The plane back from Cape Town was full, unfortunately for me. The place next to mine was occupied by a slight woman who was curled up as much as those little seats will allow. She looked wretched. She was coughing and sneezing and wheezing. It was horrific.
The words were out before I knew I’d said them. ‘Oh, for God’s sake, are you sick?’ She gave me a look intended to vaporise me into extinction. She coughed. She sneezed. I recoiled. I looked around frantically for somewhere else to sit. I was willing to sit anywhere else, even a bucket seat right up the back. Alas, the plane was full.
The idea of two hours of my life agglutinated to diseasedness, filled me with disgustedness. Eeek! I didn’t mean to be unsympathetic, but the thought of travelling all the way from Cape Town to Johannesburg imprisoned next to this snivelling, miserable bacteria spewing incubus of who-knows-what iniquitous micro-organisms filled me with total dread.
My dread was coupled with sufficient indignation to remember that it is enshrined in the bill of rights that ‘everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.’ This person was in contravention of my rights. Sometimes what you know can’t help you. Besides, what was she doing here? She should be home in bed where her noxiousness could do no harm? Or at least, surely, she should have swallowed drugs that suppress all of this ghastly manifestation of malady. Why has she not taken drugs – any drugs, copious pestilence suppressing drugs? The law dictates that she must.
She probably told her friends and family and colleagues ‘I’ll be fine’. And she will, no doubt, be very fine. What about the rest of us? What about me? She will be fine because the iniquitous micro-organisms are looking for fresh fertile healthy macro-organisms to contaminate. I had boarded this aeroplane the picture of perfect health and vitality. I could already feel that little scratchiness beginning to niggle at the back of my throat. I was sure I could feel the pneumonic plague entering my lungs as I breathed. It was as though it was seducing my body against my will; gently kissing my flesh assessing its receptiveness, caressing my throat before imperceptibly penetrating and sighing with satisfaction. I imagined I heard it; felt it. It’s enough to induce a case of chronic agoraphobia.
The trouble is that we have all been made to feel at fault for giving in to the flu. We have allowed ourselves to be persuaded that as long as we can haul our ailing, perniciously failing, disease sodden bodies about; as long as we can walk, we can get on with it. When we call in sick to work instead of paying heed to the law of the environment they demand to know how sick we actually are. They insist on knowing the exact time that we will feel well enough to work again as though illness has exact automated parameters.
When I was working on that Soap Opera they tried to tell me that if I didn’t get up and come back to work immediately they’d find another actress with better health. Can you believe that shit? I’d had an operation, for heaven’s sake, which was essential to my future wellbeing and something went pear-shaped so I didn’t recover within the time predicted by the Dr. I told them to find another actress. I mean, what are you gonna do? I was sick. I didn’t know how long I’d be sick for. I hadn’t expected to be sick in the first place.
“If you’re not better by Monday we’ll have to find another actress”, they told me on Thursday. After I’d created this character to be popular. I’d created her over three years and people loved her. I get sick and my job is threatened? It’s a bunch of bullshit, isn’t it? So I told them to shove it where the sun don’t shine. It’s not as though I was actually going to kill myself for that crappy little production. It wasn’t exactly Brideshead, or Downton Abbey. I might have dragged my pernicious little sickness about for one of those productions, but for Backstage? No! Three years is plenty for any actresses soul to do badly written embarrassingly poorly directed prime time TV. Thank God “Society” came along to redeem my reputation and ability as an actress.
Anyway, back to the airplane and it’s flu-infested occupant. It occurs to me that it would be a good idea if there were hermetically sealed isolation compartments on planes so that the infectiously disease ridden ones who insist on travelling can do so without endangering anyone else.
On landing I ran from the plane and out of the terminal building. I breathed the exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke of the pavement outside. The air had never felt so pure. My lungs suddenly felt clear. I could breathe again. Equilibrium was restored.
It was all too short lived. As I write this I am sitting up in bed. I am a snivelling, miserable bacteria spewing incubus of who-knows-what iniquitous micro-organisms. I am where I should be by constitutional decree.