The Smallpox Mirror
Sara woke early. She crept across to her brother, Daniyal. Hopefully he was awake too.
“Dan” she whispered. “Dan!” Dan rolled over and sat up. Sara stared.
“What’s on your face?” she asked. Daniel went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. He pulled up his pyjama top.
Mum appeared at the bathroom door.
“Oh Daniyal,” she said, “it looks like you’ve got chicken pox.” She turned to Sara. “I expect you’ll get it too, just in time for your birthday.”
Daniyal got more spots. The first ones started to go dry and scabby.
“They look so ugly,” Sara said, “I don’t want spots like that!”
“If you catch it you won’t have any choice about the spots. Most children are well again in a very short time. You’ll probably be back in school in a week. It’s a good thing you didn’t live two hundred years ago. Children caught far worse things than chicken pox.”
The day before her birthday Sara noticed her first spot. She woke up the next morning with spots on her face, too.
“Oh Mum!” she wailed. “ I look so, so, so….SPOTTY!”
Mum gave her a hug.
“Never mind,” she said. “Come and open your presents.”
The last present was from Uncle Ian. Inside was a small, old mirror .There was a
note on the back.
“Dear Sara, Happy Birthday. I hope you find this interesting. Love Uncle Ian.
Sara looked at the mirror. It was speckled with age and had a crack across one corner. She held it up and looked at herself. She gasped. The face looking back at her was covered with terrible, blistery spots.
“I didn’t think my spots were that bad,” she thought. “It must be the mirror. I don’t know why Uncle Ian thought I’d like it.”
Sara was about to throw the mirror down when she heard a voice.
“Don’t worry. You’re not looking at yourself. Your looking at me. I’ve got smallpox but you’re not in danger. It’s going to be eradicated.”
Sara held the mirror steady in front of her and saw the girl speaking had long, brown hair under a white cap. She looked very unwell.
“What’s smallpox?” Sara asked her. “ What’s eradicated and ........... WHO ARE YOU?”
“My name’s Ann. Smallpox is a killer disease. Even if you survive you can be left blind, disfigured or disabled.
Sara’s eyes widened.
“How terrible,” she said.
“Well,” Ann continued, “One day the entire world will be declared free of smallpox. That’s what….”
“….eradicated means.” Sara finished the sentence. “How did it happen?” she asked. “I’m sorry,” Ann said. “I’ve got to go. You see, I didn’t havep the vaccine. My Dad said it was wicked to give people something made from cows. But he was wrong. Edward Jenner was right. Cowpox prevents smallpox. But I’ve talked too long and I’m so tired.” Ann closed her eyes.
“Tell me more!” Sara cried but Ann’s face slowly faded and the mirror looked like it did when she first saw it.
“I expect it’s one of Uncle Ian’s clever computer graphics,” said Mum. I told him
you’d got chicken pox and he said he’d make you something interesting.”
“But Mum,” Sara said, “that girl, Ann ….she looked so ill.”
Sara sat and thought. If Mum was right and Ann had been created by clever graphics, she should be able to listen to her again. She held the mirror up and looked. Sure enough Ann’s face appeared and told her the same things. This time Sara was ready. She listened carefully and wrote down the things she wanted to find out.
Smallpox. Eradicated. Edward Jenner. Vaccine. Cowpox.
She looked at the list.
“Mum,” she said. “I need to do some research.”
Sara sat with her tablet and carefully typed each word into the search engine. By
the end of the afternoon she had forgotten about her chicken pox and learned a lot about smallpox.
Over tea she told the rest of the family what she had found out. She got out her notes.
“One,” she announced. “Smallpox: a disease that easily spreads between people. In the past it killed or disabled millions of people especially children and babies.
“Two. It no longer exists except in one laboratory in America and one in Siberia. It was declared “dead”in 1980.
Three. Edward Jenner lived around two hundred years ago. Four. Edward Jenner investigated why milkmaids who’d had cowpox didn’t get smallpox. He used the cowpox fluid to protect people – he called it a vaccine because it came from cows and the word for cow in latin is vacca.”
Mum, Dad and Daniyal listened as Sara explained some of the things she had discovered.
“There’s so much more,” she added. “Edward Jenner’s first experiment was in 1796. It was on a boy who was only eight. He deliberately gave James Phipps cowpox and then gave him smallpox. He survived! His theory was right. I wonder what would have happened if the boy had died?”
“I don’t think that would be allowed nowadays,” Mum said. “Come on,” It’s time for your birthday cake. Blow out your candles and make a wish.”
Sara looked at the candles and thought of Ann. “When I grow up,” she said, “I’d like to find out about diseases. Maybe I can help change the world just like Edward Jenner did.”