The disease

by Mihai Batea [Romania]
translated from Romanian by: Maria Jastrzebska & Monica Ţone [MTTLC student]
click aici pentru versiunea română


The little boy whines. He is not hungry, he doesn’t like anything and has no appetite. George Hencoop is annoyed, he shouts at him: ‘Don’t be picky, tuck in and go to bed!’. Mother stops knitting, gives the food to the child. ‘He is running a fever’. The man calms down; he also checks the forehead of the little boy. ‘It’s nothing’. Tea is made, an aspirin is found. It is broken in half and given to the sick boy who breaks it into little pieces with his teeth. He doesn’t yet know how to take medicines. He is taken into his bed together with his teddy bear. His father tells him a quick story. He doesn’t have the time for a long one; there’s a football match on channel two.
The match is so exciting; Hencoop is living it to the full. He smacks his right fist into his other palm. This annoys his wife who rises and goes to the bathroom cursing all footballers. Right now a penalty is about to be played. The wife returns, agitated. ‘The child is burning up!’. He says nothing, the match has gone into extra time. She is getting annoyed ‘Didn’t you hear me?’.Yes, he heard, he rises, goes to the other room and sees for himself. They talk it over and decide to let the child sleep with them in their bed. The mother prepares a wet handkerchief, the father searches for the thermometer through the drawers. He remembers that he had lost it, starts cursing. He has another one, a half meter long one, for the laboratories.
It shows 41 degrees, neither of them believes it. He always finds an explanation ‘It’s a technical thermometer, it has an error margin of 5 percent. Look, it says so on it!’. The mother is still not convinced, the child is panting, his heartbeat is fast, and his hair is wet. The TV is still on.
‘Let’s call a doctor’, she says. Hencoop already has the phonebook in his hand. ‘I’ll call Titi, he told me I can call him anytime night or day!’ His wife searches the wallet. The man shouts at her to leave the damn money alone! ‘I won’t pay him anything, I’ll write about him. With this publicity he’ll earn much more! He knows that so he won’t ask… ’.
The private doctor doesn’t answer his phone. They don’t know what to do. The child is stripped naked, the windows opened to let some cold, fresh air in, they rub the boy’s body with surgical spirit. The father caresses his forehead. ‘My dear, what’s wrong with you?!’. The little boy is rolling his eyes from side to side. The mother is talking on the phone ‘Hello paramedics?’. The woman takes out clothes, they dress first then they dress the boy. They hold him up to the window and show him the iced snow. They tell him about the sleigh, how daddy will pull it at great speed…
It is three o’clock. The child is given another set of clothes. Those wet with sweat are thrown on the floor. In all the bustle they get walked on. The bell rings, the car has arrived. George thinks the doctor will see the child first but it doesn’t happen that way. The woman in white speaks slowly, is tired. ‘Let’s go!’.
The Dacia ambulance smells of burnt tobacco, the driver is listening to classical music. The nurse yells at him to change the station. Then she tells Mrs. Hencoop: ‘Stop whining madam he won’t die from a simple flu,!’ The one driving yells too: ‘Do you like this music?’. A pack of cigarettes falls in an arc from the car board. He stretches his hand, takes them and lights one.
The emergency room is empty. The mother manages to find a nurse and she leaves to find the doctor. ‘She’s just on her ward round.’ The doctor on duty arrives in a few minutes. She is waving her fingers to dry her nail polish. George stays outside and argues with a nurse. She tells him to smoke in the toilet if he cannot control himself. ‘Smoking is not allowed in the hospital!’
His wife emerges; she tells him they must go for a check-up, after nine o’clock, to the local clinic. ‘Let’s go to the pharmacy!’He struggles not to slip, he is carrying the child. The trams are beginning to run. They are both nervous. ‘In the emergency room they told me it’s not the flu. So I can relax! You shouldn’t call an ambulance unless the patient cannot be transported’. The woman’s voice is shaking. She is close to crying now.
At the clinic there are many parents waiting, holding hands with their children or carrying them. The doctor, a nice and likeable young man, asks for George’s wife straightway. Surely impressed by the child’s red cheeks. He is quickly done with him. The mother emerges with a prescription. They spend the last of their money on the cab.
They start arguing at home. ‘How is that? Didn’t he tell you what’s wrong with him? I don’t understand it…’ She fights back ‘Why didn’t you come with us? So you could hear for yourself: this is for the cough, this is for fever, that for sore throat…This is what you do all the time, you’re all talk and no action!’ Hencoop phones Titi. He arrives in ten minutes, apologizes for last night, he was away visiting some children. ‘Be nice, boy, let your old uncle see where it hurts!’ The private doctor quickly concludes: it is pneumonia! There’s no talk of a fee, the doctor won’t allow it.
After Titi has gone the arguing starts all over again. ‘Why on Earth did you call the ambulance?! Couldn’t you have had more patience, I would have gone to get him at his house, he is my friend after all!’ ‘What about you? Why don’t you write about what happens to sick people? You’re such a wuss! ’ ‘Really?! Don’t you know how many doctors there are on every street corner? You can’t escape them, you silly woman!’
Hearing him call her names George’s wife takes an ash-tray and throws it towards him. He gives it a wide berth, the crystal breaks against the wall. The woman cries, it was a gift from her mother. Hencoop gives up the fight and leaves the house to borrow some money. She is left to pick up the pieces.


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