By Rhys Hughes
The Optimistic Hypochondriac
“I caught covid last week but I already had typhoid, rabies and malaria, and they all cancelled each other out.” — The Optimistic Hypochondriac
I like the Optimistic Hypochondriac. I regard him as my friend, but not a close friend, oh no! I don’t want to get too close to him in case he gives me his germs. I am sure he has plenty of germs, more than he needs for himself. And he has always been a generous chap, the sort of man who would be very happy indeed to share his illnesses with anyone else.
I remember in the old days how hypochondria wasn’t an infectious disease. But there is now growing evidence that the virus that causes hypochondria has undergone a mutation and is starting to spread among people who never believe they are ill. This means that hypochondria will probably become rampant in the next few years. What a dreadful notion!
I keep myself fit by going for regular runs on the beach. This morning I ran five miles on the beach. I am pleased with my performance, but my fear is that after finishing I will be stopped by the police. “Why are you out of breath? Why are you sweating? Why do you have a high temperature? You must have the virus. It’s off to quarantine with you — on Devils’ Island!”
Devils’ Island is an extremely unpleasant place. It was where all the devils in the world lived before they emigrated. The devils’ diaspora is one that hasn’t been studied in great depth yet by academics. Some of the devils went North, East and South, but most of them went West.
To “go west” can also mean to perish or disappear. The devils who went North went west, if you see what I mean, but the devils who went East didn’t, nor did the devils who went South. It gets rather confusing. But if you meet a devil, no matter where you happen to be, you can be sure that originally he was an inhabitant of Devils’ Island, which is still covered with cooling lava. People who are imprisoned there have to keep hopping.
I keep hopping too, or rather I keep hoping — hoping that I will never be sent to Devil’s Island just because I have broken the quarantine rules imposed by my government at short notice. I ought to pack a swimsuit in a suitcase just to be prepared for that horrible eventuality.
Some women pack swimsuits that are radioactive in their luggage if they think there’s a chance they might be sent to Devils’ Island. Radioactivity keeps any remaining devils away. Are there any remaining devils? Difficult to say, but not as difficult to say as “imagine an imaginary menagerie” which is a sequence of words I often have trouble with.
Better to be safe than sorry! If you are a woman in danger of being sent to Devils’ Island, be sure to pack a radioactive swimsuit. Is it bad advice to suggest the wearing of a radioactive swimsuit? No, because there’s nothing wrong with bikinis atoll. Now let’s move on —
Well, I moved on, and here I am. The Optimistic Hypochondriac has called me on the telephone to tell me that a new pandemic has started. The singer Buster Octavius is going to give a concert to raise money, but no one knows what the money is being raised for. Buster Octavius says it is being raised because that’s better than letting it fall onto the ground.
It will be a socially distanced concert, which means that members of the audience will have to stand six feet apart. Most audience members don’t have six feet. They are human beings and only have two legs, like you and I. The six feet rule might be good for insects but for mammals it’s a disaster waiting to happen. And have you ever seen a disaster waiting to happen? They get nervous and pace up and down and growl in the wings.
The reason they wait in the wings has nothing to do with the fact that such shows as Buster Octavius is planning usually take place in a theatre. No, they wait in the wings because birds have wings and bird flu is a disease that is always a strong pandemic candidate.
Buster Octavius is a pseudonym. His real name is a closely guarded secret and the guards who guard it cannot be bribed. I have already tried. And so has the Optimistic Hypochondriac. He says, “He broke twelve semitones and that’s why he calls himself Buster Octavius.”
Quarantine regulations are coming into force and it has only been a couple of hours before the new pandemic was officially announced. My movements will be restricted once again to my home and a small area around it. I might begin to dig a tunnel in my cellar, both to pass the time and to enable me to travel further than I am allowed. The tunnel will point in the opposite direction to my office. Just to give me some illusion of freedom!
I can’t honestly say I dislike my job. When I started there last year, I was warned by my new colleagues that my new boss was a “micromanager” but when I started work at the laboratory the conditions were relaxed and no one criticised the details of anything I did.
In fact, there didn’t seem to be a manager of any sort present in the work space. Then one morning I happened to glance through a microscope and saw him jumping about on the slide and tearing his hair out. He was very angry but his voice was far too quiet to be heard.
I had never expected him to be a virus instead of a man!
