A Fever in the Second Person
When I moved into my new bungalow, I made a point of being very friendly to my new neighbours. It was a severe oversight, and I regret it terribly.
A week after I moved in, my severely unstable Peruvian neighbour Rodrigo announced himself at the front door, a blanket draped over his shoulders, and insinuated himself into my bungalow. “I have dengue fever,” he announced, looking disapprovingly around the room, “I will stay here for some time?”
“Yeah alright,” I said, thinking he was after some company for a couple of hours. I went out to fetch him a juice from the fridge, and when I came back I found his stupid jaundiced Latin features splattered all over my bed, the rest of his body stripped down to its underpants, displaying a very mild rash.
“I am very sick, you can tell?”
“You appear a tad ill.”
“Perhaps I shall sleep now.”
It’s the start of the rainy season on this absurd island: everyone’s coming down with one fever or another. I did the neighbourly thing and went to the shops for Rodrigo, I bought some papaya leaf juice, some paracetamol, some electrolytes and a whole bucket of water. I mooched around the shops, as is my custom, mostly trotting about between the food stalls and regaling people with my opinions about issues they no longer have any interest in. I came home after an hour and I found that Rodrigo had not slept.
Quite the opposite, actually. He had made himself most comfortable. My bungalow is so modest it practically cringes, something Rodrigo had remedied by adorning it with family photos and inspirational posters in Portuguese. He had gathered pillows from the surrounding countryside and established a command centre in my bed, where he was propped up on all his pillows and had a number of fans trained on his person; he was wearing a ridiculous Chinese silk dressing gown, a wet towel draped over his forehead and a pair of my socks on his silly feet. He had opened my computer and was now perched on Facebook, waiting for someone to make the fatal mistake of appearing online, when he would immediately spring upon them, demanding that they bring him one knick-knack or another.
“Where is Julie?” he asked me as I opened the door. “I told her one hour ago that I am sick! Where is my ginger tea? Stupid bitch!”
Julie still hadn’t arrived by sunset. More disturbingly, Rodrigo still hadn’t left. I was dispatched to the shops with a shopping list: ice, more papaya leaf juice, other juices, ginger tea, green tea, lemon tea, limes, some sort of salad for dinner, an assortment of towels and cloths, medicines by brand, seasonal fruit, fresh juices, a couple of coconuts, etc etc etc.
I did my best but my best was not good enough. Where was the raw chocolate? Where were the superfoods? Where were the fruit purees? Where was the ice-pack? I had fallen short in every single respect! Most disappointing! And where is that stupid bitch Julie?
Rodrigo fell asleep quickly and peacefully on top of all his pillows, like the cat in the Fancy Feast ads. I didn’t know what to do. He looked like a llama when he was asleep: his eyes were closed, but you could tell nevertheless that they were crossed. His mouth was wide open. I tried to trickle into a corner of the bed, but Rodrigo breathed heavily and damply onto me and I fell off backwards. I was forced to sleep on the floor. I had to push and shove and scream a little bit, but Rodrigo finally consented to lend me one of my own pillows for the night.
A mosquito was bothering him now. He insulted my mosquito nets and insisted that I spray the air with some sort of bug repellent. I have Aerogard, which promises that it will Get Rid of Unwanted Visitors, which is nothing but a lie! A terrible misrepresentation! Commercial deception! I doused Rodrigo in the stuff, and he just groaned like a disappointed llama and rolled over.
I dreamed of shoving Rodrigo off the balcony, at least, I would have if I’d slept for long enough to dream. Rodrigo woke me up at hourly intervals, wanting this, wanting that, wanting the other.
At 3:00, he wanted a thermometer. “What do you think I am?” I demanded. “Some sort of travelling medicine man? A shaman? An equine vet? A woman calendaring her cycle? What sort of galoot travels around with a thermometer?”
“No, you are correct, it is a long shot.”
“I’m happy to improvise a rectal thermometer – perhaps I could use a knife!”
“No, that does not work I think.”
“Fuck you Rodrigo!”
At 4:30, he wanted to know where his Paracetamol was. “It’s on the stool next to you, wankstain!”
“Oh, can you reach it for me?”
“I am very sick.”
“Alright, whatever. I’ll get the Paracetamol! Fuck you Rodrigo!” I sprung up and snatched the Paracetamol off the stool, which was 30 centimetres away from Rodrigo’s moist mouth. “How many do you want?”
