The day started in an impossible way. It started bad. The usual family routine was broken at breakfast -- it's engine, just starting to hum, broke down.
With a two-year child at breakfast, there are elements of feast and famine. Something always spilled, broken, scattered ...
This was the scene as the Man and Woman tuned in to the radio. Not listening to the news but to the BBC's English language programming, plus some urgent dispatches cross the table between Man and Woman. Family breakfast gives way to the baptism of fire that steels Man and Woman as they leap out of the trenches for life's quotidian struggle. It's all in aid of a better life, Communists say. And capitalists are no more inventive.
As they set the agenda for the day, they constantly look over their shoulders at the child on the unsteady highchair -- the temporary throne of the monarch that will be jettisoned when Child grows.
Usually, Child bungles and bashes its way through breakfast, hopping and hollering throughout. The contact with the things it come into its grasp are immediate and undimensional. All that notwithstanding, Child seems healthy enough.
Today there was no hopping and hollering. Child cowered in the chair. Nothing was eaten or broken, and quietly with his eyes asked to go back to his little bed. The parents are suddenly taken aback and suspicious, filled with anxiety. They hadn't counted on this. It had never happened before.
In the morning correspondence between Man and Woman, an unaddressed telegram had arrived the unanswered question of what has happened.
It would remain a mystery until dinner, at least. Woman is preparing to take Child to the doctor's; Man goes to work at the institute.
Science can be found in the most unbelievable places. This institute moved not long ago from a former confectionery to a former butcher's. The butcher's had the advantage over the confectionery -- it has a big cellar, where there are good conditions for cold and ultra-centrifuges.
The ultra-centrifuges didn't work well in the confectionery. In the butcher's -- in the deep, dark and dirty space of a six-storey tenement house in the Secessionist style -- they did. The former butcher´s is part of small, deep inner yard of the block of the living buildings. When it becomes a scientific institute, the beginning of the one century and the beginning of another century meet here. Both removed worlds, however, gel nicely, and there are no outside interventions. Especially no sun, which only has a chance to penetrate yard around noon. Only one sunny finger, like sinking water into the well -- brrrrr -- and in a moment crawls back up to the surface.
Man, just arrives, is greeted by the light flooding in yard from the laboratories, trying to cut the dusk of a cold November morning. The windows of the flats on the other side of the yard, now abandoned by their occupants, are frosty and dark. The morning has goosebumps.Man enters the yard, making a beeline to the institute. Immediately, he catches sight of the head of pigeon, feathers reared, as he opens the front door. The bird is scraping around near a container for the second day in a row, he notes to himself.
Nobody knows why the pigeon doesn't fly. He hides behind the container and doesn't fly away when someone approaches. It's as if he wants them to come and help him.
Is he sick? If yes, is Man the right savior? Could he help? And could he, should he, would he? Man unlocked the front door and as he closed it he looked to see if the pigeon was again in his place.
Yes, it was. Waiting, but Man thought may be things are not so bad. At least not so bad that he has to intervene even by thinking about it.
Something about the way pigeons die -- the dying pigeon people recognize when it is on the way out of the illogical cycle of a pigeon's life. It has stopped flying from place to place and doesn't do what pigeons do -- try to occupy all the roofs in the town, jump around every accessible female pigeon, shit in every romantic corner and on every head of distinguished human monuments.
The dying pigeon, one day he eschews all allurements, all the ideals, aims and goals of a pigeon. It drops down to the earth and finds itself on the paths trodden by Man, and waits.Puzzling is that it lacks the usual vacuous, bobbing of the head. Curiously, the head moves to one side with one eye as if it had popped out of its socket. It attempts to make contact, tries to not only see but almost like touch everything around.
The dying pigeon lacks everything required to be a pigeon, which would ordinarily give Man the comforting feeling that it is only a bird.
It's difficult to ask scientific questions, difficult to struggle in the front lines of an impractical scientific battle when the hinterland is threatened.Woman calls.
The child is in bed with a fever. A state of utmost emergency is proclaimed. They didn't get to the doctor's, it was too late to take action. The strategic conference is very short.When child can't go to doctor, doctor must come to the child.
After all this, Man's anxiety is relieved. The fight against the fever has become institutionalized. Their lives already have become a relay race from one institution to another. On the road there are several repair teams standing by. The strategic conference therefore finishes optimistically -- let them come and do their repairs ...
Something about the way kids die -- Some clever man (a doctor and Nobel Prize Laureate in medicine, his name Peter Medawar) wrote that such a complicated organism as a human very often dies not because of sickness but because of too strong defensive reactions. This defensive reaction is fever. The body is sounding the alarm bells and cannot stop. Bells are ringing again and again. Defenders of the body fervently runs up and down the wooden stairs of the body to the highest towers and bastions and back down again. Finally, the alarm bells should stop and then all the defenders find their positions on the walls of the body fortress, clenched and silently holding their positions against the enemy. But fever sometimes runs its course to the point where it degenerates and goes berserk. The bells ring maddeningly and unceasingly. The fever grows so hot so that the flames hit and engulf the temple of the body. Only moment ago there was chance for a successful defence. In another moment, there is no possibility for shutting the door in its face. First, the fire starts in the library. The brain cells are irretrievably damaged. Strategic defence plans fall by the wayside, from precise instructions are left only ash-heaps. The passages of the body turn into a labyrinth, where also the defenders are suddenly lost. The forces of the sickness conquer this disorganized castle of the body effortlessly. Good plans can very easily turn to catastrophe. Catastrophe was described by another clever man (a pilot and teller of the most beautiful fairy tales, his name, Saint Exupery) thusly: "I knew their misery when the vessel smashed before it had been filled. Because the death of grandfather who is returned to the soil, after he has spent himself -- it is something beautiful. His funeral is the burning of a tool that has been used up. But I saw the death of children among my people, who with quiet, half-shut eyes, tried to draw breath and caught the fires with the tips of their eyelashes. God seems like he's carrying the scythe, and along with the ripe corn also cuts down some flowers. And then, when he gathers the sheaves, full of corn, he also finds this needless luxury."
