On the top floor of S-Meg Tower, in the heart of Asia’s leading international financial hub, the company gwailo sits miserably in his office and grabs another tissue from the large pile requisitioned from the IFC Mall branch of juice-and-wraps place Mix. He takes a deep breath, clasps the folded paper tightly over his nose and blows sharply through one, then the other, nostril. Peeling the napkin away, he catches a glimpse of the huge, glistening, dangling globs of mucus he has expelled before crumpling it up and tossing it into the bin where it lands with a damp, heavy thud on the small mountain of virus-sodden, pulpy bundles already gathered within. And the working day is less than a couple of hours old.
I don’t often go to Mix, but I needed to give Pacific Coffee next door a rest after relieving them of a three-inch wad of paper hankies for two days in a row. Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary was the first person in the office to realize that I was diseased, and by midday Monday she was sporting a surgical mask, though without telling anyone why. Yesterday, my coughing, sniffing and spluttering became widely noticed. The three Stanleys from the mailroom were rubbing antiseptic gel onto their hands after making fleeting deliveries to my lair, and I was subjected to dark, accusative looks from visitors to the floor as they scuttled, terrified, past my door.
Today, suspicions about me are reaching, for want of a better phrase, fever pitch. To suffer some sort of common and incurable temporary ailment for one day is admirably stoical, or perhaps stupid. To go though it for a second day without seeing a doctor is perverse. To my colleagues, flicking through Christian Parenting in a waiting room for 15 minutes before being told to drink fluids, rest and take these overpriced over-the-counter remedies, is the whole point of having a cold. To endure a third day, airily dismissing the malady as nothing of consequence, is subversive and dangerous – an insulting affront to dignified, hypochondriac community values.
If I turn up in this state tomorrow, the message will be clear – the Big Boss’s green-eyed devil wants all of us and our children to die of swine flu. If I still feel this awful tomorrow, that will go for the rest of the world, too.