Every midnight, she coughs. The flower boxes down below are tinged with blood the very next morning. She’s alone in her room, confined, coughing the hell out of her body at every given minute. All that happens while I sit in my room with the lights out, listening to a cough I couldn’t do anything about.
The sound of the cough crosses the corridors and the courtyard, and I can hear her from my room. Coughing is never a pleasant sound to hear, especially if it comes from the very bottom of your lungs. At my most creative, her cough – coupled with copious amounts of phlegm – reverberates through the space with the resonance of a pebble thrown into an empty can.
All I have right now is the echo of the cough; that, and the sounds of electric fans and air conditioners. The cough that pierces the apartment complex at midnight has given way to silence.
The sound of suffering is a cough.
They talk about the baby’s first cry, or the dead’s last gasp, but these things mark beginnings and ends. Life begins when the infant wails, and life ends when the dying takes the last desperate breath of air. Yet it is only in between the first cry and the last gasp that the human being has the capacity to suffer. Rumbling noises from one’s stomach are barely audible, but coughs aren’t. They’re the most tangible signs of suffering.
I’ve always given thought to death – fatalistic pessimist that I am – but I’ve never given much thought to the intense personal suffering that leads to it. It’s fairly easy to commit suicide, but there’s always the option of disease. I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know if the force of the cough of a TB patient will scrape the lining of one’s lungs or throat, causing blood to come out. Maybe that’s too poetic for other people’s tastes. Maybe some would prefer the doctor’s prognosis and diagnosis.
To hear someone cough repeatedly is to have a very good idea of the suffering taking place. It’s the vulnerability inherent in every human being. It is the first sure sign of the road to death: the struggle to breathe and the wait to exhale, all in one convenient reflex action. There’s death in an instant, and death through slow suffering. I don’t want my the notes of my dirge sustained, at the very least, and I will not envy anyone who dies from prolonged coughing and bleeding.
Tonight, I was wondering what I should write about. Then, the ambulance sirens wailed, fell silent, and doctors walked up to take the woman to a hospital. I could hear a few people sobbing downstairs, but there was no sign of a cough.
I’ll check the flower boxes tomorrow morning.