On my way out to dinner with three friends the other day, I stopped by my ophthalmologist’s office to check out what the scratchy irritation in my eye was all about. He confirmed the horrible truth. I have become that most feared and reviled of fellow human beings, the one with a homicidal twitch in her watery red eyes: a person with conjunctivitis. I wondered aloud if I should go home instead. He said, “Here, this one is an antibiotic drop, but also take this other thing right away for instant relief so that you can look sparkly and glam at dinner. And don’t tell anyone at the table that you have this. Just don’t share napkins or cutlery.” I love my ophthalmologist.
During dinner, small vicious creatures began to attack my eyes with pitchforks and pickaxes and other pointy, stabbing things. Science has shown that conjunctivitis is caused by tiny malignant beings in pointy hats with talons instead of fingers; in fact, I saw one or two of them launch themselves off my eyelid and land on my friend’s face, giggling quietly and biding their time. Now he has pink-eye too. After that I have been more socially conscientious, washing my hands frequently and following instructions to not share towels and napkins and not touch my eyes.
And I’m staying home. Some people invited me to come to an evening of fun and games at their house this Friday, and I sighed that it was not to be. My cousins called to see if we could meet, and I had to morosely turn them down. My mother wanted to know when I was coming over and I had to tell her that I’m not, though that made me feel kind of powerful.
It’s a new and odd thing, enforced quarantine. Conjunctivitis is just not a polite thing to have around other people. It makes them skittish, and you have only to Google some images to work out why. The lady who cleans and cooks for us glanced at my face and instructed me not to look at her directly for the next two days, and I think she might have been muttering protective incantations under her breath. I can see why; I’ve never in my life seen anything more evil-looking than my own left eye, which surges like a red snooker ball out of its socket. The other one is merely pink, but resentful about having to do a double shift. I can now step out only in cases of dire emergency, and that too only while tolling a small clangy bell to warn the populace of my pestilential approach.
All in all, then, this is not the best time to have to take passport photographs. Nevertheless, I am scheduled to travel, and I need visas, and I had no photographs left, so I had to mingle with society. I shuffled out to the market, tolling my bell. The man at the photo studio recoiled in horror but, to his credit, made the best of a bad situation by asking if I would like to do my hair. I stopped by to collect letters of invitation at a magazine office, where the editor affably asked, after he’d stopped shrieking in fear, “How are you, freak?”
Still, my time will come. I will apply eyedrops every two hours and eventually, in anything between three and fifteen days, step out with perfect, eggshell-white corneas with no need to clap my hands to my face and yowl.
Meanwhile, I can just see the visa officer laughing hollowly and tossing my application in the reject pile, sub-categorised under “Suspected terrorists with biochemical weapons”. He’ll probably get a promotion.