying to sweat out the fever. Hey, look, Hanukkah’s next week, and if everyone’s alive, I’d like to have a latke fry-up and get tanked. You in?”
I unscrewed the cap and took a swig from the bottle. “Yep.” I took another swig. “I’m betting that everyone’ll be okay.” I took yet another swig. I glanced at the bottle from the outside and saw that I’d drank a quarter of the thing in one go. “Especially if—”
I pitched forward on the ground and slept for two days.