I crept silently into his life without leaving a trace.
I thought it'd be more fun if I left him guessing. Could have been from the stair-rail on the bus. Could have been on the handle to open the door of the train. Could have been via a member of the family or a total stranger. Whatever, I tagged him somewhere, just before Christmas, then hung around over the festive period like an uninvited aunt.
I first revealed myself on Christmas Eve. I thought I'd keep it simple, and light, and wholly unexpected. I engineered a sniffle, just the one, just enough to make him reach for his handkerchief. Enough to leave him with a lingering feeling of mild doom, but not backed up by any further action. He went to bed with fingers crossed, and sinuses open, and slept til Christmas.
In the morning, when the nephews and nieces summoned him to the grand opening of the presents, he awoke with a snort. That's when the slippery downward slope began, increasingly slippery as the morning went on, and that's when I knew I had him.
I thought I'd take him over gradually, because I enjoy prolonging the suffering that way. Slight stuffiness on Day One, not total blockage, that's my favourite plan. I made him sniffle a lot over the Christmas dinner table, and appear weak during the pulling of the crackers. I made him sneeze during the Queen's speech, then add further sound effects during the evening's TV. And I dribbled at random during the game of Monopoly, then smiled as I watched him pass the dice on to unsuspecting rivals.
I hoped I'd caught him unprepared. Most people of his age don't get handkerchiefs for Christmas, so he'd have to rely on any minimal stock he'd brought from home. But it turns out he'd packed several pairs of trousers, each with emergency linen stuffed in the pockets, so no emergency tissue stash was required.
On Boxing Day I hyped things up a notch. I halved his number of functioning nostrils. I dampened his handkerchiefs a little faster, almost at a rate of one per feature film. I dulled his head a bit, just enough, to remind him I was there. And I started work on the sore patch above his lip, the one distinguishing feature that lingers after all my other work has gone away.
He tried his best to contain me. He kept well away from any mistletoe, he left the stripping of the turkey to others, he even disappeared into the hallway to sneeze. But he couldn't wash his hands of me, not completely. At some point during the playing of the board games, or the sharing of the Quality Street, or the dabbing of a smeary finger on an iPad, he'll have passed me on.
I don't think I wrecked his Christmas, merely added a layer of inescapable uncomfortableness. And I'll leave him once his time with the family is over, and send him back to London tomorrow as if nothing bad had happened. But I'll be back to have my fun again, at some other time of year, when he least expects it.
And I'm coming for you too, the next time you stand in the updraught of a cough, or shake hands with the possessed, or grasp a doorhandle where I'm patiently waiting. God bless you, bless you, every one.