By Rochelle Raveendran
Students in “Introduction to Creative Writing” breathed a comfortably deep sigh of relief last Monday, after learning that their classmate who has been convulsing with unmasked coughs like a cat retching up a hair ball during an exorcism, only has the flu.
Second-year English student Timothy Riley was the target of silent, seething fury from his peers for letting his saliva spray unencumbered as he expelled multiple violent bursts of air from his lungs.
He punctuated each cough by wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, wiping it on his desk and occasionally, wiping the desk with his mouth.
“Relaaaaaaax guys, it’s just the flu!” said Riley during the 10 minute lecture break. “You think this is bad? You should’ve seen what I was hacking up last night. Vomit! And you don’t wanna know what was coming out the other end…”
He then leaned forward to moistly whisper into the ear of Jenny Smith, a third-year communications student, the unwanted answer: “Watery diarrhea. Though it’s not a common symptom of influenza, some people are still affected.”
Smith said her disgust dissolved into relief upon hearing Riley’s health disclosure. For the duration of the class, flecks of spittle had intermittently flown from Riley’s mouth onto the back of her neck.
“At first, I thought the tingling sensation was my nervous system finally giving up on me,” Smith recalled. “But hey, as long as it’s not COVID-19, I don’t have a problem absorbing a stranger’s fluids through my pores.”
Riley disclosed to The Eyeopener that he always wears a mask while walking outdoors around campus, because “viral strains [can] ride the autumn breeze into your nasal passages.” In the eerily still, unventilated air of a Kerr Hall classroom, he argued, microbes have nowhere to go and just die.
Using this ironclad logic, he ripped off his mask as soon as he sat down and began drizzling fellow students with his salivary rain.
“I don’t study creative writing to be restricted,” Riley added. “I wanna be free to express myself and extend that right to my droplets.”
Second-year business student John Diplo said he took no issue with Riley’s unmasked hacking. He felt it added an immersive effect while the class analysed 19th century novelist Thomas Hardy’s poem “During Wind and Rain.”
“It was like seeing a 4DX movie at Cineplex, minus the surcharge,” said Diplo excitedly. “Though I did pay $600 for this course, so I guess it was inclusive?”
Similarly, instructor Nicholas Purell was indifferent to both the incident and—more broadly speaking—any interpersonal relationships in his classroom.
“I’m just here to cash cheques and benefit off of the free Microsoft 365 subscription to finish my novel,” he explained.
When Purell lectures, he presses his back against the white plaster wall, standing as far away from his students as physically possible. Not because of the pandemic, though—he just can’t stand them.
“When I look at these kids, all I see are future customers after I include my novel as mandatory reading for my Advanced Creative Writing class next semester,” he said.
Only one student was unsatisfied with Riley’s behaviour: fourth-year philosophy student Sophie Marbles. She believes being sequestered indoors for two-plus years has caused people to forget basic etiquette.
Thanks to her hyper-awareness of how others perceive her, Marbles said she lives her life with the aim of inconveniencing as few people as possible.
“The world would be a better place if more people over-thought every minuscule decision they ever made,” she said.
As Riley recuperates from his illness, he plans to drink extra fluids by lugging a three-litre thermos of turmeric and ginger tea with him to the rest of his classes. He will continue not wearing a mask and has no sympathy for dissenting voices. “Before the pandemic, no one wore masks if they had the flu,” Riley said.
“Why should we act differently now just cause we know better?”