Covid came calling, and it pushed me over the edge. I thought I was tough. I am known far and wide, sometimes with affection and sometimes with resentment, as The Cockroach – creeping and insensate, able to withstand anything, a bug with a hard protective shell. But like Gregor Samsa, who wakes up in Kafka's terrifying short story Metamorphosis as a bug, I discovered that a hard protective shell is no good if you're lying on it.
Covid came disguised as a cold. I tested negative, twice, and went about my business coughing, sniffling, ah-chooing, none the worse for wear. It was a classic Kiwi cold, a cold that drove a Cortina, voted for Holyoake, had a steady job and was kept busy at Scouts, Rotary, and, I don't know, SPUC - a cold is so conservative that sometimes it's ultraconservative. But then I tested positive last Thursday morning. Within hours, I felt terribly tired. I needed a lie-down. That was my first mistake. I closed the bedroom door. That was my second mistake.
Covid dreams are swirling, psychedelic dreams, quite 1960s, more John Lennon than Paul McCartney, more Revolver than Abbey Road. I turned off my mind. I relaxed. I floated Lennonishly downstream, and when I woke up I felt like a nice hot McCartneyish cup of tea. But the bedroom door would not open. Of course it would not open. The door handle on the other side was bust. I never closed the bedroom door - to do so meant being locked inside. It happened to my girlfriend. I rescued her. But now the house was empty. I was alone, and the sky had darkened.
Covid weakens the mind. I closed the door without thinking, and then I climbed on to the windowsill without thinking. It scarcely seemed like it needed any kind of thinking. When trapped, find ways of escape. But the window didn't open very wide. It only allowed a very narrow, tightly angled access for escape. After a considerable amount of time and energy I managed to swing my legs over the windowsill and position myself on the windowsill. But I couldn't move. I was trapped.
Covid is kind of thrilling. To finally share and experience the plague that has occupied the thoughts of every nation on Earth - I felt part of things, connected. Except I was stranded on a windowsill, and was unable to swing my legs back over towards the room; all I could do was fall backwards on to the bedroom floor, but I might crack my skull or spine; I was Gregor Samsa, waving my arms and legs in the air, uselessly - no, wait, of course, I could phone for help! Except I had left my phone by the bed, without thinking.
Covid, like everything, or at least like everything according to my grim philosophy of life, is a test. A test of resolve, of tenacity, of stamina, of endurance ... What joyless qualities! Somewhere along the way I manufactured the belief that the purpose of life is to survive it, and measure it in very small rations. It's only recently that I've realised maybe a better approach is to enjoy it, and share as much of it as you can. But the former idea had driven me to sit wedged tight in the narrow confines of a windowsill. I sat thus for half an hour, brooding.
Covid kills, in tandem with that line we've all read so many times these past few years, "underlying health issues". I wondered whether I would die overnight of exposure, a Covid case with the underlying health issue of stupidity. After half an hour of wriggling and shimmying, I got my bottom off the windowsill and was suspended in mid-air with my arms pinned behind me on either side of the window. That hurt quite a lot and I whimpered, my piteous cries low and anguished in the twilight. But with a final superhuman effort I thrust myself free and jumped many centimetres to the ground.
Covid isn't so bad. I was crook all day and night Friday, again on Saturday night, and on the mend after that. Good old Cockroach! Life is a matter of keeping on creeping on. There's something to be said for survival. Every day you last is a good day. You take on all the world's ills - plagues, windowsills, being alone in the world - and you do your best to endure the test. Sometimes it doesn't work out. Kafka writes, at the end of his story of poor Gregor Samsa, "He remained in his state of empty and peaceful rumination until he heard the clock tower strike three in the morning. He watched as it slowly began to get light everywhere outside the window." But he never saw the dawn.