If there’s one thing I hate more than The DaVinci Code, it’s… people who drive really slowly in the left lane (with apologies to my wife and my mother). But if there’s one thing I hate more than people who drive really slowly in the left lane… it’s cockroaches.
That said, here is our cockroach story. (Warning: not the Cliffs Notes version.)
Almost three weeks into our trip (and one week after the tsunami), we found ourselves deep in the heart of beautiful Kerala. One of the main attractions of Kerala is its backwaters–a series of breathtaking rivers and canals which tourists meander through on staffed houseboats. Houseboats are smallish traditional wooden/straw boats (which are now engine-powered); they have modest sleeping quarters and a deck (sometimes several decks). They usually sleep one couple; sometimes more.
Some houseboats (notably those of the luxury hotels like the Taj) are splendid, looming large and lavish (and somewhat out of place) over an otherwise rustic setting.
Ours… was not lavish. But, it was definitely charming–and I don’t mean that euphemistically. (It was also a quarter of the price of the Taj houseboats. Having booked the houseboat from the U.S., we didn’t know what we were getting til we saw it. After the initial slight disappointment, we warmed up to the charm of our little houseboat. (We had drooled over the Taj houseboats the day before, and we sort of expected ours to be as droolworthy. Seaworthy, yes. Droolworthy? No.)
In any case, we boarded the boat at noon and were greeted warmly by our captain (“I am Captain Babychan. B-A-B-Y-C-H-A-N.”) . The sun was out, the scenery lush; we sat back and enjoyed a truly magnificent ride through the Keralan backwaters.
You are thinking, “Where is the Roach??? I signed up for a roach story, and you’re just yammering on about boats and backwaters and babychans. Gimme my roach!” Patience, for the roach cometh.
For the rest of the afternoon, we cruised around the canals, enjoyed the shimmering blue kingfishers that swooped overhead, stopped for coconut milk, waved at children we passed; it was a wonderful day that neither I nor Sara will ever forget.
• • •
Evening came. We anchored alongside some huts and tried to ignore the local childrens’ loud, playful requests for pens from us. (To this day, the reason they all wanted pens is a mystery.) After a yummy Keralan dinner (coconut in everything) by candlelight, we played cards for a while and then headed to bed.
We went into our bedroom, and Sara proceeded to unfurl the mosquito net which was hanging over the bed. As she undid it, a small cockroach that was hiding inside the ball of netting fell out of it. Sara may have yelped; I’m not sure. Being the new Man of the House[boat], I stepped in and shmooshed the little roachie.
Now is a good time for me to mention that this was the second roach we’d seen on the houseboat. I found the first one in the late afternoon and crushed it with a book. Didn’t think much of it, at the time.
While Sara was changing for bed, I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and use the toilet (too much chai?). That’s when I heard a little scurrying sound to my right; looking over, I saw a medium-sized rat (not roach) running along a ledge on the wall. He quickly ran through a tiny gap in the wall and left me there alone–slightly open-mouthed, I’m sure.
Now, I’m from New York City. I took the subway 90 minutes–each way–to school every day. I know rats. This one was neither big nor scary, by NYC standards. Nonetheless, I thought that my new wife (perhaps because she was not from New York?) might not take to our uninvited guest quite as nonchalantly as I had.
I decided to break it to her tactfully. “Honeybunch, love of my life…” Bad choice of opening words; she knew something was up. I switched to a more direct approach. “Don’t be alarmed if you see a rat in the bathroom.”
“Did you say a rat?”
“Yeah. Just a small one, though.”
I’m omitting the rest of that short conversation; for this is The Roach Story, not The Rat Story. Suffice it to say that my brave new wife (trooper that she is) went in there and brushed her teeth, presumably only a few feet from the rat.
We went to bed. The mosquito net tucked tightly around the mattress on all sides exacerbated the problem of a 6’0″ man trying to fit in a 5’10” bed. But (trooper that I am) I didn’t complain; I just bent my knees and cuddled with my hunny. Yes, things were a bit cramped; but hey, who would I rather be cramped in bed with than my hot new wife?
• • •
Nighttime on the backwaters of Kerala is two things: it’s dark, and it’s quiet. So you can imagine our reaction when, maybe 30 minutes after going to bed, we heard a scurrying noise coming from the general direction of the bathroom. I could sense Sara’s fear that our furry friend would come busting through the mosquito net and gnaw our faces off while we slept. She had our flashlight under her pillow, and, sensing that I was getting out of bed to do my husbandly duty and fend off the intruder, she handed it to me.
As I made my escape from our mesh fortress of a bed, we heard more sounds from the bathroom. Shuffling sounds. The pitter-patter of small feet. Almost a faint “flapping” sound. Odd. I turned on the flashlight, made my way to the bathroom door, and turned on the bathroom light. I was not prepared to see what I saw.
Cockroaches. Lots of cockroaches. Big ones. Big scary ones. (And remember–I’m from New York City.)
There were at least 7 of them. They ranged in size; the biggest were almost the size of… I dunno, a kiwi? They were so large, when the walked, there were footsteps. Can you imagine? Their feet actually made the sound of footsteps. And the worst part of all? They also flew! Well, more like glided… but isn’t that bad enough? The one nearest to me–it was high up on the wall–leapt off the wall and floated down to the ground with a whirring, flapping, rustling sound, finally landing with a muted thud. I shivered, and left the bathroom (and closed the door behind me!).
“Honey, I have good news… and bad news.”
“What is it?”
“Well, the sound we heard isn’t a rat, so no need to worry…”
“Oh no. Then what was it…?”
I explained what I’d seen. I think I even used gestures (like flailing my arms wildly) to give her an accurate picture of what we were up against.
In the end, she we decided that I should be the one to handle this. I grabbed my roach-smashing book and went back in. The book was promoted from a roach-smashing book to a roaches-who-make-footsteps-smashing-book (good thing we had a hardcover with us!) and I left the bathroom triumphant. The battlefield was strewn with the dismembered parts of my enemy. And I was completely unharmed. Final score: New York Man, 7. Kerala Roaches, 0.
Needless to say, we neither slept nor went to the bathroom for the rest of the night. It was a horrible night that neither I nor Sara will ever forget.
• • •
We awoke to another gorgeous, sunny Kerala day. If not for the shriveled insect parts in the sink and on the bathroom floor, there would be no testament whatsoever to the previous night’s battle. A lovely breakfast was served to us (fried banana, mmm); we hardly ate any of it.