Monday, 27 July 2015

Hour 12: Selena

Dear diary,

I opened my eyes to find her staring at me. 
‘How did you do that?’ she whispered in shock. 
‘Do what?’ I asked. 
‘How did you come out of senescence?’ she explained. 
I could’ve shot my-self. How could I have been this stupid? Normal cells cannot enter senescence and then just revert to an actively proliferating state! And there I was, having faked senescence, and then re-opened my eyes. Truth was, after the initial embarrassment, faking senescence had proved to be quite boring. Staying still, with my eyes closed...After a few minutes my mind had wandered off, and I had eventually forgotten I was meant to fake sleep. Hence, the eye opening. Way to blow my cover! I decided the only way to save myself was to act dumb:
‘I wasn’t senescing.’ I said avoiding her eyes. 
‘Yes you were! I saw you! You…You…’ Her whispers were getting louder. If I didn’t get the situation under control, she would soon attract the attention of neighbouring healthy cells. I looked up at her with an air of derision. 
‘I wasn’t senescing. Cells can’t senesce and then just magically come alive again’ I retorted confidently. It might have been the sudden eye contact or my tone, but suddenly a note of doubt appeared in her eyes. 
‘But…your eyes were closed.. You weren’t proliferating..I..’ 
I stopped her in her tracks: ‘My eyes weren’t closed. I was looking down. I thought I had seen a virus float by...or something. Plus I’m too young to proliferate.’ 
That seemed to do the trick. She closed her mouth and eyed me suspiciously. For a moment she didn’t say anything, staring at me so hard I felt as if she could see my thoughts. I had to force myself to keep eye contact, and, as a precaution, I decided to also think healthy thoughts. Just in case. 
She startled me when she broke the silence:‘You look different.’ It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. She clearly wasn’t giving up easily. 
‘I’m from a different tissue as you are’. I explained calmly. It was a white lie. I was different because I was cancer. So technically, I was a different tissue. 
‘Oh really?’ she asked airily ‘What’s your name?’. 
Finally a question I could answer. 
‘Cell X!’ I replied promptly. I realised my mistake when her face changed. Colour seemed to drain from her membrane, as terror filled her eyes. 
‘That’s not a cell’s name’ she muttered in a barely audible murmur. I felt my face mirror her own, as fear filled my gut. I concentrated on composing my face. Healthy cells grew in controlled ways: each cell had a specific function, a name according to which tissue it belonged in, a number. X wasn’t a number. At least not since human cells in the roman ages. X was a name they would give a cell when they lost count. Cell X was a name they would only assign to a cell that didn’t belong in a body. A tumor cell. 
‘I..’ My voice cracked and my mind reeled. Come on, think! I took a calming breath and faked shame.
 ‘I wasn’t assigned a name yet.’ The look of terror didn’t leave her eyes, as I urged on:‘I was only born a few hours ago and my tissue is quite disorganised. Most of us don’t have names yet!’ I let out a fake laugh. It sounded more like a cough. She just kept looking at me. 
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.’ I soothed. ‘I just picked a random name until they assign me one’. I looked down.
 ‘It was stupid’. I mumbled under my breath. I waited, the only sound was the rythmic rumbling of our hosts heartbeat. After what seemed like an eternity, I noticed with the corner of my eye an oxygen molecule entering her membrane. She was finally breathing again. 
‘It’s ok.’ She said. Her forfeit was like honey. ‘I over-reacted. I guess…’ she looked away. ‘I guess you weren’t there. You... didn’t know’. Her last whisper was almost to her-self. 
I didn’t know? What was she talking about? I hesitate on probing her further for the moment, not after such a close call. I decided to instead distract her.
’So what’s your name?’ I asked, smiling encouragingly. 
‘Oh! I’m Cell ENA 15,3072,567.’ She replied with a proud smile. I gaped at her with my mouth hanging open. ‘But my friends call me Selena’. She concluded, winking. 
‘Selena. I like that.’ I stated, grinning. We looked at each other for another long moment, and then both turned back to our chores (you know, cell chores, making sure our signalling pathways are working fine, secreting the right molecules, ensuring the structure of the tissue we are holding is still intact. Boring stuff).

I still don’t know what she meant when she said ‘You weren’t there’. Or what the ENA in her cell name signifies. But if there is one thing I know, it’s that I will never forget her name. 

Cell X

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