Updated: Apr 4
A guy who says he's the virus-man keeps up with me no matter how fast I run. That's weird because he's sickly-looking, needs a shave, has mousy thinning hair. I can't tell if he's bragging about being the virus-man because he wants to feel like a big shot or if he actually is the virus-man disguised in one of the many ways that viruses use to slow people down. As we jog along, his hands reach out to me like hands in a bad horror film, but I keep my social distance and assume the karate pose that my trainer taught me. I know that it's not a good idea to engage with a virus-man in any way, shape or form, but the menacing pose gives me at least a semblance of security.
"Sorry to bother you," he puffs as I pick up the pace. He looks like he's finally running out of steam. "You don't have to feel sorry for me," he gasps, "even though I do have the virus."
"I thought you said that you are the virus."
"I just said that to make lemonade out of lemons."
"I think you're trying to gain my sympathy so that I'll slow down."
"It's complicated," he says, and he slumps to the sidewalk. As he falls, he looks truly wistful and frail.
He's lying there in a heap. At first I keep going, but then I look back and see him on the ground. I double back and stand looking down at him for what feels like hours. People jog by at a social distance. When I tell them what happened, they seem sympathetic but share my indecision.
Someone brings me a folding chair. The virus-man isn't moving, but I don't get close enough to see if he's pretending. I sit there the whole night keeping guard over him like a dog. It's early spring, just warm enough not to be wearing a coat. I sit with my new companion, dazzled by the canopy of stars in the unpolluted sky. Occasional shadows pass by; maybe they think that we both have the virus.
The unfamiliar silence elevates me into the cosmos. It really does. I solve all the mysteries of the universe from the nature of time to the existence of God. I stop the oceans from rising, the icecaps from melting, I cleanse the air of toxins. I make ecstatic love to beautiful people of all sexes. I run up mountains without getting winded, I save people from drowning, I live to hear my great-grandchildren talking about me with admiration. I eradicate many evil people who are beyond redemption. I meet other people who are infinitely wiser than I am, and I sit at their feet.
I even start thinking about the virus-man. Once he had a mother and father. He was a little boy with innate skills and a capacity for fun. What brought him to this terrible place where he thinks of himself as nothing but a virus?
I nudge him with my foot.
He stirs, sits up, looks around. The stars are fading into morning. "I don't have the virus," he sighs. "I wish I did. Then I wouldn't always have to be afraid."
I start to thank him for the night's revelations, but then it strikes me: Was their very splendor--and the way that my fear and his frailty brought us together in a kind of desperate love-- just another trick to make me let down my defenses? With no small amount of pride I explain to him how I know now that he really is the virus-man.
He struggles to his feet and looks at me with a sadness so heavy-lidded that it almost shuts his eyes. "I understand that line of reasoning, but in times like these it sounds even more idiotic than usual. Try to come up with something a little better. Now I'll be on my way."