Squeak! Squeak! A small pair of black blurs burst out of a sewer drain, darting in front of a young man walking. The young man pays no attention to the rats and continues on his way, unperturbed. A couple of seconds later, high-pitched shrieks can be heard coming from the area where the rats hid. The young man continues to walk, disturbed not by the emitted shrieks but by the scorching heat from the overhead sun. Beads of sweat runs alongside his face before dripping down to his chin and onto the sidewalk. His green apron slung across his shoulder and uniform suggests that he works in one of the many cafes in the city of Oran. An unusual cooling breeze blows across Oran and is welcomed by the young man as he stops walking and inhales deeply. For a brief moment, he was able to breathe fresh, clean air before the familiar humid stench of rats penetrated his nostrils once more. Continuing on his way for a couple of minutes later, he stops in front of a humble home and checks the mailbox… nothing. He heads up the wooden steps of the house, passing a small plot where geraniums and lavenders are struggling under the heat, looking as though no one has cared for them in a while.
He opens the wooden door and enters into the house. A warm and welcoming rush of air envelops him, accompanied by the sweet scent of baked pastries. Despite the shortage of food lately since Oran was quarantined, meals were never an issue in this household. Shutting the door behind him, he can hear the kitchen’s faucet water running and pans and pots clanking as they are being cleaned.
“Pierre is that you?”
“I baked some of your favorite pineapple and coconut muffins, they’re in the oven if you want any!”
“Thank you mother!”
Pierre heads towards his room, dropping his backpack before collapsing onto his bed. The café today, like the last couple of weeks, has been packed with customers, from the beginning to the end of his shift. After laying motionless for a couple of minutes he finally gets up and retrieves a biology book from his bag and attempts to study for the exam he has tomorrow. Half an hour passes and he finally succumbs to his exhaustion, placing his book on his nightstand, he turns off the light and falls asleep.
Ring! Ring! Ring!
“It’s 8 o’clock honey, did you not hear your alarm?”
Pierre reluctantly opens his eyes while his mother slides the curtains and lets in a stream of sunshine into the dark room. Despite having only 20 minutes in order to commute to his class, he takes a quick shower and before leaving the house, grabs a premade meal from his mother and kisses her goodbye.
After classes today, Pierre picks starts his 4-hour work shift at the café. The café is conveniently located right beside the college he goes to, and after a quick change into uniform, he enters through the back and is greeted by the same bustling crowd that have been frequenting the café lately.
“Thank goodness you’re finally here Pierre, we are so behind with this lunch rush!”
Pierre knew what he would be entering into for the next 3 hours: pure chaos. Halfway through his shift, a disturbance halted all activity and captured everyone’s attention. A middle-aged business man began convulsing on the floor, shrieking in pain during the whole event. Nobody in the café moved. The convulsing man managed somehow to take off his jacket, where red spots blotted his white oxford shirt. Swollen abscesses underneath his shirt began to burst, the bright red blood stains began to grow larger as if they were alive, slowly his shirt was drenched in the thick liquid. Pierre gazed in amazement and horror when the screams ended, the plague had taken another citizen in Oran.
Walking home, his mind was clear despite having experienced the gruesome sight at work. Events like this have occurred regularly in the past few months. The plague, though horrific, has been almost commonplace and hasn’t really affected Pierre much. He’s habituation towards it allows him to be unscathed after any death scenes he has seen.
Upon coming home, he entered into the house. He noticed something different in the atmosphere of the house. An uneasy still hung above him as he walked through the entranceway of the home. The once warm, welcoming air was replaced by a cold, uneasy draft. Disquietude immediately consumed Pierre. Never before in his life has he experienced his home with such an uninviting air. He anxiously steps towards the kitchen where his beloved mother can usually be heard either washing dishes or preparing meals as he comes home from work. The unnerving silence slowly allowed fear to grip his heart as he edged slowly towards the kitchen.
As he turned the corner into the kitchen, a foot was sticking out from behind a counter by the stove. As he continued towards the fallen figure, his heart dropped. Lying in from of him in a pool of blood was his mother. He was stunned and in shock, in the past weeks his mother had shown no signs of discomfort and he was not aware of any abscesses that may exist on her. Even as she lies on the floor lifeless, an air of grace and serenity still remains on her face. Now examining over her fallen body, he can see the abscesses which riddled her body. He backed up against a wall and slowly sank down to the floor, unable to support himself. He could not stand to lose his mother but realize that he must inform officials of what has occurred in his home.
Upon arrival, an official handed Pierre some documents, informing him where his signatures are needed and what will happen to his mother’s body. As he was looking over the papers, the well-known Dr. Rieux, examined his mother’s body. Pierre could hear him whisper:
“It’s the plague…”
After the uttering of these words, his mother’s body was wrapped up in a plastic sheet and promptly evacuated outside of the house into a large vehicle. The entire process took less than ten minutes. In an hour Pierre’s life collapsed in front of him. He had lost his mother with her death and physically with the quick removal of her body in order to limit infection.
An influx of emotions enveloped him: fear, sorrow, confusion, helplessness. He quickly became angry with himself. He was in contact with his mother all of this time and he knew nothing about the issues she was having. He would ask himself unanswerable questions:
“Why would she keep her ailing health from me? To protect me? Doesn’t she know that I would’ve have missed her more if she wasn’t here at all?”
He found himself now as mad at his mother for her secrecy as much as he was at himself for not knowing beforehand what was happening to his mother. But then he thought to himself as he slumped on the floor of his hallway, “what could I have done?” At this moment he felt completely powerless against the forces of death.
Sunrays hit the house, lighting up its dark innards. As the hours pass, the rays slowly creep onto Pierre’s face. With the light heating up his face, Pierre is roused from his depressive sleep. He wakes up feeling worthless and like a zombie, his slow movements not controlled by himself but through habitual routines he washes his face and gets ready for work as he realizes he has missed class. Throughout the day, his manager notices that Pierre is not particularly like himself, he’s much more lethargic, emotionless and pallid in physical appearance. While she notices this difference in demeanor and behavior, she doesn’t directly address it, as she didn’t think anything of it. After not seeing Pierre arrive at work for about a week, she becomes worried about Pierre. Visiting his house, she finds the door unlocked and enters inside. In the middle of the hall a chair lies on it side as if it were kicked over, hanging from the ceiling of hallway is Pierre’s lifeless body.
With this short story, I wanted to address the issues some may have with inevitable events, mainly, death. In The Plague, there seems to be an attempt to combat the plague and in a way try and combat death itself. Not only is death an irrational event, it is additionally completely random and unavoidable. Rather than allow it to “threaten” their “whole lives” (100), people should realize that it is meaningless to try and make it a point in life to actively resist death. With Pierre’s death it was him succumbing to the power of death on his mother. His realization should not have been that he was powerless against trying to help his mother with he failing health but rather to be more like his mother and give meaning to his life before death can claim it. Only with acceptance of the inevitability of death, “[realizing] their instant peril” (121), and being able to cope with that knowledge can one give full meaning to their life. Then can one “transform” themselves and fall into a “hectic exaltation” after being in an event that “proves them right” in the way in which they carry out their life. The “soul of the murderer is blind” (131), with this, death is impartial, it does not rationally pick and choose who will die with intent. As understanding this concept and being able to live life with pleasure and meaning in whatever way fits into your own lifestyle will then allow “this same pestilence which is slaying you” to “work for your own good” and “[point] to your path” (98).
Camus, Albert. The Plague. New York: 1975. Print.