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  • Writer's pictureRony Alfandary


At first, there was nothing to complain about, lying in bed with a slight temperature wasn't an ordeal at all. For lunch, he had a delicious soup which tasted like something that could not fail to combat the obnoxious virus that had taken hold of his physique the night before. He cherished the taste in his mouth long after he had finished drinking it.

If everything else would be up to the standard of the soup, he would have nothing to worry about. Three or four days in bed at the very most, a very welcomed rest. There was no harm in that, he needed the break from the city, everything had been happening so quickly there lately that it had been bound to have caught up with him and bring him down.

When he would get better, he thought, and be well enough to return to the office, it would be a bit like the first day at work, when nobody had expected him to be in complete control over the department, and he had been allowed the few mistakes that come out of inexperience. The replay of that period of grace wouldn't last, of course, and after everybody exhausted their sympathy towards him, he would have to neglect his health again just in order to stay in pace with the rest of the clerks

But now he could forget all about the office, and just lie in bed and contemplate what his wife might prepare for the early supper. She thought he didn't look too well when she came into the room with a bowl of soup for him. It seemed to be a strain for him even just trying to sit up in bed, and the smile he put on seemed somewhat contrived, as if he already knew but was trying to spare her the pain of having to share the bitter truth. All the same, she kept quiet, thinking that perhaps if she didn't mention it, it would go away or just come to pass quickly enough for neither of them to react in a humanly binding way.

When he complimented her on the quality of the soup, she wondered why he had seen it necessary to lie. After all, she knew from what Gilda told her, that in such cases, the taste buds were the first to go.

Good Gilda, what would she have done without her? How could she have controlled her emotions and the wave of grief and bereavement (He's not dead yet, but cry anyway if you feel like it, it'll only do you good"), when she heard the doctor's verdict without Gilda's supportive and stable presence?

She dreaded having to remain alone in the house with the sick man and offered Gilda the spare room (Or even my own bedroom! You'll be more comfortable there. Please!).

Rearranging that room's furniture without him hearing the noise and getting suspicious wasn't easy, but somehow, they managed. Still, the question of whether to tell him that Gilda had moved in remained unresolved.

The flow of tears remained potential. Even the feeling of grief was somewhat obscured by the secretive activities around the house. Coffee for the doctor with no sugar. Oh, he was such a kind man. She was grateful to him for having agreed to only examine him when he was asleep, therefore ensuring that he wouldn't remember the visit.

He was surprised when she closed the curtains because he hadn't realised he had slept for that long. He could remember finishing the delicious soup and thinking how nice it would be to have a short nap, not because he was feeling tired or weak, but because he rarely had the chance to when he was at work. Even though they had quite a long lunch break and it was conceivable for him to return home every afternoon, he never did. Most of the time, he would grab something in the café downstairs and hurry back to his desk, not wanting the others, who always brought their lunches with them as if they were too poor to do anything else, to think that he was lazy or was taking advantage of his administrative superiority over them. But he hadn't expected to sleep for that long. There were things he wanted to do. There was a book he so much wanted to read and now, being ill, it seemed like the best opportunity.

Her presence in the room was a bit disturbing, because it was obvious she had nothing to do there and was only lingering behind because she was bored and was trying to compel him, with her silence, to entertain her, but he wanted more time on his own. It wasn't fair since she knew how much he needed that break to catch up with his reading and to think a bit about matters that had been always pushed aside because there were others more urgent and immediate. How could he do all that when she was asking for his full attention? And her concern was somewhat exaggerated and out of place. The way she asked him how he felt, as if she was afraid of what he might answer.

As a matter of fact, he wasn't feeling that good and yes, maybe he did have a temperature still, but that was only to be expected and she needn't worry on his account, he had nothing to complain about, all he needed was a stretch of rest from the office and from the mundane life he had been leading since what seemed eternity. Why did she pale so when he mentioned how much he needed to retire from the rat-race? Was she coming down with the same virus? He made her leave the room immediately but not before she promised she would minimalized the contact so that she wouldn't catch his virus.

There was no stopping her tears now. Gilda did all she could but, had to give up, having a slight headache herself. Alone in the empty living- room, the grief-stricken woman was releasing all her pent-up sorrow. He knew, she was sure of that now. How else could you explain the almost indifferent calmness with which he discussed his condition? Carrying on pretending seemed pointless, and false. She couldn't let him wither away without showing her compassion, her love. But if she did, he would know that she knew what was supposed to be a secret.

The words of the doctor echoed still in her head, telling her that his condition was so precarious, even if on the outside it seemed stable and mild, that any shock would prove disastrous to his mental equilibrium which was so essential in such cases. After all, it was an affliction nothing really was known about but the little evidence that was available showed beyond doubt a vital need for secrecy. It could almost be assumed that the patient himself remained unaware till the very last minute. And if that was indeed the case, was there really any justification for causing unnecessary agitation?

The doctor's words were compelling. Her first instinct was to rebel and disobey but it was checked back by the fear that she might make things worse. She could almost foreshadow the doctor's accusatory look were she to tell him that she had disobeyed his instructions. No, it would be better to accept his authority. It would not do any good if she showed mistrust in his professional ability. She would have to brace herself, be courageous. Oh, if only Gilda was where she was most needed!

He thought she looked somewhat revived when she brought him his supper. That should have pleased him. He didn't want her to be bogged down just because he was slightly indisposed. All the same, he resented her somewhat for being so jolly while he was so unwell. Having been with a temperature all day lon was claiming its toll, and he felt he had the right to expect her to behave more in accordance with his condition. He thought her particularly flippant and uncaring when, in reply to his suggestion that a doctor should be sent for, she turned her back to him , shrugged her shoulders and then left the room in great haste. What did she think to herself? Maybe she had got the wrong impression: that he stayed in bed to avoid going to work. Couldn't she see he was suffering? Did he have to beg her to recognize his illness?

She didn't want him to think that she was neglecting him, and although his questions about the doctor had devastated her and she had been very near to breaking the screen of lies that separated them from each other, she managed to retain her equilibrium in Gilda's understanding presence, and went back into the room. She still believed that through her devotion and love he would get better. But his eyes were so dim and vacant when she reentered the room a few minutes later. She wanted to give him attention and care but he no longer seemed to be able to receive. Did he recognize her at all, or was he mistaking her appearance with the hazy images that occupied his delirious slumbering?

She left again. She couldn't stand the painful sight, nor her helplessness.

Everything was changing so fast. One minute he thought it was time he got up and scolded her for her neglect but when he tried, he only sunk deeper into the bed with no vitality left in him. He could see her coming in and watching him with such tenderness and worry in her eyes, but hard as he tried, he couldn't break through the cloud of sleepiness that descended on him suddenly. With his eyes still wide open, he was losing touch with her and with the objects around him. He didn't want to go - the thought of losing his consciousness was horrifying but it was stronger than him. Darkness closed in all around him. With his eyes shut now, he could still remember what the room looked like and hung on to that. If only her voice could be heard, he was certain that her voice could lift him out of the swamp of sweat and black circles. She was no longer in the room. All alone, he drifted into sleep, disturbed sleep, providing no rest.

In the middle of the night, she woke up with a start. Did he make a sound? Was he calling her? The room felt cold and she tended to the fire first, uselessly trying to warm him, he who already wasn't there.

January 1986

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