Written by Niki Moore
In which our intrepid heroine encounters strange happenings, diverse alarms, and the uncomfortable feeling that, on an entirely personal level, the Titanic maiden voyage was not a one-off.
I had absolutely no premonition of disaster on that Friday night of 6 January, 2017.
It was the day I returned from Christmas holidays: there was work lined up, I felt fit and rested, the weather was lovely … and I went to sleep with the proverbial song on my lips and joy in my heart, with an entire weekend to enjoy before work began again.
But the following morning, I woke up feeling as if the 05h40 express from Winkelspruit had hit me squarely between the shoulder blades. Headache, nausea, body pain: there are not enough swear words to describe the way I felt. I wanted to put an ‘Out of Order’ sticker on my forehead.
My brain was getting a brisk beating with a barbed-wire whisk, my eyeballs were rolling around like roulette balls, my muscles kept phoning in to see if I was dead yet.
I slumped out of bed, leopard-crawled to the bathroom, and risked a look in the mirror. The sight hurt my eyes.
I slithered down the stairs, swallowed a bucket of herbal tea, lay on the floor and groaned, and waited for the smoke to clear and time to pass so that I could phone the doctor to make an appointment. Whatever I had, it was going to enter the textbooks of medical history. Maybe they would even name it after me.
Then the strangest thing happened. After half an hour I began to feel better and by the time the doctor was in, the symptoms had almost disappeared. Despite feeling a bit shaky and fragile, I was almost back to normal and was able to carry on with my day.
Very odd, I thought. What kind of illness does one have that starts with one walking around like Frankenstein’s monster, but that disappears after a few hours? It puzzled me for a few minutes, and then I forgot about it.
Only to have exactly the same thing happen on Day 2. Woke up feeling like the newspaper at the bottom of the bird cage, … but within a few hours feeling fine.
What was this? What was going on here?
Was I drinking too much coffee? Not enough coffee? Was I exercising too much? Exercising too little? Was it something I ate? Was it something I was not eating? Was this some strange environmental bug unknown to science? Were my pyjamas too tight?
And so it continued. Every day was a little worse: the pain lasted a little longer, the recovery was a little slower. I was puzzled and confused. If this was an illness, it was not manifestin’. It was not getting better, worse, or terminal. It just hovered, like the bad smell from the Island View refinery down at the docks. There was nothing here I could take to a doctor (‘It’s like this, doc – I am fine now, but you should have seen me at 6 o’clock this morning!’), and the combination of symptoms did not resemble any ailments known to science (I checked). I was trying every single kind of lifestyle-change I could think of, but nothing seemed to help.
Then, three weeks later, my neighbour Andre caught me mid-morning as I arrived home from errands, at my street door. I knew him slightly, mainly from our community social media groups. Our conversation went like this:
‘You’re the journalist, aren’t you?’ he said.
‘Ye-e-e-e-e-s?’ I replied cautiously. I never like conversations that start like this.
‘Well, I’ve got a story for you,’ he said.
This is usually the signal for me to disengage my brain, just as doctors at cocktail parties learn to do with conversations that start; ‘You know, I haven’t been feeling well lately …’
But I had to be polite, so I attached a quizzical look to my eyebrows and said, ‘Really?’
‘Yes,’ he said, settling himself on the spot the way someone does when they are preparing themselves for a long story. ‘You know they invented a spike in hijackings in order to put up camera poles, but they are really cell masts? And they have been lying about it?’
‘They?’ ‘Invented?’ ‘Lying?’
This preamble was flickering with all the conspiracy-theory danger signs and I could faintly hear the sound of the cuckoo-clock.
I put up a hand.
‘Slow down,’ I said, ‘tell me the story from the beginning.’
So he told me a fantastical tale about how the Disaster Management Unit in the Ethekwini city council had invented some inflated crime statistics in order to create panic among residents. To counter this ‘crime wave’ they had suggested putting up street cameras for added security, with sophisticated number-plate recognition software that would nail any miscreant immediately. But this whole project was fake, it was a cover for MTN to put up a whole slew of cell masts without going through the required legal processes. And now these illegal, unregulated and ubiquitous cell masts were making him sick.
There was a silence when he had finished. I thought quickly.
‘This is a local city issue,’ I said. ‘I work for national and international press. This is not really the kind of story I do. You would need to speak to a journalist on a local paper.’ And I offered to refer him to one of these local journalists whom I happen to know, wished him luck with the story, and then went away up the stairs to my house, mentally rotating my finger around my ear.
‘Really!’ I thought. ‘What nonsense! Lies and conspiracies, manufactured information, illegal operations … cell masts making you sick. Huh. Pffft. Tshja.’
Everyone knows that cell masts can’t make you sick. Everyone knows that large companies and municipal councils can’t collude in illegal activities, we have too many checks and balances for that. How could they ever think they would get away with it?
Looking back, I am rather relieved that my words to my neighbour were relatively sweet, because in the coming months I would be forced to eat them. With a topping of wormwood and gall.
And so the adventure had set sail. It was going to be an eventful journey, in – of course – an unsinkable vessel. Except that there were a few icebergs ahead that had other ideas.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this series of articles are purely those of the writer, they are not endorsed by Safrea or any of its members.