Charles yawns aloud and stretches his joints, then yawns aloud again. He isn’t that tired but his head feels like a wet sponge. For the past hour or so, assimilation hasn’t been easy. He looks outside the window at the darkness of the empty car park then back at the textbook in front of him and shakes his head. Discouragement is evident on his face, there are still too many pages untouched and the chemistry test is just four days away. Yet he can’t concentrate; the urge is strong upon him and insistently demands appeasement.
Something has to die.
One of the many insects dancing around the naked light bulbs hanging from the high ceiling by long cords drops onto the open page of his book and starts crawling around. Aha he thought to himself, finally! Here is something interesting to play with and relieve the pressure.
First he examines its thorax for markings to be sure that it isn’t the type that causes whiplash when its secretion touches the skin. There are no black stripes.
Quickly before the hapless insect can escape, he tears off its wings one after rendering it table bound. Then methodically like a surgeon, he proceeds to slowly break its legs into bits using the sharp tip of his pen. The sight of the poor insect struggling to move as its limbs get progressively reduced is amusing to him. When the last leg is gone and the insect lies immobile on its back waving its stumps, he flicks it onto the wooden table and casually squashes it to a messy death with his left thumb. Then he inhales the smell from the smear left behind, which instantly makes him feel better.
“So long dear bug, fare thee well. Looking up at the other insects still flying around the bulbs above his head, he whispers in a low voice. Any one of you fuckers still willing to make my night more interesting?”
His loud laughter echoes around the walls of the empty hall.
Picking up his bulky Chemistry textbook again, he resumes reading, his brain now more absorbent. The interlude has taken all of ten minutes.
One of the reasons he always chooses to read in the Faculty of Agriculture in the dead of night is the solitude, and the abundance of six legged prey. Charles has never thought about why he likes killing insects for fun. It brings him so much pleasure, more than the most intense orgasm. He delights in taking them apart, imagining them pleading for mercy as he dismembers them. Anywhere there is a bug to be found, Charles is always there, breaking, tearing and squashing.
The jotter on his table is covered in abstract drawings as he tries to take his mind away from his immediate surroundings. Performance Evaluation sessions are always protracted and boring.
An insect saunters across the yellow floor tiles as if it belongs there, blatant arrogance in its unhurried steps – at least to Charles’s eyes. It has white marks on its brown body and is abnormally large, almost as big as his small finger, and very ugly, with big round black eyes. Finding an insect he has never seen before and this big wandering around in such a sterile space feels absurd, especially as he’s never as much as sight a fly buzzing around in his time in that office.
The boss’s voice cuts into his thoughts.
“Charles, can you please share your perspective on the foreign exchange challenges currently facing the country and what it portends for the economy in general and our company in particular?”
He stands up and starts talking, glad to finally have something tangible to do. By the time he finishes and resumes his seat, the strange intruder is long gone.
That night he has a dream. Somebody is knocking insistently at his front door, and when he finally gets there and yanks it open, there stands his boss, looking dapper in a dashing three piece suit and smiling at him – wearing the head of that ugly bug from the office.
The insect casually comes up to his foot, stops and appears to sit back on its hind legs, gently twiddling its antennae. Anger suddenly wells in Charles’s head. It has to be the same insect from the other day, there is simply no way two of those things would be crawling around the office all this time and somebody else wouldn’t have seen them. His looks around at his colleagues as they focus on their different tasks, and returns his gaze to the floor where the insect is still sitting, huge shiny black eyes looking up at him. He hears its silent challenge to his authority quite clearly.
“Heads up Charles, catch!”
He jerks his head up and catches the can of Pepsi whizzing through the air instinctively. It feels cold to touch.
“Nice catch boy, nice catch. Cheers mate.”
Ade smiles at him as he pops the lid on his own can, raises it and takes a swig. Charles returns the smile, soundlessly mouths a thank you and looks down again.
His bugsy friend is gone.
That night there is another dream. This time the insect stands as tall as man outside Charles’s bedroom window, gazing inwards at him, with the silver slice of the new moon hanging in the sky just over its shoulder in the background. The cold smile on its face is terrifying.
One week later as Charles waits in the empty office for the others to come back from lunch, it is there again. Even when he squeezes and throws a ball of paper at it, the damned bug doesn’t flinch.
