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Two, Maybe Three, Cockroaches (or The Condemned Come to Know)

LAST WORKING DAY –night, really – of the old year and I see them as I’m taking what the English call my last slash before bed. They remind me of the joke about the Native American brave who asks his chief on what basis he names all the tribe’s babies. “It depends,” replies the chief. “If a child is born during a storm, I might name it, ‘Rolling Thunder’. Or I may look out at a herd on the prairie and so name the baby, “Limping Buffalo”. In winter, I might name a child, ‘Snow Falls Deeply’, in summer, ‘Blazing Sun’. Tell me, do you understand now, Two Dogs Fucking?”

Last Wednesday night of the year, almost Thursday morning really, everything asleep in the house, except me and the two cockroaches on the shower floor I’m looking at, back-to-back, rear ends joined.

Two cockroaches fucking.

In 60 years, all but the first five spent battling (and so watching carefully) cockroaches, I’d never seen it but – clearly – cockroaches fuck! In some insects – dragonflies, praying mantises, butterflies – one can see beauty. In cockroaches, the only thing worth admiring is the engineering – flat, fast, feeding on anything – that allowed them to evolve before and will allow them to persist after us. (The late Bill Hicks on Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards: “I picture nuclear war and two things surviving, Keith and cockroaches. [Imitating Richards] “Where’s everybody gone? I saw a bright light; I thought we were on.” Ugly mofos, cockroaches; they don’t deserve sex.

The two cockroaches, sensing my presence, freeze; I’ve seen greater animation at a post-Cabinet press briefing. Knowing what I’ll do next, I think of Brad Leithauser’s poem “Son”, written for his “child who would not last/ Even one whole day”, quoted by Ian McDonald in a Sunday Stabroek column: “A look so haunted, so/ Haunting, he would not confess/ (Not even later, to his wife)/ How it stayed with him, on him; the slow/ Flicker in a watery eye/ The mute call – through all/ The exhausted hopefulness/ The condemned come to know/ In the end – from animal to animal/ Imploring, Please save my life”.

Even with compound eyes, they could not elicit simple sympathy; the slipper was already in my hand. I open the shower door silently, not wanting them to reach the drain hole, assuming they could coordinate their movement while stiffly conjoined. How many hundred thousand would I prevent from coming into being? It was a good night for our side, those of us who hate them, which is most of us; Al Pacino’s Tony Montana in Scarface, comes to mind, screaming, “I buried those cock-a-roaches!”

The flimsy slipper – Chinese-made, like everything in the world today, including Trinidad Carnival – crashes down. Two – several thousand – in one blow.

Reinvigorated by the killing, I seek a movie to relax. Rejecting Deliverance – too close to home – and Lone Survivor – too ironic – I flick to the news channels. Tsunami news replaces Trump news, hard to say which more depressing. The Property Brothers come to the rescue and bring on the yawns.

Finally comes the new last bathroom visit.

In the shower, a battalion of ants wrestles with a single roach cadaver. I chance to look down at the toilet. (Men hardly ever do; ask sticky-bottomed women.) Was it thirst that had driven it to limp to the toilet bowl? It hangs on the edge, in the attitude of a creature that would drink, calling to mind another image, from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian: horses and brutal men lapping cheek-by-jowl from the same water hole, animal to animal. It flaps its wings feebly, turns its ugly angular head towards me hopefully. But how could I rescue the very thing I’d destroyed? For my sake, I flush.

In bed, I contemplate the long line of cockroaches I’ve ended, and the ants on the night shift for whom – for which – a dead roach’s body was manna from heaven, their God’s answer to their prayers for something they might feed their babies and keep their civilization going for another generation. Was my innate resentment of chitin an insect cosmic force?

Exhaustion overcomes conscience and I start to slip into another night’s sleep as another year slips away. No need to count sheep or the 500-plus Trinidadians murdered this year – with five full days to go. Will I dream I can fly, the best dream you can have with your clothes on? Or will I crash into restless dreams, in which I crush the cockroaches again and again, and the dying cockroach I somehow know was the male looks at me, hoping to the end?

Two cockroaches fucking.

One thinking.

BC Pires is a refugee from Cuba and he wants his human rights not insect rights, right now. A substantially different version of this column appeared online only in 2009

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