These days, a cough is like the sound of a starter’s gun. It is a signal to get off your marks, pronto, and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. Covid has got everybody’s senses attuned to things that only a few months ago we would have called ‘commonplace’.
Fellow-men hearing a person cough, used to, on occasion inquire politely if all was well and, if all was not too well, helpful suggestions were offered, sometimes ready-at-hand solutions were offered, as in, ‘Here, take these cough lozenges. You’ll at least feel a bit of relief until you can get something stronger.’
But these days, fellowmen are taking their cough lozenges with them as they sprint away. These days a cough can only mean one thing. Yes. The dreaded C word: Covid. Or, Coronavirus, take your pick. Same difference. The sprint is on!
I spent a week in isolation after that, waiting for that little tickle at the back of the throat, like a visitor’s polite knock on the door, to tell me Corona had arrived. But, so far so good, as my mum was fond of saying whenever, at the end of the month, my father asked how she was managing for finances
I don’t wish to convey through the above-mentioned that I am a finger pointer; that I am sacrosanct; that I am denouncing my fellowmen as a tad cowardly; that I am one of the noble ones who’ll stop (upon hearing a cough), make the obligatory polite inquiry, dip my hand into my pocket and, voila, produce a magically handy strip of cough lozenges. No, that’s not the case at all.
I am, truth be told, a member of Sprinters Amalgamated. I have run so hard recently, and with good cause, because it was not one but two people (whom I know rather well) who began coughing in my presence.
I took to my heels, not once looking back over the shoulder. To be fair, and in my defence, that was the right thing to do because one member of that twosome did have the virus which was, a few days later, passed on to the other.
A week in isolation
I spent a week in isolation after that, waiting for that little tickle at the back of the throat, like a visitor’s polite knock on the door, to tell me Corona had arrived. But, so far so good, as my mum was fond of saying whenever, at the end of the month, my father asked how she was managing for finances.
I can’t tell if my mum would have approved or disapproved of my ‘sprinting’ behaviour, had she been around in this world. However, I was reminded of something she told me when she was alive and I was a young man ‘mortally’ wounded by one of Cupid’s arrows — that vulnerable, arrow-exposed age of sixteen, in other words.
Unbeknown to the fact that I was ‘mortally wounded, my heart in pieces,’ mum began telling me about one of her friends — a young mother of three, too — who’d accidentally found out, to her shock and horror, that all was not well with her marriage.
‘But they are together, aren’t they? I saw Daisy and Dermot Hughes (not their real names) just the other day. You probably have your facts mixed up, mum,’ I said.
And she in turn replied, ‘Yes. People can be together and still be very far apart. It’s called an amicable coexistence, or something like that. Poor Daisy. I’ve known her all my life. We grew up as young girls. I’ve never ever heard Daisy sigh so much.’
It was then that mum said something that reminded me, all these years later, of my own little sprint from Coronavirus.
Because, even as I went haring away in the supermarket, ducking and weaving metaphorically to avoid a dangerous virus, and in the process chiding myself for it, reasoning ‘people cough to clear their throats,’, I recalled mum saying all those years ago, ‘Poor Daisy. How difficult things must be for her, having to put up a pretence. You know, people sigh to clear their hearts.’
— Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.