At the most unexpected moment, while I am going about one or more of my various daily businesses, I feel a faint harmless tickle in my throat, as if the microscopic army readying itself for a stealthy attack on my body, has exposed itself too early and, facing certain defeat, is now debating whether to make a quiet exit and live to fight another day or go the Japanese way. Their eventual decision remains the same every time. It signals the onset of the now unavoidable battle that my body must prepare for and I must suffer through, in the days to come.
Each time I have this dreaded sensation, though fully aware that I merely kid myself, I gulp several times at frequent intervals in the hope that it is only an obstinate foreign particle, embedded in the inner lines of my oesophagus, that is the cause of this itch and will presently, goaded by my actions, continue on its journey into the stomach. The effort, in addition to being fruitless, in fact has an effect contrary to what I intend. For my throat begins to itch with intensified vehemence.
Resigned, but still vain in hope, I quickly help myself to hot tea or coffee in generous quantities and swallow it with greater vigour than usual to ensure that the affected region is thoroughly rinsed. Immediately afterwards, I gulp a few more times to check if the beverage has had a positive effect. The first couple of times, the itch seems feebler, and my fears are temporarily allayed. The relief does not last for long; the third time, it is inevitably back.
I wonder what it is that this bunch of pitiful invisible creatures find exciting in these doomed ventures for them to keep coming back. Surely, they realize they stand no chance at all? That the human body is simply too large and too powerful for them to ever take down? There are, of course, others of their kin who do possess that ability, but who is to say if they are even aware of the existence of their lethal brothers in arms! Nevertheless, they keep coming anyway, perhaps in the hope that they pave the way for their descendants to succeed, many generations later.
On the second day, the minor skirmishes end and full-fledged war commences. The attackers, resigned to their fate and fearless, launch their assault on all fronts. The defenders, initially caught off guard, have gradually begun to bring coherence to their campaign, invigorated no doubt by the artificial reinforcements that have arrived in the form of pills I’ve deployed over the last few hours. There is, however, still some time before they clearly stamp their supremacy in the battlefield. In the meanwhile, the throat suffers as do, now, the chest and the nose. My eyes water.
I sit in office, drowsy, feverish and afraid of calling in sick, finding it difficult to breathe and trying to invest myself in the requisite chores. In the course of the restless night spent, the incessant itching of the throat has been replaced by a palatable dull ache, consistent but manageable. The problem is the nose. Innumerable blows into the handkerchief and violent sneezes later, it remains clogged. Stray rivulets of water trickle out embarrassingly and continuously, which I wipe off before they reach the upper lip. I smell nothing. The food tastes bland. Spraying the deodorant doesn’t make me feel better. My socks probably stink.
I obsess over little details. Like, if I tap gently on one side of my nose, there is a wet, audible click, spawned, no doubt, by the exploding of mucus bubbles that are entrenched in thousands inside. Soon, I am addicted to the sound and can’t stop myself. I fret.
My voice sounds nasal and muffled. I try to camouflage this by speaking in hoarse staccatos. My parents pick it up anyway. They fish around for details, prescribe medication and advise a trip to the doctor. Exasperated, I assure them of a recovery within a day or two. This little exchange has played out and will continue to, identical to the smallest detail, forever.
By the afternoon of the third day, the tides begin to turn. The nose, still clogged, doesn’t run anymore. The mucus has attained a great level of viscosity. When I inhale sharply, I find the shriller sound of liquid retreating from the outer fringes of the nose replaced by a deeper grunt higher up the nasal tunnel. That is a good sign. I know now that I will be well when the sun rises on the morrow.
When I wake up next morning, I feel dried mucus in my nose. I dig my fingers into my nostrils, pry out the contents and roll them for a while between my fingers before flicking away the consequently formed ball nonchalantly. I inhale fresh air, deeply, and commend the body on another efficient performance.