“Tough guy are you? Okay then, let’s see how you deal with this.”
He stands up and deliberately steps on it with his size ten shoe.
“There, he grunts with satisfaction as he grinds, that will teach you never to mess with the big kahuna again, never ever. Have a safe trip to bug heaven or wherever it is that bugs go, and don’t forget to extend my regards to all your other cousins I sent ahead of you.”
“Who are you talking to?”
Charles turns around at the sudden intrusion of Regina’s voice. He didn’t hear her open the door.
“No one babe. I’m just singing a song. Y’all done?”
“Yes we are, she replies. Ade should be here in a minute or two.”
She wrinkles her nose as she walks towards her table.
“What’s that horrible smell? Did someone die in here while we were gone? Jeez, it’s awful.”
“But I don’t smell anything”, says Charles with a nonchalant shrug.
“You wouldn’t, even if somebody waves an open jar of rotten eggs right under your nose.”
“True, we all can’t be ferrets you know”, he claps back.
She gets to her corner and pulls open a drawer, brings out a can of air freshener and generously douses the room with rich cinnamon.
Charles stays up late watching television before retiring to bed at a quarter past eleven, and wakes up with a start exactly one hour after – heart thudding. The nightmare this time has been terribly vivid.
There he is running around inside a quiet sunlit forest, chased by an unseen enemy. His shoeless feet sink into the boggy forest floor as he runs around in confusion, until a fallen log hidden in the undergrowth trips him and sends him sprawling. Suddenly the insect from the office is standing tall beside him as he lies on the ground. It has that sinister smile on its face again and after staring at him for a while; it waves one of its gigantic forelegs as if beckoning to his pursuers. Hundreds of insects of all shapes and sizes come crawling out of the surrounding trees towards him. Every time he tries to get up and run, the dead leaves on the forest floor become claws and drag him back. He watches with growing dread as the crawlies swarm up to where he is and run up his legs till they cover his entire body. As he opens his mouth to scream, they swarm down his throat.
The familiarity of his bedroom calms him down a bit, but he can’t get back to sleep immediately, so he gets up after a while and goes to the refrigerator in the kitchen for a glass of orange juice. It is almost two hours later before sleep mercifully finds him again.
“Charles dear, there’s something coming out of your ear.”
At first he disregards her observation as a prank. Regina’s notoriety for practical jokes is well known. However when she says the same thing again thirty minutes later, he decides to get up and check.
“Ewwww Charles, she says as he passes her desk. That brown stuff coming out of your ear is really gross, and smells bad too. Please go to the bathroom and take care of it.”
The bathroom mirror confirms her observation, there really is brown goo coming out of not one but both of his ears. He wipes at them with his handkerchief and more seep out. Alarmed, he runs back to his drawer, gets his pack of cotton buds and runs back to the bathroom. The first bud goes into his right ear white and comes out soggy and brown, as does the second. He is about to use the third when he notices two brown tips rapidly increasing in length.
Charles watches in horror as an insect’s head slowly follows.
The bug makes a sound as it wiggles out and drops into the white porcelain wash basin. It is exactly like the one he squashed that day in the office, only smaller. His mouth opens and hangs in shock when another follows, and another.
A guttural scream from the direction of the male toilets tears through the quietness of Craigs & Co.
Two figures, both male stand beside a bed in a quiet hospital room. The green bed spread contrast sharply with the white walls and the shiny aluminum bed frame. Charles lies asleep on the bed, his hands out of sight in the white containment jacket. His face is a mass of ugly welts, as if someone had been trying to draw uneven lines on it with nails, and his ears have huge plasters covering them.
The doctor checks the charts hung on the bedpost and talks to the nurse, in barely more than a whisper.
“Are you following the prescribed treatment regimen?”
The nurse nods affirmatively before replying in the same tone.
“Yes doctor. He gets a double dose of Thorazine every six hours just like you instructed. He’ll sleep until it’s time for the next shot.”
“Good. Keep that up for the next forty eight hours and then we evaluate his condition again. Meanwhile, make sure his hands are always secured.”
Both men turn and walk out of the room, quietly shutting the door behind them.
Charles opens his eyes exactly five minutes after their exit. At first he looks perfectly normal until his roving eyes settle on the big brown insect standing right in the middle of the metal table beside his bed.