Touch of Typhoid
I’m sick. It started a week ago.
When I woke up the first day, I felt fine. I would clear my throat every couple of minutes without noticing I was doing it.
An infinitesimal scratch. A feather-like caress. I thought, perhaps, it was just a particularly stuffy day.
By midnight, my throat felt as if moss were growing inside it.
I sat in front of my friend’s heater — a small, all-metal appliance with exposed rods — and felt my skin pucker. The heat was not the type that lovingly enveloped you. It was not a heater that made you feel better about being alone in a freezing apartment with indecisive Wi-Fi, nor was it one that helped you come to terms with the fact you were becoming ill.
With this heater, you fell — kicking and screaming — into the heat. It felt like a miniature sun.
I thought, if I could bear it, I would arise less sick.
When I got home I took a pill with passionfruit juice. I felt a little better so I went to sleep.
Morning came, and I opened my eyes to the sound of my alarm. I was sick.
Now, everyone in the house is sick, and not in an endearing way.
There are no teddy bears here. No chicken noodle soup. No button-red noses.
We sneeze like we’re trying to turn ourselves inside out.
And the snot is thick. It gushes out of our noses like Pillsbury biscuit dough bursts out of the container. We have to leave our classes to cough our throats raw. Today, as we sat in front of the heater, one of my housemates showed me a rash on her chest. She said, “I think I have a touch of typhoid.”
I wonder, does a society notice when it’s getting sick?
When neighbors start rubbing their candy-colored eyes, who notices when they turn red?
When police officers clear their throats as a couple passes on the way to the park, do the lovers begin to feel a tickle in their own?
Do mouths dry out before or after native languages have been banned?
When children complain about the dogs barking ferociously at night, does the whole neighborhood lose sleep?
In Parliament, do papers slide a little less smoothly into filing cabinets? Does the microphone keep cutting off?
Before the churches become clinics, does anyone wonder why people are laying in the pews? (And does a single person question the splatters of wine, or ask why they’re trialing down the aisle?)
Does anyone take measures against becoming ill?
Before I left the United States, my mom packed me a mini-pharmacy. I have antibiotics, Naproxen, Mucinex, nasal spray, and Tylenol. But a country can’t reach into a bathroom cabinet.
Instead, are house deeds moved to a safe? Is a shaman somewhere cutting herbs, slaughtering sheep?
Do elders gather around fires to talk?
If so, South Africa and I are the same. Curled up pathetically in front of the heat, convinced the burning outside will stop the burning within.
The oversimplification of illnesses leads to incorrect diagnoses.
I told my friend Dylan that, contrary to what most women say, period cramps do not feel like being stabbed. They feel as if someone has carved a cylindrical hole in your uterus through which a small snake is writhing about, trying to escape.
I told my history class that, contrary to what South African news sources say, the problem with Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga is not that hundreds of residents share a single water tap.
The aching of it is that the area has been ignored by the South African government since the dismantling of Apartheid, an event that placed the town at the edge of a province 300 km away from the nearest major city.
The bleeding of it is that an eleven-year-old boy must wait hours to collect water for his disabled mom, in addition to walking two kilometers to school every day.
The nausea of it is that town inhabitants are exposed to violent muggings as they queue for water, solely because criminals know they have no other choice but to come.
When I pulled down my pants on Saturday morning and saw the catastrophe that awaited me I said, “Oh no.”
But at least I had the water to wash my hands.