I have a cold, and for once I know which complete stranger gave it to me. Thank you Kieran.
We met for two hours on Saturday evening, on the train home from Manchester to London. He had the window seat on the opposite side of the table to mine, as I discovered when I boarded and went hunting for my window seat. It genuinely was a window seat too, unlike on the journey up when I'd had a perfect view of a beige bulwark for the entire journey. My homebound window seat was essentially pointless given that it was dark outside, but I smiled all the same.
I faffed around getting all the necessary stuff out of my pockets and rucksack, stowed my jacket on the rack above, and sat down in my seat. I plugged my phone into the electricity it had been missing, and opened up the prize crossword in case it was actually doable this week. And then Kieran sneezed. Cheers Kieran.
Kieran was a slight lad with lank dark hair, probably in his late teens. His grey shirt and glasses made him look withdrawn and waifish, whereas his blue and white Cartoon Network Dr Marten boots suggested quite the opposite. An attempt at a beard made an advance across his face, still some way off needing a first shave, but still better than anything my cheeks have ever managed. His silver scooter gleamed above us in the luggage rack. And then he sneezed again. It was gong to be a long journey.
It rapidly became clear that Kieran was in the throes of a dispiriting virus. His sneezes were violent, and relatively closely spaced, interspersed with the occasional coughing fit. Kieran seemed a well-brought-up boy, and always attempted to cover his mouth when a respiratory attack emerged. But I could tell that his attempts weren't going to achieve 100% containment, not over the full 140 minutes and here I was sat immediately opposite him in a humid air-conditioned bubble. A Pendolino carriage makes the perfect incubation chamber.
I wondered whether Kieran's journey was really necessary. It's not generally a great idea to deliberately sit in a confined space with dozens of other individuals for two hours if you know you're at a contagious stage of an illness, even one as common as the common cold. Equally if you need to be at the other end of the country and have paid an extortionate amount for your ticket, and would need to spend even more if you travelled at a different time, obviously you're going to take your seat and hope for the best.
It can't have been fun being Kieran on that long journey south. He struggled to get settled, repeatedly interrupted by another involuntary sneeze. He flicked through his Windows Phone for several minutes, and looked pointlessly out of the window. He attempted to get comfortable across a double seat, pulling his coat on top of him and trying to get off to sleep. But every time he almost nodded off his throat jerked into action, and so the cycle repeated, and his misery continued.
I could have moved, but the train was busy and most of the other seats were taken. I could have moved, but I had a table seat and a charging point and they were like gold dust. I could have moved, but the lady sat beside me was fully settled and looked like she was attempting to fall asleep too. I could have moved, but I decided it'd look a bit odd to pack up all my things and then squeeze in next to someone else instead. I could have moved. I didn't move. I accepted my fate.
If you're wondering how I know Kieran's name, it's because he was wearing it on a plastic badge clipped to his belt. It amazes me how so many people these days are happy to display their full name (and often job title and place of employment) in public. I know a lot of workplaces and educational establishments now require their members to be readily identifiable at all times, but surely if you value your privacy you'd take that badge off (or at least turn it over) after stepping outside. Kieran Carter didn't seem to care.
Eventually he dropped off to sleep, lulled by the rocking of the train as it sped south. He managed a good hour, apart from the time he pulled out an inhaler to help him breathe a little more easily, and apart from the time the sneeze came anyway even though he wasn't ready for it. Oh great, I thought, that's settled it. And then I went back to failing at the crossword.
At Euston I was up and out of my seat before Kieran, who was still drifting back into consciousness and discovering how to sneeze again. I made it to the end of the platform before he caught up, scudding along on his silver scooter and overtaking me up the ramp onto the concourse. He swiftly disappeared off to wherever he was going to feel under the weather next, and I resigned myself to viral takeover later in the week.
Sunday passed with no negative health issues, and Monday too. By Tuesday I was beginning to think I'd beaten the odds but early in the evening an abrupt cough emerged, just the once, but a precursor of what surely lay ahead. A sudden sneeze before nightfall seemed to confirm the diagnosis, but nothing else materialised, so that was good.
Yesterday, however, the coughs and sneezes increased in frequency. I also got that queasy feeling you get in your stomach which suggests you're permanently hungry when you know you're not really. My embryonic cold was nowhere near as bad as Kieran had been suffering, but it is slowly ratcheting up in intensity, and this morning I've reached the stage where I'm wondering if what's next is runny sinuses and handkerchief-filling or simply more coughing.
I have no plans to sit opposite someone on public transport and let fly, nor to mix indiscriminately with the general public during what may be my infectious phase. Indeed my cold is nothing terrible, nor have I been slayed by a malevolent strain of manflu, so I don't want you to think I'm moaning about the inconvenience.
All that seems unusual in this case is that I believe I can pin down precisely who passed on the infection and when, rather than it emerging as a surprise cough of unknown origin, as is usually the case. My cold is Kieran's cold, and Kieran's fault, because Kieran boarded a train he might not have boarded and couldn't keep his viruses inside. Thank you Kieran, thanks for everything.
* All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned. But I know who you are, Kieran, OK?