“Oh no, I do not take them now. I take some later. It is just nice to know they are there.”
At 5:30, I couldn’t get back to sleep. I am on the toilet doing my business. Rodrigo barges into the room in his Chinese drag, slides me off the seat, and does a gigantic diarrhoea. The evacuation itself is noisy, but nothing like the Hispanic “EEEEEEEEEEE” noise that accompanies it. Fuck you Rodrigo! At least one thing is solidified as I scrape myself up off the floor. Rodrigo will be leaving in the morning.
“Get out of my bungalow! You jackanapes! You pansie! Get out of my bungalow, Rodrigo. Go home and die! Fuck you Rodrigo!”
“No, I think I stay here. It is much nicer here.”
What more could I do? I called him a jackanapes, a pansie. What more was there to do? I gave up and went to my class.
One of my classmates is sick as well, he has a fever – 39.5. That’s quite serious. But he’s still in class, he’s not complaining, he’s not battering people off toilets. “What are you going to do after class?” I ask him.
“Go home and sleep it off, I guess.”
“Good man!” I slap him on the back so hard that he has a coughing fit.
I invite my friend Tobias home with me. He is a gentle Swiss guy, preoccupied with the stars and destiny and all that hoopla. “Hu,llo God,” Tobias says every morning in his Swiss lullaby voice, “hu,llo Uni,verse.” He is very dear, one of my best friends here; I plan to sacrifice him to Rodrigo.
“Welcome to my bungalow, Tobias. This is my balcony, this is my kitchen, this is my bed, this is my Peruvian.”
“Hu,llo, Rod,ri,go” Tobias says in his Swiss mollycoddle. Rodrigo groans and adjusts his head towel. And so I have brought the two biggest pansies on the island together! Just my luck! What a klutz! I should have predicted this! I sprawl out on the floor and try to read a book while Tobias and Rodrigo talk. The conversation is dribble: three minute pauses, some groaning, then Tobias asks a question.
“What, is, your, a,scen,dant?”
Three minute pause, some groaning.
“Should, I, play, some, An,a,hata music?”
“No thank you.”
Three minute pause, some groaning.
“Can, I, give you, a ble,ssing?”
“That will be nice, thank you.”
Three minute pause, some groaning, hand-holding.
Someone brings Rodrigo a thermometer and then runs away as fast as they can. They are smart, whoever they are. I barely even see them as they slip down the driveway and I pelt them with fruits as a punishment for their betrayal. Rodrigo removes his geisha get-up for the temperature testing process; I shy like a startled horse when I notice he is wearing my underpants underneath them.
“38.4: I think this is very serious.”
“It is not as serious as I might have hoped.”
“I am sorry?”
“I said FUCK YOU, RODRIGO!”
When I come back from lunch, my bungalow sounds like an extra-terrestrial invasion. I walk in the door and Rodrigo is sitting on the floor in the lotus position, still in his operetta outfit and the wet towel on his forehead, also wearing my swimming goggles for some reason, while a strange lady with a beard kneels behind him and hits a Tibetan gong with a stick. I step into the room and my foot crunches on some sort of crystal, drawing blood.
“Now this is too much! You have taken it too far! I have had it right up to here! My boundaries have been violated!”
Rodrigo glowers at me like an angry llama, “Jodete, AJ! Vete ahora mismo! Vete al Diablo!”
“This voodoo has obviously restored you wonderfully, Rodrigo. The gong clearly works. I’ll be expecting your notice soon. I shall follow your future career with no little interest.”
“Vete ahorita! Puta madre!”
I closed the door behind me, and I was not surprised to hear the lock turn over.
I gave it a couple of hours, came home at sunset and found Rodrigo spread all over my bed in his head towel and kimono, stabbing indiscriminately at the air around his head with a potato peeler. He had strapped cords of potato peels onto his feet – this is meant to cool them down – and the unnecessary portions of the potatoes in question are scattered about the floor. The floor, of course, being my bed in this instance. There are ants.
Rodrigo looks at me like a disappointed llama. “This ginger tea you get me is not fresh. It is powdered. I do not like it.”
I see that Rodrigo is drinking his substandard powdered ginger tea out of my favourite Miley Cyrus mug and I shriek. Rodrigo calmly writes a shopping list through my shrieking and dispatches me curtly back to the shops.