The Optimistic Hypochondriac advises me to wear a mask. In fact, he tells me to wear two masks — over my ears. If the singing of Buster Octavius doesn’t kill the virus in a fifty-mile radius and help to end this new pandemic, then nothing will. It is good advice and I take it. But then, having taken it, I change my mind and put it back. But he doesn’t want it back. We argue and tussle for almost half an hour before we both admit defeat.
If the pandemic is already here, then why not just quarantine the whole world in one go, instead of sections of it? That way, we will technically be in quarantine, as all the health authorities recommend, but able to travel around freely just like we used to, and everything will continue on the surface of the planet as before. I think this is an excellent solution. A win-win!
We would only have to deal with that tiny minority who call themselves “astronauts” by refusing to let them back into the atmosphere and presto! This approach would save a lot of money and time and effort. Lots of my friends at school were interested in outer space and wanted to be astronauts but I don’t think many of them managed it. When I was little and was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied, “An adult.”
An impractical choice, I feel.
Buster Octavius is allowed to sing his doleful dirges, highly amplified, out at the captive inhabitants of the innocent city, but all the theatres have been closed and actors are out of work. This seems unfair.
To put it another way: thanks to this new pandemic, all theatre has become Japanese in style because ‘Noh Plays’ are being performed on every stage. Even Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is about to close. But I bet they will stage one last play there… “Two Gentleman of Corona”.
The rules are being tightened. Now we aren’t allowed out of the house at all. I doubt if the Optimistic Hypochondriac will conform to this restriction. He will be arrested for breaking the law and sent to Devil’s Island instead of me. One thing I still find baffling. If people aren’t allowed out at all because of the risk of spreading the virus, why are the police allowed to approach and arrest those who do venture out? Surely the police spread the virus just the same as any other human? Oughtn’t there to be a second set of police to approach and arrest the first set, and a third set to approach and arrest the second set, and a fourth to approach and arrest the third.
And so on, forever? If not, the process isn’t logical.
As part of the fight against the virus I note that Washington DC has changed its name to Washinghands DC. This news doesn’t concern me very much at the moment, but when I have finished tunnelling under the Atlantic Ocean I surely will sit up and take notice
It will take me at least nine months to tunnel as far as the comfortable home of the Optimistic Hypochondriac. In the meantime, Devils’ Island is rapidly filling up with arrested police officers. It will take me centuries to tunnel as far as the city of Washinghands DC. Even nine months is too long to dig tunnels. But that is how I intend to keep myself busy.
How will other people occupy their enforced leisure time? I am supposing that there will be a baby boom in nine months. And thirteen years after that, we will witness the rise of the “quaranteens”.
It turns out that the Optimistic Hypochondriac is also digging a tunnel of his own — in the direction of my house.
Therefore, we meet each other after only four and a half months of toil. He has some strange news for me. The virus responsible for this pandemic is one that hypochondriacs are immune to. But everyone else can catch it. He knows that I have never been a hypochondriac.
“I think you should change your name,” he tells me.
“To what?” I ask him.
“Virusman,” he says, and he grins.
Virusman. Unlike other superheroes he never catches criminals, they catch him instead! There is a little song that will be associated with him and it goes like this: “Virusman, Virusman / does whatever a virus can. / Can he replicate inside the cells / of all the jails in Tunbridge Wells? / You bet! / Atchoo! / Here comes the Virusman…” But I have my doubts. I have never been to Tunbridge Wells. What if it is worse than Devils’ Island?
I knew it was rash to sign the new contract sent to me by my virus provider, but I never imagined how itchy the rash would be. Fortunately, I was able to use the get-out claws to scratch myself.
Buster Octavius has been sent to Devils’ Island. Those poor remaining devils, how I feel sorry for them!
The Polite Antibody
An antibody met a germ and said, “How do you do? I am very happy to make your acquaintance. Would you like a cup of tea? May I fetch you a cake? If you require anything to improve your comfort, please let me know and I’ll do my best to provide it. I like your colour, shape and other physical characteristics. What a fine germ you are! I admire you so much.”
“Well, that reaction wasn’t what I was expecting!” cried the germ. “I came here to infect this bloodstream, but I don’t think I’ll do that now. I am too charmed by your kind words.”
“It’s a new style of resistance and I’m glad it seems to work. It’s called diplomatic immunity,” said the antibody.
Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.
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