In the fall of Penelope’s eighteenth year, she came down with mononucleosis and was confined to her bed for almost a month. This struck her as extremely unfair, because if she was going to get the “kissing” disease, she should have been afforded the opportunity to kiss someone. As it was, her forced convalescence manifested itself in an unnerving obsession with the Bantu languages of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Penelope’s efforts to learn how to speak several of the languages were, in most part, hindered by the fact that the disease which confined her to her bed had also stolen her voice. Penelope would not be deterred, however. She ordered up book after book on the subject, tearing through one or more per day. Indeed, some days she read until her eyes burned and her fingers shook.
When the doctor forbade Penelope from reading for more than an hour at a time, she hired a local boy from the village to come read the books for her. His name was Joseph and he got on with Penelope quite well, actually. He was fifteen years old and awkward-looking and Penelope was delighted at the way their friendship blossomed.
Joseph’s family moved to another village six months later and Penelope, still unkissed (because what eighteen-year-old in her right mind would prey on a fifteen-year-old boy?), accepted her ultimate fate as an unwed, unloved spinster.