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My apologies for this long post. Not ‘challenge’ material with more than 1000 words to its credit. But believe you me when I say that I did not know where this was going. May be I should have written another post, a shorter one and kept Virus for another day. But then Virus had decided he was going to be the star of V-day for A to Z Challenge. When the character has decided and refuses any other thought to enter your head, does the author stand a chance? None whatsoever. So I leave it to you whether you want to plod through it or not. I may modify this at a later stage. But for now, this is how it stands for lack of time.

They called him Virus. It had nothing to do with the modern usage of the word for codes that play havoc with data. Those microscopic agents of infection that wreak havoc in the body was his namesake. Don’t get me wrong, Virus was not one to wreak havoc, but sometimes he became ‘invisible’ to the eyes of those looking for him due to his tiny stature. One day, before Virus had become Virus, the class teacher had missed seeing him seated among his taller and heftier classmates. You are almost invisible, she had remarked with a laugh. Like a virus, a smart alec had quipped.  From then on the name stuck till no one remembered his real name any more.

Virus was a lively and cheerful boy, and quite an all-rounder in school which had another angle to it, that in addition to being good at most things he was cheeky and naughty as hell. He was always in the forefront to help anyone in need and also in playing pranks. His gang of friends adored him. Even the big guys among them, those who had nothing in their heads except girls, sleazy magazines and balls (the ones you kick around in the playground), had immense love and respect for his puny self. Virus was a voracious reader and to them it seemed he had answers to everything. It was always, Virus this and Virus that. You could say Virus was their little hero.

One day Virus was absent from school. His friends did not think too much of it. He would surely be in the next day. Those were not days of cell phones. Only one or two of his friends boasted of the bulky telephones with their circular dials that went whirrrrrr.. each time you dialed a number. But when Virus failed to turn up for a whole week, the gang decided to go to his house during the weekend. Accordingly, the three who had cycles of their own set off to the other end of the town where Virus lived.

They found Virus at home, sitting in his room, staring listlessly out of the window. The radio was blaring a song from the sixties. There was an untouched bowl of bland rice gruel in front of him on the low tablet, and in a small plate beside it, some chuttaracha chammandi, whose main ingredient was pieces of coconut roasted over coals. It was quite evident from the food that Virus was ill. Virus’s visage proved it beyond doubt. He was half his earlier size, if that was even possible and looked like a someone from the primary section of their school.

Virus’s mother brought tea in steel tumblers for his friends. They drank it dutifully and in the same vein listened to her lament about the lack of progress in Virus’ condition. He was still throwing up anything he ate and spent the rest of the time evacuating whatever managed to go beyond his stomach. The gang gathered that Virus’ body was under the siege of virulent viruses gone viral.

Virus did not say much. In fact he did not say anything at all after the first blank look he gave them, followed by a thin watered down version of his original smile. He just did not seem to have any energy. This tired and silent version of Virus made the three very low-spirited indeed. It was a gloomy trio that cycled back to give the news to the others. They sat brooding at their usual place, beneath the tamarind tree near the playground. Suddenly the biggest among them, who was somewhat of a bully too when it came to the younger kids at school, started sobbing. It is all because we called him Virus. His voice sounded muffled from behind palms covering his face. It was like he had voiced the fear that was in the hearts of the others as well. I will never call him Virus again, he said. The others murmured assent.

Two weeks later Virus was back in school having beaten the virus and emerged victor. When they saw him walk through the school gate, his friends standing at the door to the classroom whooped in joy and cried in unison, “VIRUS!” before guiltily looking away, avoiding each others eyes. They ran to meet him, happy to have him in their midst once again. Virus thus welcomed warmly soon settled back into his old routine in school.

As for that question lingering in your minds, the answer is, yes his friends continued calling him Virus. You see, when Virus heard them address him by his given name on his return, he wanted to know the reason. Then he immediately set them straight on facts about his illness and gave them a mini lecture on viruses, science, modern medicine et al. He told them of the big hospital he had been to, the doctors who saved him, the angel like nurses (here some of the ears perked up a wee bit more and started dreaming of falling seriously ill), the life saving equipment and medicines available. They hung on to his every word. At the end of it they were awed when he said he was determined to be a doctor when he grew up.

He kept his word, our Virus, and went back to his hometown as a full-fledged doctor after completing his studies. He started on a small scale with a one room clinic and in the years that followed, got together some of his other doctor friends and started a hospital. It is now a well known state of the art hospital in the state.

Virus is now retired (his daughters, both doctors, work at the hospital, the son is part of the administration). His hair is all white and he peers at you through bifocals, but he is as sprightly as ever. He still dispenses freely of the knowledge he has gathered in life. Four of his old gang of friends stay in the same town, which by the way is no longer the sleepy town they grew up in. On the occasions that they all meet, which is at least once a month, they still call him Virus. And whenever his other friends settled elsewhere come down to meet him, it is the same story. In fact new friends too have joined in. Well, what I heard is that even his wife calls him ‘Virusji’. And it goes without saying he is Virus Grandpa to his half a dozen grandchildren. Once a virus, always a virus, eh?

©Shail Mohan 2014

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