Roberto Sorgo Pagina iniziale > The Insect
The day had been unpleasant, to put it mildly. My boss had summoned me to her office and told me that the company was going to do without my precious contribution. As if stating a fundamental law of nature, she said that surviving the financial crisis entailed downsizing the company, so I had better find a new job. This being Italy, I would have a couple of months to ponder on my predicament before leaving the office. In the ruthless “Anglo-Saxon” world, one would be fired on the spot. On the other hand, one could also expect to find a new job in a reasonably short time, whereas in Italy it was always difficult and now almost as likely as the Pope getting married.
I would soon lose my job, then. Such a measure was in the air, so it came as no surprise, but I kept wondering if my playing practical jokes on my colleagues, and my history of reprimands for creating a nuisance, had anything to do with the decision. Maybe someone had found out that it was me who alerted the police about a bomb in our building, that had to be evacuated. Some people really have no sense of humour.
This was already bad news. On top of that, my girlfriend – or rather, the woman who was occasionally prone to showing a peculiar form of attachment to me and who was called my girlfriend only by my unrestrained imagination – had been rather cold that evening. I know that women tend to shun unsuccessful types, but I had not even left the office yet and felt entitled to some comforting. Women, however, have this annoying habit of dashing my expectations.
So I was disinclined to love my fellow beings when, after midnight, I returned to my flat. As soon as I walked in and turned on the light, a movement on the floor caught my attention. There was an insect.
Now, I really hate insects. Come to think of it, I don’t know many people who love insects. In popularity, insects can be expected to rank lower than tax collectors. Butterflies could be an exception, but I am not fond of butterflies. Entomologists probably love insects, but I am not fond of entomologists either. Maybe, if I got to know a beautiful, charming woman who also happened to be an entomologist, my views on the matter could start to change; but I am straying from the point.
Though of a peace-loving nature, I turn aggressive in the presence of insects, and the word extermination always comes to my mind on such occasions. Whenever I detect an insect in my flat, I promptly organise an emergency unit consisting of myself, any other people who may be witnessing the mishap, and all implements of destruction at hand: a fly swatter, a rolled-up newspaper, a broom, a hammer in extreme cases. No activity is resumed in my flat until the intruder has been done away with.
I must admit having a double standard: I never try to exterminate bees or wasps. Fear of their stings, probably. But I conceal this fear beneath the noble thought that bees are useful insects, and I have honey at breakfast every morning, so I believe bees are worth saving. I think this doesn’t apply to wasps, but I have trouble distinguishing wasps from bees. Yes, I know that a wasp is, unsurprisingly, wasp-waisted: its body is extremely thin in the middle. But I cannot see that detail from a distance, so for both kinds of insect I adopt what I call a Jain approach. As an Indian friend explained to me, Jainism promotes respect for all living creatures, including insects, and considers it a sin to kill them. Therefore in the case of bees and wasps I acknowledge their right to exist, open a window and patiently encourage them to leave the narrowness of my flat and seek better opportunities in the wider world. I bear a grudge against wasps, however, because I consider them free riders taking advantage of my leniency towards bees, but I wouldn’t venture near such an insect to ascertain whether it is a bee or a wasp; so I let it go, hoping it is really a bee whose life I am sparing.
But the insect on my floor was not included in that privileged category. It was a flightless creature and probably belonged to one of the countless species of beetles. It was less than an inch long, whitish, slender, almost elegant, but a beetle anyway. When I glimpsed its outrageous presence, I decided to take the short way to extermination and crush it under my foot.
I failed. The insect didn’t die. I tried again. The thing was still alive. Not only that: it seemed to have grown bigger. And to have changed its shape. Now it sported wings, or rather what looked like a single triangular wing spanning its entire back. I went to fetch the fly swatter, but the effect of my blows was only to make the insect even bigger. When it reached the size of a matchbox, I started worrying. After a while the creature changed shape again and took on a metallic appearance. Now it looked rather like a wasp, but made of iron: two rectangular blocks of shining metal, joined by a thin connecting rod; nothing that could be recognised as a face, but a threatening sting on the backside. The size of the insect was almost that of my foot.
