Coffee, Cringe and the Coronavirus

Photo by Christian Hebell on Unsplash

I start my day blowing my nose into a tissue in a most satisfying manner. My clogged sinuses breathe a sigh of relief as the cool morning air flows into my lungs through my clean nostrils. As soon as the tissue drops from my fingers into the bin, I reach for my sanitiser, rubbing the pungent gel vigorously onto my hands.

I walk into the kitchen to fix myself a cup of coffee. There on the counter is a largish pool of liquid, glistening menacingly. Clearly, my flatmate left in a hurry, not bothering to wipe what he spilt. My coffee mug is on the dish rack just beyond the stain; it is placed in a way that I would have to pass my hand over the stain to grab it.

I let out a sigh and stare at the stain. It’s transparent. Seemingly harmless. Could be water. But knowing my flatmate, could be anything. I think about the hygiene and cleanliness advice given by the authorities in the wake of the global COVID-19 scare. Wash your hands regularly, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, don’t touch your face.

The stain seems to take on a life of its own, mocking me. “Cleanliness and hygiene are not words your flatmate is familiar with,” it says. “Remember when he dropped a piece of tomato on the coffee table and ignored it till it dried up and you had to scrape it off two weeks later?”

I remembered. I did not appreciate that.

I get flashbacks of all the times I have been grossed out by my flatmate’s habits. It almost seems like a war movie playing in my head. All the dishes left in the sink for days. Garbage accumulating in the bins till the house would stink. Crumbs of food and liquid stains left everywhere. His goddamn beard hair all over the bathroom sink.

The word ‘considerate’ floats around in my paranoid mind as I grapple with the thought of why some people find it so difficult to be considerate. This lack of consideration is not contained within the walls of my flatmate’s selfish, entitled little brain. It extends all the way to the big wide, world. I remember the state of the washroom at my workplace and cringe.

The ‘Jaws’ soundtrack starts playing in my mind as I think about all the sick people who go to work because taking a day off is frowned upon in our society. A distant fin breaks the surface of my thoughts, gliding silently towards me. I think about the people sneezing and coughing into the air — as if the world was their tissue. The fin gets larger by the second. I think about the times I have had to hop aside mid-stride to avoid the spittle on the sidewalk. Why is that fin growing so large?

Suddenly, I’m very aware of my surroundings. All the little hairs shed on the surfaces. The spots on the hob. The fingerprints on the window panes. My flatmate leaving his used tissue out in the open. I reel under the weight of the implication — phlegm, spit and other respiratory fluids everywhere!

The stain on the counter cackles with glee, the ugly shark of disease rears its head in my mind biting a sizeable chunk of the arm I use to try to fend it off. “Stop it!” I yell, trying to avert my eyes from the evil grin plastered on its face. The stain is pulling me towards it. “Come to me!” it roars. “You cannot escape the filth around you! People don’t care about what they leave behind. That’s your problem.”

The ‘Jaws’ theme in my head has reached a crescendo. “Well they should!” I reply. “They should care what they leave behind. They should care about leaving a place clean for the next person who uses it!” I try to reach over the stain. The images of germs in my head hold me back. My coffee mug sits desperately isolated in its tall tower, despairing, waiting for me to cross the bubbling pool of liquid and reach….just reach.

A gust of wind from the open window catches me off guard and I sneeze.

I look around sheepishly. Quickly grabbing my coffee mug, I carry on with my day, sparing a last glance at the now lifeless stain on the counter.

The stain stays dangerously still as the stain leaves the kitchen.

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Mostly harmless

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