A virus or a bacteria is probably the first thought one has when confronted with the “silent killer” cliche. Or poison, possibly. But I’m not talking about any of these. I mean, who knows if bacteria or other microorganisms can’t produce noise? The result of their work often does and I’m thinking yeast here, not what you think I think. Anyway, The Silent Killer that haunted my childhood and for reasons of an unfortunate choice in life partner still haunts me now is not a microorganism. Or a poison. It is invisible. Scared yet?
When I was little, my second name, in my father’s mind, at least, was Close-the-door. I am now reliving my childhood only with me in my father’s role. The honorary second name now belongs to Little C.
it is one of life’s facts that doors exist to two reasons: to be opened and to be closed. The reason for opening a door is to pass or carry something through it. The reason for closing a door is one, to keep the warm in and two, to keep the silent killer out.
Knowing when I’ve stretched the anticipation I will now reveal the name of the killer as draught and if you think I’m exaggerating you know nothing about Balkan culture. In fact I can only speak for two Balkan cultures but I’d say I’m safe.
It is a tale passed on from grandmother to grandson and grandfather to granddaughter–and the intermediate generations, of course–that draught kills. One whiff of air when you’ve just had a shower — even if it’s the middle of July and it’s sweltering outside — that’s it, you’re dead from double pneumonia, bronchitis and angina. Even if you’re not wet or have recently been wet, the draught will kill you if you let it — a stiff neck is the least you can hope to get away with. You should be grateful for it.
To be fair to my parents, most of the times my father used my second name he did it to teach me to keep the warm in during the winter. Yet the mortal danger of moving air, also known as wind when it’s outside, had been deeply ingrained in his mind and his wariness of it he passed on to me. It was a rule to never, ever, under any circumstances leave the bathroom after a shower until I was well wrapped up in my robe, lest the draught caught me.
Yep, that’s the phrase: “The draught will catch you”, like a wild beast lurking in the shadows, biding its time to spring at you and sink its teeth and claws in your flesh. And lungs. And heart. And various other internal organs. To destroy you.
I’m sure three generations ago people had a good reason to be wary of draught. A draughty room is a room that is colder than it could be otherwise and cold can make us more vulnerable to certain viruses. I read that somewhere, researchers had actually investigated the claim that draught is dangerous because it’s not just a Balkan myth, it’s international.
Yet it’s particularly strong here, to the point that riding a tram (old ones, no AC, 20 years ago) in Sofia during the summer guaranteed you a verbal conflict if you dared open one of the tiny windows to let some air into the stifling enclosure. “Shut it up! Draught’s coming in!” an elderly lady or a middle-aged gentleman was bound to screech and jerk her, or his, head away from the hellish portal to air. Then they’d continue berating you for daring the portal until you closed it or your stop came. You are supposed to stew in your summer juices to stay alive, didn’t you know?
This above should be illustration enough of exactly how dangerous a lot of people think draught it. Just imagine: a tram — or a bus, whatever — with all windows closed and no AC. Full of people (this was in the pre-pandemic era and oh, how easy the brain makes the distinction), not all of who have, shall we say, the same level of hygiene. It could be taxing on the nose, to say the least. But those with the sensitive noses get no respite because the draught will catch all and every one of them. Cancer? Stroke? Diabetes? Those are small potatoes. The draught is everywhere, lurking, waiting to spring.
Which brings me to the sad story of my beloved husband who for years tensed at the slightest suggestion of air movement in enclosed spaces. He had been conditioned by his grandparents and his parents. Even at the height of summer when we happened to be visiting with the in-laws I’d hear “Shut the door, draught’s coming in.” There is no air conditioning in the house. Draught was the only relief from the heat on the last floor of a building featuring a roof insulated with asphalt. But of course it’s a killer so we would rather melt than open an window and a door.
They’ve all evolved, though. There are fans in all occupied rooms now and doors and windows stay open day and night, welcoming the silent killer. Big C can stand air moving through rooms without his body going as tense as if he just smelled a wolf. And he even installed a door closer on our kitchen door so it wouldn’t slam. From the draught. Because little C. Close-the-door has yet to learn The Lesson about Doors but my ears are bleeding in the meantime.
I don’t think I know anyone who’s died of complications from draught exposure but one of my dad’s comments following my mum’s death (in hospital; after a brain operation; ultimately from the usual pneumonia many patients in ICU develop if their body is just not strong enough) was “They kept those windows open, it must have been draughty.” It was August, what can I say, and the hospital didn’t have AC at the time. That’s how enduring the myth can be. The good thing: listening to your common sense rather than your myths helps.