Mr. and Mrs. Roach - A Love Story
All embracing transcendental love
Is love just love? Or could they be categorized into phyla, genera, and species? I suppose it depends on perspectives. From one such, it would appear that there is a greater love that transcends and embraces all other apparently lesser forms. The love story that follows is based on such a perspective.
Interestingly, Valentine's day, which is observed now-a-days to celebrate one manner of love in particular, originally commemorated the "greater love." All three saints who answered to this name - Valentine of Rome, Valentine of Terni, and the one associated with Africa were martyred and no romantic elements are present in their original early medieval biographies (source: Wikipedia.)
True martyrs are those that embrace suffering and death for a cause without bearing ill-will for those that persecute them. If the word "forgiveness" can fully describe this sentiment, then it is this that should be remembered, observed, and revered on Valentine's Day. All other forms of love would inevitably be honored in the process.
Mr. and Mrs. Roach - A Love Story
The torch was positioned in such a manner that its fading beam was pointed at the ceiling, resulting in a diffused light bathing the room in semi-darkness. I stood in shadows with a broom at the ready. My quarry assumed it was smart, but I was obviously smarter - or so I thought.
A pair of hair-like antennae slowly emerged from the recess under the cupboard, sensing and assessing the gravity of the situation beyond the relative safety of the darkness in which the body to which those antennae were attached felt itself to be.
After what would have been a few tense minutes of waiting on the part of the hunter and the hunted that appeared to be much longer, there was sudden spurt of activity. The cockroach made a dodging dash towards a darker niche in the neighborhood. My equally agile hand brought the broom down upon it with a disproportionate force that reflected my intense abhorrence for the vermin.
A lesser being would have had its life snuffed out instantaneously. But not so with a hardy roach. If a cat was endowed with nine lives, these abominations must surely be granted many more. There it lay, totally incapacitated - a couple of legs severed, a tiny stream of almost-colorless blood oozing out from its ruptured abdomen, a nearly decapitated torso with head held by a few shards of surprisingly undamaged tissue. Yet it was alive, and continuing on its pre-decided path in agonizing sluggishness, dragging along whatever organs and body-parts that hung on to its remaining whole.
Mission accomplished, I rushed out to get a trash tray to sweep the unwholesome mess into it and out of the room. Something must have happened during that brief period of my absence from the scene of attempted slaughter, for when I returned with a tray in hand, the earlier sense of abhorrence for the insect was replaced with a vague understanding of its situation. What followed was the now-familiar-portrayal from fantasy movies or incredible incidents from normal ones - a whirr, a whoosh, a warping of perception - and I found my feet in the shoes of my victim. I was Mr. Blatt Roach, the senior most member of a colony of roaches that had established as its undisputed domain, the old pantry with crevices on its floor, cracks on its walls, and crannies along the divide between the two.
A certain measure of my awareness of also being a human must have lingered in that transformed state, as I could also perceive my "roachy" self, my roach consort Periplaneta Roach, and generations of my brood who comprised the colony as a human would.
There I was, facing the worst situation of my reasonably long lifetime of four summers, with a strong premonition that it would soon come to an end. Peri had scrambled to the safety of the shadows a few moments ago from one of her regular forages to report that she had been spied by one of the human trolls inhabiting the vicinity and had given the call for a roach-hunt. Heeding that call, another troll had appeared holding a giant swatter while the first had gone away - no doubt to get that dreaded poison-rain-maker to swamp and choke them all to death. I, that is Blatt, had quickly appraised the precariousness of our position and decided on a diversionary ploy that would lead the human trolls away from the brood who were coincidentally camping together under the cupboard, the bountiful gatherings from a chance spill from one of the troll's edible-storage-jars in the pantry, having brought them all together for a sumptuous feast and collective rejoicing. The operation portended almost certain death for me, but it would provide the rest of the brood with a fair chance to disperse and clamber to the safety of their preferred crannies.
In those few moments that separated the formulation and execution of the operation, I reflected on my life gone by and the good and not-so-good times that I had. It was four summers ago that I was born and still vaguely remembered my first visual perception of the world around as a tiny white nymph immediately after emerging out of the ootheca with thirty-three other siblings. For a few nights after this event we were schooled by our parents about life and its ways, before being allowed to go foraging.
