Monday, 16 July 2012

Magic Powder

I was lying in bed, with the window shut in an attempt to muffle the sound of hammers and powersaws, and the door open in an attempt to get some airflow.  It was past three am, and it was stuffy and smoggy and probably forty five degrees indoors.  I had to wake up at four thirty to pray, and again at seven at the very latest to get to school by nine.  I was pretty sure I wouldn't get any sleep. 

Perhaps reading something boring would help.  A two-volume explanation of a thousand-line poem about grammar, written twelve hundred years ago might do it, and then I could honestly tell the instructor that I'd read ahead.  I opened my eyes, and watched a dark blob dash across the line of pif-paf in the doorway.  I could hear its barbed legs skittering on the tiles.

Pif-paf is supposed to give "long-lasting protection against cockroaches, ants, bedbugs, fleas, lice, and all forms of crawling insects."  Says so on the can.  Everyone recommends it.  I shake a thick line of the powder across the threshold of my teeny room every night, like a sorceress in a fantasy novel warding the doors to keep evil creatures and spirits out.

The thing with cockroaches is, nothing works on them for very long.  Stores here have a whole aisle devoted to roach sprays and powders and who knows what else, and I've tried all of them, and I'm pretty sure they bother me more than they bother the roaches.

I got up, flipped the light on, put on my flip-flops, and chased the roach out of my room.  They're harder to catch than you'd think. They're damned fast, especially the big ones, they run in a zig-zag pattern which always makes me think of Captain Picard saying "evasive maneouvers!," they can jump and fly, and they run up walls and upside-down along the ceiling just as easily as they run along the floor.  You want to catch them on the ground, in the middle of the floor.  If you corner them, they'll jump at you, or run up the wall.

I stomped the cockroach, several times for good measure, and opened my cupboard to get the can of pif-paf.

There was a cockroach in there too, an even bigger one.  I've seen smaller mice.  I sucked in a breath and quietly said a very bad word.  It panicked and scurried around the cupboard, up the walls and around the ceiling a few times, and then hid behind the jars of dish soap and vinegar and pif-paf.  Clearly the stuff was not all that repellent.  I really didn't want to deal with the roach, so I grabbed the pif-paf, and slammed the cupboard door shut.  Even enormous roaches can squeeze through amazingly small cracks.  It would be able to get out of the cupboard with the door shut.

I dusted a small mountain range of pif-paf across the doorway.  I knew perfectly well that the stuff didn't keep roaches out, but I chose to believe that it did.  Admitting it didn't would be admitting that no matter what I did, creeping skittering things with too many legs that bend in the wrong places come into my room at night while I am sleeping, and there is nothing I can do to keep them out.  And that way madness lies.

So I say bismillah and make lines of useless magic powder and do not look at the door and believe I will be safe, like a little kid going through a precise routine every night as she climbs into bed, because if she gets it exactly right, the monsters can't get her.

I went back to bed and as soon as I closed my eyes, the athan went off, and I got up to pray, and I did not see any cockroaches. 

I didn't go to school that day.  I hadn't gone the day before either.  An instructor complained that I did badly on a test, and I told him that I was running on maybe three hours of sleep and way too much coffee and I was just glad that I had made it in and written the test, khalas it's done lets move on.  But masha'Allah, you're so smart, he said, you should do better than this.  My students are like my children, I want them to do well, why did you get this answer backwards?

Smart, maybe, when I can pay attention, but I'm also neurotic as a pile of lemurs.  Making it through the day without any major mishaps is success in my books, lately.

I woke up at eight and said to hell with it and went back to sleep and had weird dreams and woke up again at noon, and was pissed off because I never sleep that late even when I go to bed at fajr and I'd just slept through half the day and I'd probably be up till fajr again.

I got up to make coffee and get my ass in gear and my dreams were slipping through my fingers and the freakiness dissolving and I opened the cupboard door and the enormous cockroach I'd not wanted to deal with the night before took a running leap right at my face.

I stepped back out of its way, swore quietly, and watched its parabolic arc to the floor.  It had panicked and tried to escape and there was nowhere to go but out of the cupboard and I was in its way.  It wasn't malicious, but still it was a roach and it was in my house and I didn't want it there.

The roach hit the grimy linoleum, flailed its legs and took off running.  Before it ran six inches I brought my flipflop down and crushed it, then stomped it a few more times and watched its legs twitch and crumple like the poles of a collapsed tent.  I always feel bad having to kill roaches.  Allah made them too and they're big enough that they have faces, and intelligent enough that I can empathize with them, but I can't live with them.  I stomp monsters out, wherever I find them, so that I have a chance of sleeping at night.

Every time I go to open a cupboard door now, I panic a little.  I clench my jaw and stand up straight and just open the damn door.  If something jumps out at me I'll crush it into oblivion, but I'm still afraid. 

Afraid of cupboard doors.  What the hell, God?


  1. ASalamu alaikum, enjoyed reading that :)

    Come and share some thoughts with me..

  2. Walaikom salaam, your comment looks like spam to me, I only published it because you said salaam. I hope the bots haven't just learned a new trick.

  3. You have a way of making something terrifying kind of hilarious to read about. I laughed, but feel bad about laughing at your situation. I hope you find another, better, miracle product to keep the monsters out!

  4. Meg: Don't feel bad!

    It was supposed to be horrifying and funny at the same time, because that's how I feel about it. I wasn't sure if the humour would come across, I'm glad it did.

    I don't think there is any miracle monster-killer sold at drygoods stores, but I make do with flip-flops and faith that it will be okay in the end. I think most people do.

  5. Assalaamu alaikum :)

    "I stomp monsters out, wherever I find them, so that I have a chance of sleeping at night."

    I loved that...

    May Allah facilitate your affairs and grant you ease.


  6. And you, habibti. Ramadan mubarak :)

  7. LOL I loved this post, must have missed it before!

    1. Glad you liked it! It's really old but I still like it and people still find it through Google all the time. It looks like they're trying to find out why pif-paf doesn't work anymore and I'm of no help there, sorry Google searchers!