I wake up in the middle of the night and there is a cockroach on my pillow, a few inches from my face.
Panicked, I jump out of bed, and the cockroach scampers (cockroaches don’t crawl, they scamper) into the bed-proper, underneath the sheets.
I am breathing hard due to the horror, and I need to make a plan. It is now clear that it will be a long time before I can go back to bed. A drama has just been triggered, and it must certainly hit a climax before the denouement of sleep.
I have a thing against killing certain bugs. For example, spiders. I love spiders, and I hate it when people kill them. I have never knowingly killed a spider, even inside my home. If you ever get a chance to watch a spider weave its web, you will be awed. The experience might forever change the way you view spiders. A spider is an architect, a carpenter, an engineer, and an artist.
A cockroach is none of these things.
And cockroaches, I find, are difficult to kill. They’re fast (remember, they scamper), and on top of it they’re tough as Vikings. There have been cockroaches that I swear I’ve smashed, but then once I withdraw the rolled-up newspaper or old shoe, there they go, off into a nook or cranny (by the way, what’s the difference between the two, and can one exist without the other?) to mock me and plan their next encroachment.
They’re also hard to kill because they give me the creeps. I have to really get my nerve up to even strike a cockroach in the first place. What I really want to do is run away.
And if the cockroach is outside, that’s exactly what I’ll do.
But if it’s in my house, well, I’m not fleeing my house to get away from a cockroach. After all, I’m a man. (Shut up.)
So I stand a few feet away from the bed, eyeing the sheets and getting my adrenaline going. I grab a newspaper and roll it up. I don’t want to use a shoe, because I’d have to keep the cockroach-tainted shoe afterwards. A newspaper I can throw away. A shoe is to be used only if one must strike immediately and the shoe is what one happens to grab.
I spend a few moments trying to get my heart rate back down. Finally, I grasp the edge of the sheets and slowly peel them back. The cockroach scampers across the bed. I fling the sheets and jump back.
And then he (note to cockroach feminists: I have no idea how to distinguish a male cockroach from a female, but for brevity’s sake I will refer to this one as if it’s a male) makes a move that shakes the very foundation of whatever sliver of confidence I have left: The cockroach flies off the edge of the mattress and in my general direction.
Now wait a minute here.
I am fully aware that a cockroach wields superhuman powers. A cockroach can live for a month without food. It can hold its breath for 45 minutes. It can withstand radiation levels 10 times those that a human being can survive.
That’s just not right.
And, he’s flying at me?
Now, understand, this cockroach is about an inch and a half long; and later, after doing a bit of on-line research, I’m going to guess that this one weighs 15 grams.
I am five-foot-six and weigh 180 pounds.
This means that (remember your SAT analogies here) this cockroach is to me as I am to a creature 21 stories tall and weighing 450 tons. (I’m not making up these figures. I did the math, and these are real approximations, if such things exist.)
If a creature 21 stories tall and weighing 450 tons were trying to kill me, I’m pretty sure I would not move toward said creature. But then I’m no cockroach.
So as I jump out of the way, this little devil hits the carpet about three feet from the bed, and then I ineffectually follow him and watch as he ducks into the sanctuary of my closet to recline amongst my shoes.
Okay, it’s time for a breather. As frightened as I am of actually confronting this creature, I also know there’s no way I can go back to sleep with him here.
I re-tool my rolled-up newspaper and slowly approach the closet.
My shoes are not neatly arranged; rather, they lie in a disheveled heap.
Before moving each shoe, I shine a flashlight into it to make sure he’s not hiding inside it. I refuse to fall for the old hiding-inside-the-shoe trick.
I slowly remove one shoe. Then another. Then another. It’s like a medium-stakes game of pick-up sticks. Except with shoes. One of which might have a cockroach in it. So it’s also kind of like Russian roulette. But only kind of.
As I’m doing this, I realize that my error is in treating the capturing and the killing as a single step. The fact is that the act of simply catching him will take all the nerve I have. And then I will have no nerve left to immediately strike the fatal blow. So I must divide the operation into three phases. I must first capture him, then re-generate my nerve, and then kill him.
So I take the next logical action—I procure a large circular Tupperware container from my kitchen. This shall be his holding cell on cockroach death row.
Finally as I remove another shoe, my nemesis shoots out along the opposite wall—it turns out he was nowhere near the shoes—and out of the closet. After an initial jump of horror, I chase him down and, impressively, I capture him underneath the overturned Tupperware container. For security’s sake, I place a Chicago White Pages on top of the container. (It turns out, a lot of people live in Chicago. And tonight, all of their names and numbers serve as cockroach prison guards.)
His incarceration buys me some time.
As I’m summoning my courage in anticipation of the execution, I think about what a formidable opponent he has been.
[Cut to montage, underscored by the song, "Why Can’t We Be Friends?”: Cockroach on Ranjit’s pillow. Ranjit jumping. Ranjit pulling back sheets. Cockroach flying at Ranjit. Cockroach scampering into closet. Pick up shoes/Russian roulette. Cockroach scampering out of closet. Moment of capture. Cockroach imprisoned. Dissolve back to present as music fades.]
I take some newspapers. I lay one flat next to his prison dome, remove the Chicago White Pages, and slowly slide the dome onto the paper. Then I slide several more papers under the original sheet to create as thick a barrier as possible between him and my hand. I carry my foe out of my apartment, walk three blocks east to the park (which is on the shores of Lake Michigan), and release the dreadful creature.
Here, he can fly at whomever he wishes.
On my way back home, I dump the newspapers and the Tupperware container into a public trashcan.
And within a few minutes, the changing of the sheets is followed by the sweet denouement of slumber.
* * *
A few days later, in the middle of the night, I am sleeping facedown and shirtless. I wake up and feel a cockroach on my back. With a panicked sense of déjà vu, I shoot out of the bed, and the thing falls off my back and tumbles onto the carpet.
It is a quarter.
|Ranjit Souri (rjsouri [a[at]mail [d[dot]om) teaches classes in improvisation, comedy writing, and creative non-fiction in Chicago.|