Image by Christine Renney
Thomas was having a bad day. The bugs were everywhere, he was rife with them and he was writhing. He hated this – he knew how he looked. He had seen others like it, in a high level state and unable to control themselves and quite frankly he had thought it undignified.
No-one commented. They didn’t stop and stare. That had all stopped long ago. The jeering and the abuse, the low-level whispered disdain, the disbelief. Everyone suffered now and everyone understood. They were all too aware that tomorrow, or in just a few hours or merely minutes, it could/would be their turn.
Frantically trying not to scratch and claw at his body, Thomas was gesticulating wildly, Inwardly he was pulling away from himself and he wondered if he might be disappearing, moving in and out of the space he was occupying like an image on a screen, flashing on and off.
The more he thought about this the less outlandish it seemed. After all, the bugs weren’t real, they didn’t exist. Perhaps when he was suffering it wasn’t really him but a virtual incarnation somehow controlled by an external force.
There were so many theories about the cause of the condition it was impossible to keep up, to follow each and every train of thought. That the bugs were contained in the city was indisputable. Those out in the country didn’t suffer but despite this there had been no mass exodus. People had decided to stay and suffer, to live with it.
The media companies had been quick to defend against the idea that the bugs might be fallout from our digitalised addictions. They argued that life out in the sticks was just as immersive, that everyone, everywhere, had a tablet or a phone. But in the over-crowded city it was such an unholy mix. People constantly huddled over screens in an impenetrable clash. Thomas was convinced the bugs were the consequence of this, a digital flotsam as it were.
Thomas hadn’t ever suffered so badly. He had always managed somehow to cope but his levels hadn’t ever been this high. Always self-conscious of the writhing he was aware of just how desperately and manically he was squirming and gyrating but Thomas didn’t care how undignified it was or if anyone might be looking he just wanted it to stop.
And suddenly it did. It was almost as though someone had turned a switch and he was no longer there and no-one was watching or seemed to care.
Image by Christine Renney
I try to convince myself it is sudden, this want, this need. It has been growing inside of me, unbidden, a well without water.
How can I talk again after so long? Each time it surfaces I suppress it and resist. I could so easily run, abandon the City, and make again for the road, find that other place, the one in between here and there, where I could stand off to one side and, unheard, shout at the sky and down into the earth.
I look up, not because I must, or because I might stumble or have gotten too close to the edge and could fall into the abyss, I look up to see what is happening right here and now. But it is too bright and, squinting into the harsh light, I am hardly able to see. Everyone is moving so quickly and everything is blurred. At last someone slows a little and I focus on him.
I watch him moving in closer and he bends and drops a handful of coins onto the pavement in front of where I am sitting.
‘Thank you,‘ I say, staring down at them but when I raise my head he is gone.