Falling for the Flu
At a literary reading, I paused to think when the speaker said something about outside events reflecting inside struggles, and as the evening progressed, I wondered if he knew just how meaningful those words were.
Diran Adebayo gave a reading at George Washington University and began by saying he was a little "flu-y", but it didn't really seem to be a problem. At least not at first. He talked about and around his writing and read a lengthy passage from his first novel.
At one point he stopped and asked for a chair and then added water to that request. Or maybe it was the other way around. After the second request, he bowed his head and his forehead glistened with sweat.
Slowly, but quickly, he crumpled, fell into the lectern, and then collasped onto the floor. He didn't hit the floor hard, but at the very end his head bounced like a gentle rubber ball. His hands twisted inward and they shook. Then they stopped. His eyes were closed.
He looked like a corpse.
The audience was stunned. It was terrifying. No one could have reached him in time to prevent the fall. A university professor who was in the front row had gone to get the requested chair. If he hadn't, he may have been able to catch the man before he fell.
Things really do change in an instant. The author reading from his work became a corpse-like being on the floor and then just as quickly, the corpse became a man who said he was fine. He insisted on continuing the reading, refusing to even sit in a chair. One woman in the audience said we'd all feel better if he did, but to no avail. (Later, as he continued the reading, he exhibited a manic energy that belied the collapse we had witnessed earlier.)
Someone called campus services, and to the author's annoyance they insisted that he get checked out. The audience murmured about the fact that a man whose head has just ping-ponged on the floor now had to climb stairs and go to where campus medical services could check him out. Why couldn't they come to him?
Just this week I have been listening to the audio version of Wickett's Remedy, a book that centers on Boston and the effects of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. This was back when the flu was referred to by its full name, influnenza. Influenza is serious business; a grown-up version of the flu. Watching in horror as someone who claimed to have a touch of the flu fainted, reminded me of this. I could go on and mention that dreaded flu that we hear so much about, but I won't.
The girl sitting next to me wore Ugg-like boots and had a styrofoam carton that I had presumed held something like french fries. When she opened it, I saw that it actually held edamame.
We were all a little shell-shocked. Unguarded, she said something about him being a "big, black man". (He was on the tallish side, rather thin, and not at all big.)
She was talking more to herself that to me and I think she uttered this phrase to indicate her disbelief that this type of thing could happen to such a a person.
I decided not to challenge this particular view, nor the years of stereotypes that lay underneath it.
She went on to talk about how he had visited her class earlier in the day, and she chirped about what a great writer he was.
A Brit with Nigerian heritage,he spoke of how black authors always have to deal with race and how he tries to get away from that. Later during the Q&A (fainting or not, the man was not leaving before he finished) someone asked about the seeming contradiction between his saying that it is not right that black authors always have to deal with race and the fact that his writing deals so much with that very topic.
Being no stranger to the SBW (Strong Black Woman) syndrome, I know what it is to insist that you are alright. Although his insistence may have had more to do with some macho pride than race. Whatever it was, those of us who stayed remained nervous throughout the rest of the program, still shaken by what we saw.