How It Began
I moved into this flat in Kathmandu eight days ago. It is a nice place in a good part of town with many windows in the living room. The bedroom smelled a bit funny as other people’s bedrooms are apt to smell and there wasn’t any toilet paper. But those are small things, easily fixed.
“Ah, my girlfriend and I used to live here but ah,” he scratches the back of his head again and scans the ceiling, “she’s not around anymore so I don’t visit very often.”
I give what is meant to be a knowing nod. A hefty silence expands. “I love your wall art, especially this one in the bathroom,” I blurt. It’s a closet with just enough space for a person’s feet, the toilet, and a big bold treble clef splashed across the back wall in blue paint.
“We made it together. She likes music,” he lingers on the thought then hurries on, “But anyways, here is the kitchen — all the pots and pans you need, some spices…”
I lift the lid on the straw basket on the counter, it’s filled with greyed lemon halves and egg shells. While he changes the water job, I survey the fruit corpses as well as a few other shady jars and bowls along the grey tiles. Dirty dishes half fill the sink and a small train of ants trail up and down the wall toward the garbage bag hanging in the corner.
He takes me by the shoulder, leads me out of the kitchen and back toward the well-lit living room with its floral curtains and blue painting of a springtime tree, “And ah, there might be few cockroaches, since no one has been living here a while.” He rakes his fingers through his hair and smiles.
No one has been living here a while.
How It All Went Down
Eight days later, I’m sleeping in the living room when something wet drops onto my face. I wake slowly and slap myself even slower. Nothing is there, just a bit of wetness. I roll away and close my eyes.
A few feet away, another plop. Then another. Like tiny drum taps on the wood grain linoleum floor.
The monsoon rains came a few days ago and have been rolling in once or twice a day since. I welcome it, the water keeps the dust down. Yesterday morning I enjoyed waking up to the raindrops on the window eaves. Today I wake up to the same thing but it is 3:00 AM and I do not enjoy it.
The wetness hits my face again. I stagger to my feet, “Come on man,” I ask whatever the hell is going on. The water hits the top of my head and I understand. Hadn’t thought it possible for roof leaks to affect the third-story flat on a four-story building but at least now I understand all the banging that’s be going on up there these past few days
I make my way to the kitchen in darkness and grab drying rags from their hooks. After a moment of listening, I approximate the location of the leaks and place the rags. The noise is dampened. I am satisfied. Vaguely, I wonder if I should put the rags in bowls in case they soak up too much water. But it is late and I am tired. I roll back onto my pad and try to sleep.
The next thing I feel on my face does not plop like before. It scuttles. I let out in a subdued shout so as not to wake the neighbors that I am afraid of. This time I don’t slap my face because I am not an idiot. I rake with a partially cupped hand but come away with nothing.
The water impacts a little louder on the rags next to me as the moisture accumulates on the same spot of the close and diminishes the cushioning.
I make my way over to the light and wait for the fluorescent to flick on. I instantly regret choosing to sleep in the living room instead of the smelly bedroom. I could have aired out the smelly bedroom.
Scattered across the floor are half-a-dozen cockroaches.
They move almost noiselessly, boldly across the middle of the floor. I watch one disappear into the folds of a dress shirt tossed across the couch. Another peaks out from my discarded underwear at the foot of my sleeping pad. I take deep deep breaths to settle the things growing inside me.
Who the fuck do they think they are.
When the light came on, they slowly started shifting toward the shadows along the floor board and under the couch or inside my clothes. They are not afraid.
They will be.
In the kitchen, I find an empty shot glass. Clear, sturdy. One of them makes the mistake of moving out from beneath a pair of socks.
I pounce like a god damn lion.
It reacts quickly. The thing dodges my overturned shot glass, again and again. We form a manic dance as I frantically pound away at the spots where it was a millisecond before.
But I am not a lion, I am human.
I learn quickly and began planning ahead, anticipating its movements. It dodges my next attack but I’m ahead of it. My movement was a fake, a half-effort that allowed me to recover quickly and place my trap just ahead of where the little beastie is going.
It wails against the walls of its cage. I laugh deep. Vermin.
I laugh deep. Vermin.
There’s no time to gloat. I seize another glass off the countertop and approach one that’s clinging to the side of the sofa. With a piece of paper in my other hand, I slip the glass over him on the first try and slide the paper beneath. But it’s too narrow, there’s a sliver of space around the edge and, as I move the container to the floor, the monster escapes.
Again, the mad dance ensues but this glass isn’t as thick as the other. The next time I bring it down, it shatters. Shards fly across the floor. Blood drips down my hand. The cockroach begins its dash for the opposite wall knowing I cannot follow barefoot.
Like Leonidas slinging his spear at Xerxes, I take a nearby plastic bowl and hurtle it like a saucer of doom. The rim is much larger than that of a glass but even so, just catches up to the bug before he makes it to the wall.
With rage in my eyes, blood on my shorts and a third glass in my hand, I turn back to the room. The remaining four are not immediately visible so I wait. Casually, nonchalantly, I kick at a few socks and a t-shirt. No movement. They are smart too.
They are smart too.
I lay back down on my mat and cross my arms over my chest, cup in hand. My heart is racing but I am focused. My eyes are closed, my limbs are still, every nerve in my body is trained on my ears. I wait.
I hear it.
Right next to my head, underneath one of the now-sodden rags, is a cockroach in hiding. I rip away its shelter. Water drops onto me but I do not care. The cup comes down in one mighty thrust but, in my haste, I’ve grabbed the wrong end.
As the unforgiving bottom races toward its hard exoskeleton, the cockroach stops moving. It looks up at me. I notice that it seems smaller than the rest, its antennae not a hair longer than my fingernail. Black speckles splashed across the polished brown shell and its eyes are deep and beady. In that moment, it understands me, understands this eternal war between our two kinds. In that moment, it forgives.
It makes one last dash toward the wall and I smash it.
The water droplets are quite loud on the floor, louder now that the rags are soaked. I move my mat and sheet and pillow into the smelly bedroom and close the door.
Through the door, I hear them scuttling. Always scuttling.
Lightning flashes across the frosted window. Thunder rumbles across the city. I put on an audiobook loud enough to hear through my earplugs. One last look at the door where I know they are amassing before I pull my eye mask down.
I exhale, roll over, and sleep.