This is an ode to the college students out there
Who, like me, are hell-bent on finishing their homework before 3am.
Heads craning over their papers, trying to hold it in.
But they simply cannot.

For the cough is a raging force
That, much like a caged animal, cannot be contained
Despite the powers of any fence.
The head sharply lifts, the inhale is brief and faintly audible,
But the exhale produces a sharp noise
That cuts through the air, a lightning shard.
Glancing around to see if any other students noticed,
The head gradually returns to the homework.

But it is not long before another sound slices through the silence,
This time, a double cough from another student
You glance up, make eye contact, give each other a slight nod
It must be that “flu bug” going around, you silently say
To that random stranger whose eyes vaguely nod in agreement.

You cough again.
It is your secret language.

She coughs, too.

The both of you alternate, chests heaving
As you communicate in the language
Of all flu bugs, common colds, seasonal allergies
And the exhaustion which plagues us all.

Before long, a symphony is created. The sound
Rises to a crescendo around the 34th cough
And from single, and double, and triple coughs,
There is suddenly nothing apart from the stillness.

You have run out of words in your secret language,
Or rather you have lost the power and the need
To expel those words from your soul.

You look at each other once more, knowing that it is the end.

She coughs again.
It is your secret language.

You cough, too.