For a year or so in my teens I was convinced that I – and almost everybody I knew – would die in a terrifying brain-disease epidemic. Sometimes this foreknowledge would sit quietly, emitting a faint unnerving hum, in the darker recesses of my psyche. But sometimes it would spring forth in epic uncontrollable tantrums, teeth bared and glistening with blood, to tear my inner world apart.
These tantrums could last for weeks before calming down, only to flare up again. Several nights I lay awake till the early morning, hot with fear, trying to snatch some hope, or at the very least meaning, from the fated carnage. More often though, the tantrums would peak in the daytime, forcing me into a curious double existence. I remember a school trip to the Houses of Parliament in late 1995 or early 1996. Outwardly, there I was on the bus, chipping in with the banter, laughing at jokes about teachers out of earshot, making additions to the absurd adolescent flights of fancy. Inwardly, however, I was lost in blind panic, unable to break or squash the unrelenting monologue. They’re all gonna die. You will too. See it. In a bed on thin dirty sheets. Mewling, shaking, drooling. And then nothingness, forever. As if you never existed. The void.
As we made our way back home with the Thames on one side and the smartest bits of London on the other, I imagined the city as it would be once the epidemic had truly hit. The hospitals would have filled up with only one kind of patient – the kind that would never improve – and millions would be grieving and waiting for their turn to come. I imagined London as a hopeless, crumbling sanitorium.