You do hear the birds…
It was the most un-Ethiopian thing to do. Most — Gone with the Wind. Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t a fussing niece-by-marriage with smelling-salt next to me. Infact, when I come to I was lying on the floor, wedged between my kitchen cabinet and my metal-mesh trash can [which got banged out of shape from my weight]. I looked up and saw, just the way you see in the movies, things separate from one another. First drawer doors, then bulb, then roof, then walls, then back to the kitchen cabinet doors I was laying against like a lump. Then a vague recollection of where I have seen those things came to me, where I have seen them last! A distant feeling of where I might be. Then I heard “the birds”. They were raising from the back of my head, my “majirat”, as we say. Raising slowly and noisily. And, with every flattering of wing, the fog that has covered my brain was lifting, leaving me with a cold sweat that was helping wake me up.
I closed my eyes for a few minutes, drained from the effort it took to concentrate. [Leave me alone, my mind waved away the mental arm that was trying to shake me out of my slumber, Leave me alone! I am going back to sleep!]. Then opened my eyes again, terrified at the thought of being in a place I didn’t entirely know. Doors. Bulb. Roof. Walls. Then kitchen cabinet doors. I realized that this was my kitchen. My kitchen! I’ve lived there only for about a week, remember?!, that must be why it didn’t come to me immediately when I first saw it – from the bottom-up. Everything was brand new, almost uncomfortablly surface-shiny, but this was my kitchen. Its a place I can trust myself in. That spinning, that was me, not this strangely familiar place with its shiny appliances and stagnant air.
I was too exhausted to think. So supported my head on the doors and slipped into a dazed sleep.
It was the flu. A winter flu I got from an ex I made out with a day after new year. He wanted to come over. I wanted him to come over more. So when he said “By the way, I am recovering from the flu. I hope that won’t be a problem”, I told him it wasn’t. I didn’t have the flu-shot, true, but this was me we were talking about! The sole survivor, the only woman-standing, of many a flu-attack that has taken down my colleagues through the years. When people are taken to hospitals or surrounding themselves with relatives to make their final will; I walked to work and performed my duties – with running nose, teary-eyes and super sensitive skin that makes me sneeze at the breath of wind. I was so healthy, I bragged, it bothers me. Just bring yourself around and be quick about it.
So he came over. And, reader, I kissed him, teeth, tongue and all; taking a break only when he came out to cough.
About a week later, I started feeling a pain in my throat. Then an achiness in my bones. I started sneezing at the hint of a wind, an indicator to the rise in bodily temperature. The ache quickly became a general miserable-ness; head-ache, loss of appetite followed by a skin numbing fever. Everything was itching. Everything was hurting. Everything pointed to the fact that I was coming down with a flu I should stay at home to take care of. But did I stay at home and took care? Did the fever, the hallow look around the eyes, the ashen lips and the drunken feeling when walking home stop me from doing double shifts over the weekend? 27 hrs. of chripping goodmornings/howcanihelpyous & haveagoodnights? No sir, it didn’t!
That was also the week in which I was introduced to “Viet Wah”, a clean Asian super market unlike “Haw Haw” [or “how how”, as it reads outside the building, written by some white guy who didn’t bother finding out which language the name was taken from, no doubt] which has a foul-fish smell despite where you stand and where everybody – including the cashiers who actually spoke English- stop to watch you like they haven’t seen a black person before [despite being located in the “ghetto”est part of Seattle I shall fear evil in broad day light]. I have bought my whole month’s vegetable ration for less than 10 dollars a week before from clean and relatively friendly Viet Wah; leaving me with a garden of Asian vegetables to choose from and some highly sensitive chicken that should be consumed ASAP. Soup, therefore, has been my daily meal for almost two weeks. Soup works on so many levels for me. First, it was easy to prepare. You wash the Chinese cabbage, you crush a garlic or two in, add some water, some oil, a dash of salt and pepper and put the lid back. It would smell to high heavens in less than 3 minutes, but it was cheap, healthy and fast – key ingredients for someone who doesn’t cook for pleasure! It’s delicious, healthy, and fast I said; but falls short in the way of “nutritional variety”. Which is ok when you are a strappy-young laddett who consider your health as untouchable as those movie-cops from the Provision era. When you are a less strappy young ladette with a body that has shed weight by the dozens in a year and may have lost most of its immunity in the process badly in need of the energy to fight off some highly evolved flu virus, then soup is almost a bad idea.