“I’ve just moved into a new apartment.”
“That’s nice. Would you like a roommate?”
“I didn’t realise you were looking for a new place, AJ.”
“Oh no, it’s not for me. It’s for a friend of mine: he’s Peruvian, really not too much hassle at all. Quite an angel really.”
“Is it Rodrigo?”
“I don’t like Rodrigo. He told me he used to be addicted to masturbation.”
“OH MY GOD!”
“Yes, it’s a bit creepy isn’t it?”
Rodrigo looked at me like a betrayed llama. “I don’t like your shampoo, AJ. It has made me itch. I have a sensitive scalp.”
“Oh I am so sorry, asshole! Cumbucket! I neglected to buy the appropriate shampoo for unwanted Peruvian guests last time I was at the shops! I will be more vigilant in future!”
“No it’s okay. You can just go to the shops now.” He hands me a list and – what else is there to do? – I go straight back to the shops. “You will not forget my fresh ginger.”
In general, my idea of a good night is to stay as far away from a mildly febrile damp-moaning Peruvian as possible, but that is exactly how I spend tonight. I sit on the floor and he props up in the bed, and we drink ginger tea.
Rodrigo has been heavy-handed with the cold compress, he has a sniffle now. The Phlegm Fatal, Llama-looking Lamia, Fairy Antoinette, Syphillis Dietrichson! He sleeps the way he emotes: like a corpse. I am kept up all night by his sniffle-sniffle-dribble-dribble-snot-snot, I don’t sleep a second. I get a dull haze as I lie there on the floor, being carried around the place by all the ants: a sensation of detachment, a feeling that I am experiencing the world at second-hand. The feeling that tells me this will make a decent story. Every experience I have is harassed by a fictional version of itself, chasing one another back and forth across my mind. I stay up all night, plotting my story, my passive-aggressive revenge, my belated comeback at that dickhead Rodrigo!
Beethoven wrote his best work when he was unencumbered by the sense of hearing. Unfortunately I am still encumbered by mine, so this story is left with a weird rhythm. A rhythm like this: sniffle-sniffle-sniffle-dribble-dribble-dribble-snot-snot-snot. Punctuated by the dingdingding noise of a thermometer going off in the dark. Groaning. Fuck you, Rodrigo!
My squatter was still there on the third morning (although the word “squatter” probably gives him too much credit for his emotional and physical fortitude – he’s more a flopper than anything else; but mentally – sharp as a tack!). He ships me off to his house, telling me to get him some fresh clothes. He gives me his WiFi password so I can use the internet while I’m there. I take some time off as soon as I arrive, lie down on Rodrigo’s bed and have a scan of Facebook. I am perusing an ex-girlfriend’s photos, quite disappointed that she appears to be enjoying herself so much without the benefit of my guidance and company, and then – DINGDING! Rodrigo sends me a message to say that I bought him the wrong flavour of electrolytes so I will have to pick up some more from the pharmacy.
I send Rodrigo a message back, advising him to end it all off a cliff, but he just rolls over and drools onto my pillow. Perhaps he slides his pants down. Days can be awfully lonely when you are ill with only half an island conscripted to care for you. I don’t care to think about it.
When I return home, I arm myself with nine different flavours of electrolytes. The mouthbreather can’t be disappointed with this show of commitment! No way! The fungus will have to thank me now!
But what is this? Progress? Don’t fool with me, Fate! Here is Rodrigo, hunched over my backpack, loading it full of pillows and clothes and electrolytes and teas and fruits. He is just sliding my toothbrush into the front pocket as I gain the threshold.
“What is the meaning of this, Rodrigo?”
Rodrigo shoots me his pitiful woe-is-the-llama’s look. He tells me that he has been quite unsettled these last couple of nights. He has not slept well. The feng shui of the room is all wrong. I appear to live directly above a seam of telluric energy! An inauspicious intersection on the energy grid. A vein of very bad juju! Unsettling vibes! Not the place for a sick person! Not the place at all! He is very disappointed in me! I have been most negligent!
I am so pleased by this development that I don’t even trip Rodrigo down the stairs, as I had planned. He saunters down the steps and dribbles across the road to Julie’s bungalow. He establishes himself on the balcony and remains there, waiting for Julie, wearing the expression of an impatient llama.
Cover by Ben Beiske