Night of the living cockroaches

2008-03-29 00:00

It was a hot, humid Durban night, a few minutes before midnight. I was seated at my computer barefoot, dressed in rugger shorts and a badly faded Mad Dog T-shirt trying to cope with the competing tensions of the heat, a deadline approaching at the speed of an asteroid and an ancient window-rattling air-con that trickled cool air intermittently into the sauna I call home. Something tickled the sole of my foot. I gave it a little shake, just sufficient to calm the itch without consuming too much physical energy. In a climate where one-finger typing bathes the writer in his own personal Turkish bath of sweet-smelling sweat, all actions are carried out with the greatest economy of movement. So when the little tickle repeated itself, I felt just a bit irritated since I knew that the bending down and looking at whatever it was that was doing the little tickle thing, would lead to more sweat, more heat rash and less writing production. And just in case you’ve forgotten, the asteroid of the deadline was picking up speed, threatening to engulf the entire world as we know it in a tsunami of Spielbergian proportions.

It was dark under the desk so I switched on the mini-maglite that is my constant companion. Its narrow beam lit up the gloom, revealing a cockroach the size of a rat running up my leg. I screamed like a woman and dropped the torch. I leapt to my feet, flailing at my leg with a telephone book and kicking over my office chair as I did so. The roach, having survived unchanged for something like 300 million years, sprang deftly off my leg, avoiding the hurtling phone book with well-practised ease. Pausing just long enough to waggle its hideous feelers at me, it scuttled silently back into the gloom beneath my desk, leaving nothing but a trail of invisible and deadly germs in its wake.

I sat down, wiped the flood of sweat — cold sweat — off my brow, and wondered what the hell to do next. My mini-maglite had rolled into a far corner under the desk, its beam statically illuminating the fallen chair. I bent to retrieve the torch and pick up the chair. As I did so, my hand brushed something the size of a carrot, the texture of velvet and the consistency of pre-owned chewing gum. It was the roach. Glad to see me, it ran up my arm, its tendril-shaped antennae waggling in excitement. Once more I screamed like a woman. Once more I fell over backwards. Once more the beast vanished, silently, into the humid, sweating, premidnight gloom.

Shaking with that truly unattractive emotion of rage tainted with fear, I sat down on the floor and weighed up my options. The roach, while it might have 300 million years of roach experience to call upon, was still just a roach. I, on the other hand, am a man, the pinnacle of creation, just a little lower than the angels. With this self-assuring assessment out of the way, my confidence returned and I set about planning the total destruction of the roach.

I cast my mind back to my undergraduate days and rifled through the dog-eared index cards of memory. What came up was the recollection that roaches are wall-huggers. They hate open spaces. With this little piece of second-hand science under my mental belt, I created with piles of books a pathway against the wall leading from the darkness under my desk to the intake of the air conditioner. I dimmed the lights (roaches love the dark) and sat back. I didn’t have long to wait. The roach, excited by the opportunities presented by my booklined pathway, scuttled merrily along it. Approaching the air conditioner, it stopped momentarily, waggled its hideous feelers and ran in. For one brief but highly charged moment there was a sound like a Magimix giving a zucchini the julienne treatment, followed a few seconds later by a shower of cockroach pieces out the grille, some of which — including the feelers — were still moving. I stood on the remnants, grinding them to bits with my left heel. I didn’t care that I was barefoot. Revenge was just so very, very sweet.

Gathering my scattered thoughts, I sat down once more at the computer, getting set to meet that rapidly advancing deadline. Something feathery, something familiar, something terribly alive, stroked the sole of my foot. I looked under the desk to find a cockroach the size of a rat running up my leg. Wouldja belieeeeve it? The damned things travel in pairs.

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