This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Not With A Whimper

“I’ve got it.”

Anywhere in the world, nowadays, those words are followed by a brief shocked silence.

Then some variation of these words is spoken, always: “It may not be – that.”

He coughed, turned from the little window and grinned at her, the grin wide and completely without humour. “It is, and I can prove it.” He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it open far enough for her to see the bluish blotches on his chest. He coughed again and buttoned the shirt and turned again to the window. His eyes were bright and his face flushed with the fever.

“Look...” She stood up and came to him, standing by his side and touched his arm. He shied away from her touch, and pointed to the window. “Look at that.”

Outside the snow lay bluish in the evening light. Except for a distant line of trees, there was nothing to see. Nothing moved.

“It’s snowing.” She held him by the arm again, tightly enough that he couldn’t pull away. “You can’t go out in that.”

“I’ve got to.” He turned to her, his face twisting. “You know what’s going to happen if I stay.”

“They may not find out.” The words sounded stupid even to her ears.

“Really? By this time the day after tomorrow I’ll be black and blue all over. You think they won’t notice then?” He coughed again, violently, bending over and wracked by the sheer force of the coughs. “They’re going to suspect something as soon as they see I’m ill.” Going over to the trunk in the corner, he pulled out an old grey belted overcoat and a thick sweater. “I should get going before I give it to you, too.”

“You’ve only been ill since this morning. You know it doesn’t become catching till two or three days pass.”

“And you want me to wait until I get contagious?” He had put on the sweater and overcoat. It made him look hulking, like an ancient warrior donning battle armour. “You might give me some food. Whatever you can spare. If you can’t, that’s all right too.”

She looked at him and away so that he couldn’t see the tears in her eyes. “Why does this sort of thing have to happen?”

“Why? You might say it’s fate or something like that if you’re so inclined. I myself – well, what I think doesn’t matter.” He went to the door and opened it and glanced around. “Nobody in sight, it’s time for me to go.”

“No, wait,” she said. “They did say a vaccine’s in development. It might be ready any time.”

“Vaccine? There’s no vaccine. It’s just a story to keep everyone happy and hopeful. That’s all it is. They’ve been promising this vaccine for years.”

She brought him the packet of food, done up in a cloth bag. It was all she had in the house. “You can’t want to do this, can you?”

“Want to? Look, if I run away, there’s at least a statistical chance I’ll recover. Two or three in every hundred thousand do, or at least that’s what they say. If I stay here, by this time three days I’ll be in a grave somewhere, and I might even be alive when they bury me.” He turned to her. “I know damned well I’m not going to be among those two or three, but I’m not waiting here either.”

“And what about me?” she asked then, angrily, no longer bothering to hide the tears. “What about me?”

“You?” He seemed already remote from her. “You’re one of them – you’ll be alive when I’m dead and gone. What about you?”

“It’s not my fault that I’m not ill.”

“It’s mine, I suppose? In a few days...”

She saw then, or thought she did. “You must hate me very much.”

“Hate you? You mean, you specifically? Not at all. But this –“ he swept a hand around at the room, the snow outside, at her. “I can’t accept that I’ll be gone and this, all this, still be there. And after all it’s not even as if it’s going to last, any of it. You’ll all get it, sooner or later, and die one by one, and there will be nothing left.”


“No, let me finish. If I had my way, I’d blow up this whole thing, you know, this entire damned world of yours, and go away somewhere. If I’m to die, why should anything go on after me, especially since none of it’s going to survive anyway?” He laughed again, but with a touch of humour. “It’s a nice fantasy, isn’t it? I can just see myself standing on the moon, maybe on the edge of the Sea of Rains, and watching this whole planet blow apart. Now that would be going out with a bang!”

Later, when he had gone, it began to snow heavily. She stood at the window and watched the snow come down and wondered about the way things were.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2009


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