Peace summit

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on February 28, 2020

Manjula Padmanabhan

I have returned to Elsewhere. Bins is still in Delhirium. The deadly cough that had me in its grip for several weeks has finally faded away. I’m looking forward to a calm, quiet period ahead. Until... uh-oh! I start to sneeze.

I can’t believe my bad luck. I complain to Bins, who is completely unsympathetic. “I told you it would happen,” he says. “Maybe we all have the coronavirus, but the government has decided to pretend it hasn’t come here yet.” I spend a couple of days feeling miserable. Just as the symptoms start to fade, a new threat: My tummy starts to hurt. Before I know it, I am lying curled up in bed with a slight fever and pain, like flashes of lightning, gripping my lower belly.

I spend the entire night tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. Instead, I begin to entertain a kind of hallucination involving climbing Mount Everest. I say “kind of” because I’m perfectly aware that it’s not actually happening. Nevertheless, it’s weirdly realistic: I’m part of a two-person team, there are several sherpas, we’re within sight of the summit, but the weather has turned hostile. A decision has to be made. Only one of us can go on up. Will it be me or the anonymous other person?

I have never, in any slightest way, wanted to scale the Everest. So the dream is constantly being interrupted by me, saying to myself, “Hey! I don’t want to climb anything! Not even a flight of stairs, if I can help it!” Then we’re back in the bitter cold, the snow, the icy wind, the treacherous chasms on either side and this decision that needs to be made. I keep wishing that I could just turn off the dream or fantasy or whatever it is, but it refuses to be set aside.

Finally, a resolution appears: I must step aside and let the other climber go on ahead. The moment this idea presents itself it’s as if a gigantic burden has been lifted from my shoulders. I don’t have any clear memory of who this other person is. All I can say with certainty is that he’s male, he isn’t Bins or anyone known to me, and we are all semi-frozen, so conversation is limited to grunts and gestures. As soon as I indicate that I’m letting the other person go ahead, a sensation of immense peace overtakes the scene and I’m able to end the dream.

Alas, the same cannot be said of my tummy. It’s slashed by powerful spasms of pain every hour or so. Night wanes into dawn. I spend the entire day curled up in bed, drinking water, eating nothing. The pain fades away. Bins tells me I must see a doctor. My sister advises Milk of Magnesia and I go buy some. As I write this, there’s no change but the peace that came from the Everest dream continues, in its odd, inexplicable way, to light up my mind.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on February 28, 2020

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