So when I couldn’t get out of bed the Tuesday morning after my 27 hrs’ weekend shift, I decided to go back to sleep. This being a feverish sleep, you’d think I’d be haunted by nightmares [being chased by either my dad or my brother, the typical! Or being terrified out of it by a hypnic jerk]. Nope! I slept for about 12 hours non-stop, sweating like the dickens but without so much as dreaming. It was a lovely sleep, warm, exhausted and uneventful like that of a child’s. I did try to get out of bed at some point; I did pee and wash my face and splashed some water behind my ears and neck. But my body was quivering from exhaustion that I have to nap on my arm before I could get off the toilet. My heart was beating in my ears and I was covered in sweat just from the walk to the loo. I went back to bed in a dream-like state [Must.go.back.to.sleep must.go.back.to.sleep] and slept for another 12 hours.
When I finally woke up and realized I can’t go on sleeping without eating something for two days, I wobbled out of bed. I had to sit at the edge, panting for breath, before I got the courage to stand. My muscle was behaving the way a dog who has been beaten to submission would when asked to trust a stranger with a rod. I was afraid to get up. To move. To even think about moving. When I finally did move, I must have taken atleast 5 stops before reaching the kitchen. “I think I am sick.” “I should call 911.” “I should let someone know where I live incase something happened.”, I remember thinking. But the pull for water [must.get.water must.get.water] was stronger than gravity. So I walked to the direction of the fridge, with my brain knocking around in my skull. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the fridge. Or the water. Or the phone. The minute I reached the kitchen cabinet that I had to grab not to fall, the world did quick spins before me and I went out – like a light.
I don’t know how long it was before I “came to” the second time. The sweat was dripping from my braw and soaking my shirt. My legs were splayed every which way, comfortably and without a feeling, like they were paralyzed. The room wasn’t spinning anymore. But it hasn’t started feeling like “home” yet. So I tried to lift my head off my shoulders, dragged it more like, and when that wouldn’t work I sent my hand to explore what was around me. When I realized there was definitely something solid behind me, it gave me an intense relief.
“I will go to sleep now”, I muttered to myself, then closed my eyes.
Third time was a charm! I was still unable to move any muscle in my body – dehydration has turned my bones to water, as they say. But the fog has cleared and I recollected what got me there. The intense exhaustion before blacking out – the attempt to reach the fridge door, the struggle to stand, the whole body throbbing like I was made of only one organ – the heart.
“So this is what it means to pass out”, I mused, “I really literally passed out.” “I fainted – like in the movies”….
I slept on my arm for a couple more minutes. Then gathered my strength about me enough to crawl to the fridge, which was about two feet from where I sat on the floor. I knew I have lost liquid and need to replace it before I could get back to the bedroom and call whoever. Thus I crawled, like the year I was born, like a little kid on whom gravity was playing games with.. crawled on all fours until I was able to reach and open the fridge door. I took out my Britta filter, and a pineapple can that had spent weeks in there. Sitting with my back to the fridge, I chewed the pineapple down [need.my.strength, need.my.strength] and gulped the water. After about 30 minutes of sweating and heart feeling like it would pop, I had enough courage to stand on my feet and start the long journey back to my bedroom. However, I knew enough not to go to sleep. Expressions like “he woke up dead”, I reasoned, were inspired by those who trusted their weak senses into the arms of slumber. I kept myself awake, therefore, by drinking water, watching an episode of “Parks and Recreations” and listening to the radio. Later, I went into the kitchen – without holding the wall for support this time – and ate whatever I can get to make me stronger. A day later, I was able to climb down the stairs slowly and stand outside to smoke a cigarette that I craved for more than fresh air [Hey old friend!]. Afterwards I got on the weight scale and measured myself. I was happy to note that atleast something positive has resulted from my ordeal: I have sweated-off 8 [eight! Not two! Not four! But eight] pounds in two days.
The flu didn’t go until about a month later. Even now, two months after, my nose gets unnaturally stuffy if I smoked more than two cigarettes at a time. However, I have learned my lesson. Telling people you have passed out maybe as cool as wearing your hand in a cast, or having a “plaster” on your chin when you were a kid. But it doesn’t come without a price. It gives you a glimpse of how you are likely to meet your demise. It scares the crap out of you [must.make.friends, must.make.friends, must.have.lovers.to.call.when.sick, must.pay.old.woman.to.visit.every.month, must.make.friends]
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