I went to fetch the hammer, but under my blow the thing gave a clang of solid iron and remained unharmed. The insect had become indestructible. Not yet at the end of my resources, I tried the Jain approach. I took a broom, opened the door and strove to sweep the confounded insect outside. “You are not welcome here,” I told the beast. “Anyone wishing to share my flat must have two legs, rather than six.” But the creature wouldn’t move more than an inch, and every time I lifted the broom the monster slipped back to the starting point.
I gave up and closed the door. I noticed that the insect, in spite of its armoured-vehicle appearance, didn’t look aggressive. Actually, it did nothing. I couldn’t say if it was staring at me in amazement because I didn’t spot any eyes on its body. Without losing sight of the insect, I moved slowly away from it, hoping it would not follow me, and I retreated to the sleeping area of my flat. I took the hammer with me, just in case.
The monster didn’t move. I closed the door separating the living room from the sleeping area and, after preparing for the night, I also closed the bedroom door, so as to put a double barrier between me and the beast.
As can easily be guessed, I couldn’t find any sleep. Losing a job and gaining an indestructible insect are not conducive to a good night’s rest. After a while I got up, cautiously opened the bedroom door and stopped before the other door, listening for any noise. Nothing. I pressed my ear to the door. Still nothing. I didn’t want to open the door for fear that the insect might be just behind it, waiting to come into my room, so I went back to bed.
I started wondering what the beast could be doing. Sleeping? Do insects sleep? Probably, yes. Looking for food? But what do insects eat? Something in the rubbish bin? What about metal insects, anyway? Could they eat light bulbs?
Maybe the iron cladding was concealing a normal insect. But what kind of insect? It resembled a wasp. I wondered if wasps needed flowers, like bees. I had no flowers or potted plants in my flat, one of several flaws my alleged girlfriend had noticed in my otherwise inconspicuous behaviour.
However, the iron cladding was perhaps misleading. The real insect could be of any kind. A woodworm, maybe? Should that monster eat wood? I painfully thought about the kitchen table and chairs; there might be nothing left in the morning. On the other hand, the insect could be a bookworm. Could that horrible beast start eating my books? I hoped, should this really be the case, the monster could first help itself to that encyclopaedia of maritime history I had received as a gift and hardly ever opened. Those four volumes, conveniently placed on the bottom shelf, could satisfy the insect’s hunger during the night.
I tried to find comfort in the fact that I hadn’t noticed any mouth on the beast. Then again, it could be concealed by the cladding. The real insect could eat or destroy anything. Or nothing. Perhaps it would just stay there where I had left it, near the entrance door, like a watchdog. Suppose a burglar came in? A fight could ensue, and I would get rid of either the burglar or the insect, or even both. I kept listening attentively, trying to trace the origin of every noise, from the outside, from other areas of the apartment building, or from my own flat. But there was nothing to worry about.
A problem in the morning, I thought, would be devising a way to move that beast. I would need a miniature forklift to hoist it and take it away. I remembered seeing such a forklift in a toy shop. Maybe that would do. Could the insect be harmless? Even affectionate? I had never thought about keeping a pet, another source of criticism from the above mentioned woman. I could take a chance with that monster (I mean the insect, not the woman). Suddenly, I was envisaging a domesticated metal insect as my pet. I could carry it around, once I had found a way to move it. I came up with the idea of bringing it to my workplace, just to see the effect on my boss. I thought I could even train the insect to attack bosses. I couldn’t be reprimanded this time, because I had already been fired. Yes, that could do. First thing in the morning, I would go and buy that forklift.
With this pleasant prospect in my mind, I finally fell asleep. However, during the night, I was still haunted by fears that I would wake to find the insect on my bed or, worse, on my body.
Now my girlfriend has left me. She has told me that, apart from the usual score of other flaws, I am always restless in bed at night because of bad dreams.
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