I am wedged against the wall, face wincing, desperately looking for refuge. My head is lowered and my shoulders are hunched, contorting myself as much as humanly possible, trying to avoid the looming menace. My toes are curled, that's how stressed this is making me. Nearly every fibre of my being is preoccupied with this lingering threat and I have had enough. Enough, I say.
You, sitting there oblivious. You disgust me. I rank you among the lowest of society's creatures, lower than the corrupt politician and only just above the thieving street thug. You. Walking among us without a care, infecting us all with your disease.
In Japan, courtesy towards the public good dictates the wearing of a surgical-type mask if you are ill and potentially contagious. No matter if it is only a mild cough or cold, this simple gesture of civility is so common that seeing someone sporting a mask while walking the street or riding the subway is quite normal. So normal in fact that the more fashionable of Japanese often accessorize their little white veils with colorful prints and designs, usually including some form of Hello Kitty.
But no, not you. You hack open-mouthed into the public air. You snort and sneeze and sniffle and blow, without the slightest concern for your neighbour, your community, or society in general. I wonder where this dismissive, self-centeredness comes from. Is it our me-first, individualistic Western culture? Do we care so exclusively about ourselves that we have forgotten about everyone else? In our rush to define ourselves as oh-so very special and unique individuals we seem to have forgotten that although we may be free, we are not alone.
We are, however, better than China. I'll give us that much. In China they seem to aim for the back of your neck when hacking. This is not an exaggeration. Nor is it a slight against the Chinese people or culture in general -- they are more civilized than us in many other ways -- but when it comes to bodily functions they don't really hold themselves back. It is a veritable orchestra of coughing and horking that surrounds you, and you more than sometimes have to dodge flying spit. It's a bacterial minefield that would be laughable, if you weren't constantly ducking and hiding.
But that doesn't excuse you, Western devil. You should know better. And the fact that you probably do yet don't act on such knowledge makes you that much worse. If ignorance is bliss, then informed inaction should be damnation. Or at the very least quarantine.
Do you not realize that besides shunning common courtesy, you are also causing others real harm? I am so frightened at the thought of catching what you got and spending another week holed up in my apartment that I cannot concentrate on what I'm doing. Instead I am focusing on breathing in short breaths, keeping my mouth closed, and lifting my shirt discreetly to cover my nose (notice I said discreetly, because although you may not care about others I am still worried about offending you).
So I am getting nothing done, thank you very much. And if, god forbid, I should breathe in your malevolent microbes and catch your plague, then what will be lost is almost impossible to calculate. I will suffer. I will ache. I will have to linger in a sluggish, torturous state; a zombie waiting for an end of his torment. Because of your lack of consideration for the well-being of others, I will have to spend money on medicine and juices and tissues and soup. I will have to stay away from friends and family -- an outcast, a leper -- missing important events and wasting valuable time never to be recovered.
Now picture this across the city, across the globe. Oh, the damage you are causing: the number of infected, the cumulative suffering, the loss of working hours, the decline in productivity.
You should be billed for our lost time. Made to nurse us back to health. Sent to an English boarding school and admonished by severe educators of etiquette.
You should be publicly ridiculed. Forced to wear a mask. A dunce's cap. A scarlet letter.
You should, quite simply, stay home.
And if obliged by circumstance to venture into public, you should, at the very least and for the sake of us all, cover your freakin' mouth.
This piece originally appeared on HeadSpace
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