Fred is a cockroach, hailing from Cambodia and existing apparently to add more colour to my nightly bathroom visits.
I call him Fred (assuming it’s a he) not in relation to everybody’s favourite hockey-mask-wearing serial killer, but because it seems to suit him – a little on the shy side, kind of awkward and unapproachable, but intending no harm to anyone (absolutely NO offense to any of the Freds out there – I’m sure you’re all wonderful people).
I discovered Fred for the first time a few days after I moved into my new apartment in Phnom Penh. My air conditioning had broken, and I would find myself waking up in a panic, drowning in a puddle of my own sweat.
One night, I again wake up in a state of mild heat stroke. I decide that splashing some cold water on my face would be preferable to melting to death in my bed, so I stumble over to my bathroom and switch the light on. After a few seconds of half-hearted flickering, the light comes on in full, blinding force. I step into the bathroom, my eyes struggling to adjust. I shut the door and turn.
Suddenly, I see Fred. He’s there, behind the door, a slimy-looking brown mass on the wall. I stifle a scream as I stare at the disgusting creature, about the size of my thumb, but double the width and pulsating on the wall. It appears to have been trying – unsuccessfully – to blend into the cream-coloured wall tiles.
I run out of the room and head to the kitchen in search of the Raid. Grabbing it, I race back into the bathroom to kill the scary night intruder.
Having likely anticipated his potential demise, Fred is tense and awaiting my return. As soon as I step back into the bathroom and shake the can of Raid, Fred is off. He runs across the wall faster than I would have thought possible for such a large, slimy bug.
My first spray misses him and hits the wall, and by the time I’m ready to try again, he has disappeared through an invisible hole in the corner. I didn’t see Fred again for a few weeks.
I have always had an irrational fear of cockroaches. Logically, I know they’re harmless creatures. And my mother always told me that they’re more afraid of me than I am of them. That one I’m not sure about. Obviously, I’m biased, but I think it’s infinitely scarier to see this in the middle of the night:
Or maybe not?
But despite the terror of not knowing whether or not I would see his slimy, pulsating body on the wall, Fred’s semi-regular visits to my bathroom piqued my curiosity about cockroaches. Why are they always in the bathroom? What do they eat? What is their purpose in life?
Some cursory research led me to discover the following fun facts about these nocturnal visitors:
1) One female cockroach can lay up to 50 eggs.
2) A newborn roach is about the size of a speck of dust.
3) They can live for a couple of weeks without their heads, only dying of thirst because they can’t drink water.
4) They would be the most likely survivors of a nuclear apocalypse.
Still not sure if I believe this last one, since one spray out of a can of Raid is generally all it takes. But lately, I had been debating whether or not I should even be whipping out the Raid every time Fred or one of his friends makes an appearance in my house. After all, he probably came to Cambodia before I did. So what right do I have to tell him he can’t live here just because his presence grosses me out?
Also, I recently became close friends with a couple of pacifists. While to my ignorant mind, it just seems like they do a lot of yoga, go on retreats in India, eat raw veggies, and meditate all the time, they also take a Buddhist approach to life. Part of this approach means not killing things wantonly or unnecessarily, as it would lead to bad karma and negative consequences for the person. This doesn’t mean they hold a wake for every ant stepped on or mosquito swatted. But they are perhaps slower to go for the kill than I am.
Recently, I met another disgruntled cockroach. This one was about twice the size of Fred. One night, as I was enjoying a relaxing evening of YouTube and wine, it flew into my room from the bathroom window and landed on my bed. I screamed, and the confused creature jumped onto my curtains, slowly crawling up the thick cloth to get away from the terrified and monstrously large human below.
“BETTINA!!!!!!!!!!!” I shrieked. My chilled-out roommate comes into my room.
“There’s a COCKROACH!!”
“What do you want me to do? You want me to kill it???”
“Well… no. Just make it go away!”
Bettina stands on my bed and shakes the curtain. It falls behind my guitar. She pulls the instrument away, and the creature scuttles off behind my bed.
I help her move the bed. We spend another five minutes looking around and under the bed, but it’s gone.
“Where did it go??? There’s no exit anywhere except out the door!”
I’m freaking out at the thought of the cockroach hiding somewhere in my room and jumping on my face in the middle of the night.
“I don’t know… but it’s not here anymore.”
That night, I have dreams of this new visitor, crawling back on my bed while I’m asleep, laying eggs in my sheets and infesting my room with mini-roaches…
It’s been over a month since I’ve seen Fred and about two weeks since I’ve seen his bigger brother. It could be that he still remembers that first taste of Raid and isn’t eager for another round. It could also be that my bathroom is cleaned much more often than before, and he isn’t particularly keen to spend the night in a place that smells like Windex and wet toilet brush.
I can’t say I miss his visits. But he has been a regular fixture in my life for the last few months. I expect his visits the way I expect my air conditioner to break at least once a month and the way I expect to be drenched in my own sweat every day while living in Cambodia. I know I’ll see Fred again one day. But next time, even though I’m still afraid of my nocturnal visitor, maybe I won’t be so quick to Raid him away.