We had been brought up in another troll-dwelling perhaps two-thousand body-lengths away from where I lived now. Life had been good there, the troll inhabitants being of the kind who did not care much for cleanliness. Food pickings were aplenty; hazards were minimal; life was generally safe and fun. After having passed the period of adolescence marked by repeated molting, the first stirrings of love and the urge to acquire a mate had provided the impetus to ramble beyond familiar surroundings and step into the unknown with its associated perils.
In the great outback that separated the two troll dwellings that constituted my former and present homes, I met and embraced both expectations – love and adventure. I met Periplaneta in the most dramatic of circumstances. The sound of frantic stridulation, during one such expedition, alerted me to the presence of an airborne predator in the form of a bat and that of a maiden hen roach in distress close by. The situation warranted the arousal of gallantry and the exhibition of valor, and both these emotional demonstrations occurred in the right sequence, in an appropriate manner, and creating the desired effect. I fluttered my nascent wings to distract the bat that was in the act of swooping down upon the distressed hen roach and then scurried under a loose pebble to save myself from becoming a prey. The gambit worked and I was so playing the role of a chivalrous roach warrior comforting a hen who was scared out of her wits. Inevitably and instantaneously love blossomed. It seemed that we were made for each other.
I must say that we were both lucky in finding each other so, rather than having to go through the regular, dreary, and messy rigmarole of leaving chemical trails in our feces or emitting airborne pheromones to attract a mate.
Our hardships weren’t over yet. The confrontation with the marauding bat had disoriented us completely and we did not know which way to head to reach the safety of our respective colonies. She was from another colony of roaches that resided in the kitchen of same human troll dwelling whose pantry was my colony’s abode. It was half a season of poverty, privation, and aimless wandering that we endured together under the open sky before stumbling into the troll dwelling that was to be our new home.
Life hadn’t been all so easy even after attaining the confines of relative safety. There were other entrenched roach colonies to confront, who looked upon us as adversaries. Food resources where comparatively meager, the human trolls here being fastidious about cleanliness. They also pursued the dreadful policy of pest control – using many means to exterminate insects in general and specially those of our kind. Peri and I learnt to live and face adversity. I could understand the compulsions that drove those who persecuted us for doing so, but Peri took it hard and to heart, and predictably suffered. It is perhaps for this reason that she had laid only five oothecas in her three-and-a-half-summer-long life time, while hens are normally expected to lay so many every seasonal cycle. All said, mine hadn’t been a bad life – a combination of some ecstasies and a few agonies – as everyone’s life generally is. And now it was on the verge of coming to an end.
I waved my antennae around and stretched my limbs to rouse myself from that short, wakeful reverie. It was time for action and I darted from under the cupboard and scurried in a direction that would expose me for being easily targeted. Down came the broom and stunned me. Recovering from the shock almost immediately – for we roaches are very hardy creatures – I could see from the corner of a compound eye that the human troll had walked out of the room. Peri darted to my side.
“Oh! The abominable, heartless human trolls. Look what they have done to you,” she wailed.
“Don’t blame them, Peri. It was to happen so, and so it did. Every being does things out of necessity. Our feces and the chemical and pheromone trails that we make are harmful to the trolls and so they hunt us. We too must be harming other life forms for our existence. I know that you and I love each other immeasurably, but understanding and accepting the fact that I mentioned earlier and forgiving those whom we believe to have wronged us is a much greater form of love – which is all encompassing and eternal. I suppose it is time for us to embrace that state of being.”
Blatt Roach uttered a few more words but their sound and import was lost in his progressively louder gasps and gurgling. A spurt of colorless blood spewed out of the opening to which mouth had been attached until a few moments earlier, and Peri knew that his beloved Blatt had moved on.
My mysterious bond with Mr. Roach too was severed about this time. It wasn’t however so, with the power and sway of his thoughts and words. His higher form of love born of forgiveness benignly bound me for all time to come.