“Level 1 crossed.”, Tushar said to himself as he found his berth on the Mangalore-Mumbai Matsyagandha Express. The reason he saw the journey as a big game that he had to complete, was because he had fallen ill the night before.
“Somehow, I’ll make it to the train and then home. It will not kill me, and besides I don’t have the cash to spend more days here. 15 hours, and I will be home. After that, my mother will take care of everything.”, he had explained to himself when the fever had struck.
An hour into the journey, Tushar thanked the weather gods for the cool weather. Otherwise, in a sleeper compartment with this fever, and the paracetamol induced sweat the battle would have been much tougher. His mother had given him money to travel in the best possible compartment, but he believed it was much smarter to substitute a day of comfortable travel with 3 days of alcohol. “The continous alcohol coupled with erratic routine, may just have be the reason behind my illness, but what good is that thought now. It’s not like I’ll stop drinking after this. It is better, if I focus on the present. Feel the weather, and see how it restores your body.”, he observed.
If such a cool breeze continued he was assured that the journey would pass by without much trouble, and that all his worries were just sickness induced negativity. With that thought, he suddenly began to feel better.
And with that energy, he began to feel bored. “You should not let fever win the battle against you. Fever is beneath you, you are above fever. That is the advantage of being young.”, was one of the dialogues his friend had given back in his hostel when he himself was suffering. Now, that Tushar could imagine himself in his position, he decided to adopt a similar policy.
Trying to act, as if nothing at all had happened, he reached for his bag and removed a book. He read the first couple of pages, and even though it was not heightened entertainment, it was better than sitting with his feverish thoughts.
Which is when a station came, and the sudden increase in the decibel levels of that bogey rendered him unable to read. Having nothing better to do, he decided to order a tea. Surely, tea was not something to be avoided even when one has fever.
“Yes, indeed. This was a smart move. I have not eaten anything for lunch, what with the lost appetite, and this certainly helps in restoring calories.”, he said as soon as the tea was finished. And with it, returned a purely psychological craving for cigarettes. He was confident, that it would be a nice break from the drudgery of this travel, and because he hadn’t had a smoke since last night, it would taste pretty good. He reached towards his bag, and very wisely concealed the cigarette in his hand, till it reached the deep space in his pocket. He repeated the drill after a space of one minute, to procure the lighter.
Once there, Tushar was delighted to find the toilet clean by sleeper standards. He would have smoked near the gate, had that not been the case. But, now that he was satisfied with the hygiene, he decided to not risk even the small probability of getting caught by a railway official.
He looked into the mirror once, and even though it looked pale and weak, he found it beautiful. He made a few arrogant faces to suggest that he wasn’t really affected by all this weakness.
The cigarette though much to Tushar’s dismay didn’t taste good at all, and induced in him a feeling of nausea. Still, now that it had been lit up, he decided to continue. Soon enough, his confidence was broken and he felt a choking sensation which immediately brought in him a gagging reflex.
The first attempt to vomit brought only some watery fluid, but was very painful on the chest and shook his entire body. Tushar threw the cigarette into the pot, and somehow managed to push the tap open. Which is when, a second gagging reflex overtook him, and this time he did puke some colored fluid. It was a painful puke, but Tushar told himself to wash his face and get out of the toilet. Thankfully, he hadn’t eaten any lunch, otherwise this might have gone on a few more times.
Once back on his seat, Tushar blamed himself for undertaking such a rubbish deed. The fever had returned after the puke, and his head was starting to feel heavy again. “Smartass, couldn’t you have waited until you reached home and recovered some energy. Already, you were in a difficult position to complete this journey, and now you’ve made it even more difficult.”
Looking at his state, and the strange way in which he had tilted his head and closed his eyes, a fellow passenger inquired if he was alright. “Yes, yes. Just a little fever.”, Tushar said. “Do you want medicine, I have?”, the passenger then said. “No, I’ve already taken.”, he said. Besides, he had to first eat something in order to take the medicine. At least, that much he knew about medicine being brought up in a family, where self-medication was often practised.
The next decision, he took was that of sleeping. He decided that he’d sleep for as long as possible, there was no question of missing the stop, as his ultimate destination was the same as that of the train.
“The upper berth is yours, right?”, he said to the passenger who had offered him a tablet. “Yes.”, he replied. “Can I go and sleep there now? You can take the lower berth.”, Tushar said , confident that his request wouldn’t be refused, since lower berths were always more preferred by most passengers. He asked, just because it would have been rude to take his place without any agreement. And, as predicted the man agreed most eagerly. He removed a blanket from his bag, with much difficulty, and with the body language of an old man, made his way to the top.
Once upstairs, Tushar decided to listen to a song, before he would finally sumbit himself to sleep. Looking at his state, he decided to play Coldplay’s ‘Fix You.’ Afterall, he needed to be assured that lights would guide him home, even though, he didn’t really need his bones to be ignited; they already were.
He did not listen to the whole song. Once, the assurance was received he put the phone in his pocket, and decided to sleep. He would have loved to listen to a nice lullaby, but he didn’t since he had not stored one in his mobile. “Who would have thought, that I would need it?”, he said to himself with closed eyes, and made a small prayer to god, to make him reach home, without embarassing himself in any way. He was willing to trade the joy of seeing his favorite football club winning the championship.
Tushar woke up when the station had arrived, and the fellow passenger, whom he had so graciously offered the lower berth, shook him a couple of times and said, “Mumbai has come.”
Even though, he felt a lot weaker than when he had gone to sleep, he got down, this time with the body language of a major drug addict, and made his way to the station. Without wasting any time, he decided to go with the first taxi that he was offered. He knew the man would rip him, but he was helpless.
On the way to the taxi, he decided to buy a bottle of cold lime juice, in order to restore some energy. It was unhealthy in his state, but what he needed was some respite for the moment, even though it would result in his fever being heightened at a later time.
“Level 2 crossed.”, he said as he finished the bottle in big gulps.
The taxi ride back home, was not unpleasant. The weather was good and it had the same early morning restorative touch that it had the last evening when he had boarded the train. “Wouldn’t spoil it with a cigarette now.” he said, and smiled, even with all the weakness and pain in his body.
On the way, the sights of his city pleased him. Not that it was very aesthetically pleasing, like it would be had he returned to a city like Paris, but yet, it was good to see these shops and these roads.
He called his mother, to inform that he was about to reach home in another 2 minutes, and asked her to come down with the money required to pay the taxi driver.
His mother was not too impressed with him for braving the journey with such fever, his brother didn’t bother, but what did he care. “Game over.”, he said as he sat down on his sofa, with his body still in pain. And asked, for some food so that he could take a medicine.