Chapter 1: The Daily Truth - 1 - THE DAILY TRUTH
By Lawyer Tshabalala
It started with a tremor, small and unassuming, as these things generally do, my broe. Just a few words on page seven (by yours truly) about three tween girls stuck in a giggle loop.
The school called in a bunch of experts, who gave the thing a fancy label. And this put the parents’ worries to rest. Because who doesn’t like a good label to help them sleep at night?
Mass psychogenic illness. Also known as mass hysteria. Just a couple of tweens with their hormones running riot. Nothing to worry about.
It had happened once before. In the sixties, in Tanzania. Remember the Tanganyika laughter epidemic? And that story turned out fine. No need to panic, run tests, stick needles into anyone.
The experts took the Tanganyika epidemic as a blueprint and ordered the girls to be isolated from their peers. So, the school sent the girls home to ride out this wave of runaway emotion somewhere else. Case closed, problem solved, job well done.
Only thing was, it didn’t work. The girls didn’t stop laughing.
Four days passed and the girls were burning fevers now. Struggling to breathe, eat, sleep. One by one they were rushed to the emergency room. Test after test was run while they lay shackled to their beds to stop them from falling off. Fed through tubes, attached to breathing apparatuses, and monitored around the clock.
Seventeen days. One day longer than the worst of the cases reported in the Tanzanian epidemic. And the girls were still laughing. Eyes tearing, voices broken, mouths salivating like mutts, faces contorted in the most horrific grins, knees jerking, arms flailing, bodies forever convulsing like crash test dummies.
Meanwhile, the “joke” was catching. The girls’ families started laughing first, then their friends, their coworkers. The nurse with the heart tattoo on her ankle who came in quick to change the IV drip. The car guard holding out his hand for tips.
At first the guys upstairs clung to the mass hysteria diagnosis and tried to stem the tide by closing all channels of information. Lawyers were hired to file DMCAs to stop people from streaming all those YouTube clips or posting images in their feeds on social media. This was the Information Age, after all, and the tide couldn’t be turned. So, the government pulled rank, imitated their chums in China, and orchestrated a total web blackout. Our city became data dark. But like Adam and Eve, we couldn’t go back after tasting from the tree. Social media addicts were up in arms, their trigger fingers were itching and twitching, and a new kind of violence, dubbed “withdrawal rage,” swept the masses. Addicts would snap and bring out their fists for as much as a skew look in a queue, and violence stats soared.
And along the way, more and more people were cracking up. It’s psychological, it has to be, the experts proclaimed: an extreme response to Third World stressors.
But the girls, the ones the Laughter had chosen first, were now showing other symptoms, too. Their bones disintegrating, their organs turning into soup. And this thing, this mass collective joke, was blowing up in everyone’s faces, with laughter resonating on every street corner, and death following suit.
Today, exactly seven years on, we remember the day that changed our sick city forever. Dorothy, Jennilee, and Andiswa: may you rest in peace. Along with every single soul who followed after. And God, Allah, Vishnu, the government, our ancestors (or whoever we choose to believe in) help us. May we one day find a cure for this curse.