A Stage To Cough Upon…

There is a formula in mathematics that enables the enquirer to ascertain the rate of change of a thing. The thing in question can be anything. The thing could be perhaps a chemical compound, momentum, traffic lights and air traffic controls. These things are important even if we never really think about them or take them all inexplicably for granted. Things happen in this world around us and things change, sometimes without us ever noticing. Perhaps you have to remember to keep your eyes open and always be fully aware that the world around you is in a constant state of flux. Things change my friend and no matter what you are being asked to believe, it’s not always for the better. Let’s take Nazis as an example.

Nazis, our little fascist friends, have been with us for a long, long time. Mostly, we do not notice them until it is too late. Too late came today.

We should be telling this from both our points of view. We may have been coming at it from different angles, but we were both interested in similar outcomes. Now, I don’t know what outcomes I had previously thought would occur. The world has changed, beyond anything that could have been guessed at, beyond anything that could have been dreamed up for the darkest of nightmare. You have to go back to the beginning to be able to appreciate the change.

It was the day that the news started to filter through about the thing that they were calling the corona virus. It was one of those ‘novel’ diseases that had made the jaw-dropping leap from the animal kingdom into man’s cesspit of a backyard. Because man is untidy, lacks hygiene, and is generally unpleasant. For a virus, mankind made a suitable feast. A gift that could be shared with an overgrown population whose primary response was to deny anything that it felt was below its comprehension. When the effects of it started to show themselves in the malady of coughs and drowsiness, when the virus eased through the barricades, past the sleeping antibodies and sat in residence within the host, it was already too late. The virus had chosen to adopt mankind with the same passion that mankind attempted to deny it. It was a match made in the stars. It was January, 2019 and it would take another six weeks for the rest of the world to sit up and take notice. In the meantime, the very busy virus set about its mission.

He was on the train in the last full week in February. It was a London bound express that took him from the north to the capital of the south. The carriage sped along indifferent to the events that were unfolding beyond its narrow world.  He liked the relative certainty of trains. For him, their lack of deviation was a source of reassurance. He liked predictability, timetables, forecasts and formulas.

He didn’t like nonsense and he wouldn’t entertain it when it pushed into his presence. The guy who was sitting on his own, in a crowded carriage, was the stuff of nonsense. As was the idea of a virus.

She had first heard of the virus from the morning news broadcast. It had been a new thing that was coming in from the east. As far as she was concerned, she had little concern. She thought back to Avian Flu and how quickly that had blown over. Generally, things tended to stay in the east. That, most probably was what would happen to this new virus. It would put one toe in the waters of the west and then turn tail and scarper back of to the forbidden kingdom. She would have thought about it some more, but the annoying sound of a hacking cough broken her chain of thought.

The person in charge of the hacking cough was seated several rows down from her and several rows up from the other stranger on that morning train. It wasn’t the earliest of trains and that meant that there were spaces into which people could relax into their journey.

Trains take you places. They run on tracks and for most of their working lives, they go backwards and forwards. Backwards and forwards over and over again. Human beings have this strange belief that they only move forwards. They think that their lives are set upon a constantly improving trajectory which takes them through the stages of early childhood and on through the hormonally advanced decade of being a teenager before becoming that fixed thing that is an adult. Adults are just grown children who reach the point of thinking that they are fully developed, the complete article, the real deal. Shakespeare saw the hole in this argument when he wrote a monologue for a character called Jacques in As You Like It.

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;

And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion;

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

You may not have seen it, but it’s there. We all return to the beginning again, time after time after time until it begins all over again. The universe may have its own rules and mankind can sometimes think that he understands those rules. Mankind may even believe that it can rewrite them, make them more user friendly, but when the time comes, it comes for everybody. And everybody gets to sit on that train that goes back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

The person in charge of the hacking cough was me. The people around me, on that train, had almost certainly always been there, even the newcomers. I thought it would be a regular, and unexciting commute to the capital. I was to be proved wrong. 

I woke up with a head that was beginning to swirl. My skull had become a bucket. I pushed back my thoughts to the night before and could only remember the obvious. I had not been drinking heavily, I had this trip to London after all. I had slept deeply, much more deeply than I had slept in some time. This did not me that I was fully refreshed as there were times when deep sleep was just as exhausting as its broken cousin. Whatever gatekeeper guarded the way to nocturnal oblivion, took his toll from those who passed through. I was waking with a head that was chiming a dull thud and a throat that had been scraped internally with angry finger nails. I reached for the glass of water that I always kept on the bedside table. It must have been the weather that was responsible for this feeling of malaise. The cold had blown in from the east again, a Siberian snap that was intent upon debilitating any hopes that spring should arrive early. It was February, the end of that introductory month, and the first of the chapters of the year to fall.

“How’s it treating you?”

Mandeep was the owner of the newsagents that sat just inside of Kings Cross railway station. Kings Cross…

It was thought to be the end of the line.

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