All this Man knows, and today has a foreboding that Death is also very near. But he doesn't want to believe it. There are so many brakes to be applied. Many white walls built around the patients (even that designation has to provide protection). So many ampules of cures are set as a traps for the fever. Against this, Death didn't step aside, still is not weary. Still lurks somewhere nearby...
Science can be found in the most unbelievable places. This, for example, in dark dirty yard in November in late afternoon that is the same as in early morning. Only the windows show evidence of a shift, they change their roles and now the the flats' windows lighten the yard.
Science's windows turn off, step by step, and immediately their windowpanes have goosebumps. Man leaves last. He still refuses to deviate from the Crusade of the day. Before he closes the front doors of the institution, he involuntarily checks if the pigeon is there. He is, and has only moved from the bin nearer to the door and Man. It waits and doesn't move. Man is startled for a moment. He's sorry for the pigeon and himself. Sorry for pigeon because he's missing something and sorry for himself because he can't do anything. Then, they depart in silence.
We are a civilization of dependents -- interdependents. We are dependent of many others and they are dependent on us. When this chain breaks, and it happens sometimes so often, we become more defenceless because we rally to this interdependence.
Man rallies to automatic expectations to come home to a field of battle dominated and controlled by the institution. But he came home to the middle of the war cry of Child listening from the stairs. Woman is speechless. Doctor still hasn't come. (How many long hours have elapsed?) There are very, very many such cases. Man rages because he is powerless. In their "case", lying quiet with half-shut eyes, Child tries to draw breath and catches the fires with the tips of the eyelashes.
Man goes to phone and confronts some stupid telephone receptionist woman for doctors. He yells at her and for a moment it relieves him, but not Child. Man and Woman look to each other. They are in the middle of civilization and they must win this fight alone. The fever gets worse.
Child suddenly says:
"I will sing." But doesn't sing.
"I will draw," Child says, but doesn't draw.
"I will be healthy?" he says, intoning a question.
"Yes," answered Man and Woman in synchronized faith. "But..." they add, and "but" is signal for a whole series of unbelievable acts that follow. Unbelievable from the point of view of Child -- a monarch came to world with conviction that the world began when it was born.The world can be secure and obedient, but is not. It isn't logical. Not even when Child sometimes, on shaky legs, falls down, it hurts and then they smack him on the bottom at the same time. Pain comes from both sides. Child's body is now at war with itself and they add more cause for concern.
The fever needs to be halted.Cold rubs don't help. Water-soaked towels are dry in a moment. Man and Woman unpack the fragile little body. It stays naked and shakes. They carry him to the torture chamber -- the bathroom. Child forebodes the worst and resists, but they firmly hold him under a shower of cold water. Child holds out its hands for a cuddle, craving for an end to this tough fight but they hold him firmly far from their bodies and add even colder water. Now, Child isn't a shaking naked monarch, but humbled and pushed away, it is naked little bird with shoulder blades distended and its chest, trembles against the stream of cold water and rivulets of tears flow over inarticulated cries -- making a birdcall. ..a a a a a a a a ah! Man and Woman avert their gaze, the little bird tosses about in their hands and says clearly a a a a ah!
When everything is finished, back again in bed, Child speaks in a human voice. "I will sing. I will draw," and falls asleep, at last.
Doctor comes, finally, bringing a short message: "We are with you. You will be with us" -- bringing connection. They don't awake Child. They advise in a whisper over him. But it has nothing to do with advice. It's about assurance. Yes, this fever is the worst. Under no circumstances, should the fever be allowed to get over 40. "Do you have aspirin at home?" the doctor asks. "In the worst situation ...but other medicine, not yet."Doctor says good-bye with encouraging words: "We are still with you."
Man and Woman stay alone. They don't speak. They are thinking about the same thing. How will they know when the worst situation has arrived? They know it very easily and very soon, when even the torture with the cold shower doesn't help.
Now comes new torture, and everyone suffers because this time Child can protect itself more effectively. A little spoon with a quarter of aspirin was thrust into its tightly shut mouth. Shaking its head back and forth, punching them with its hands, Man and Woman fight this stubbornness in a rage. Again and again, they make portions of the aspirin and feebly try to find and refind it to force-feed Child.
How could Child have been spying in the kitchen, and have such a fear of having a lozenge tablet in its tea? When they finally get something down Child's throat, it immediately throws up ...
(to be continued)
Translation by Robert M. Davis