The Cockroach Eater

I watched my mother suffer, day after day, month after month; she grew weaker and weaker while her belly grew larger and larger. I asked her kindly to not eat so much since she threw up a lot. But every time, she just laughed at me.

In the three short years of my life, I felt like the weight of the world had been dumped on my shoulders. I wanted to take care of her so badly. I just didn’t know how.

Then I saw her go into labour. And my world was torn apart.

She was taken away from me. My fists were not large enough or strong enough to hold onto her clothes. She had tears in her eyes and she said she would see me again soon. I tried to believe her.

She didn’t come back – not that night, and not the next. My tears were collected in buckets and used to water the plants and keep the fish alive.

Finally, finally, my father took pity on me. He took me to the hospital where my mother was taken. It was a giant box of a building with big walls and a mean guard who was there to separate me from my mom. My misery was not enough for him to allow me into the hospital. He said it was against the rules, that I was too young. What a thought! I felt way older than my years.

We were so close and yet so far. I could not understand how the back of my eyes could feel so dry when my face was drenched with tears. I could not understand how she could stay inside while I cried for her. I longed for her to be closer to me, to stroke my hair and put me to bed. But for now, I was told to wait a little longer. I knew that I would have to get used to mom’s absence, that she was no longer just mine.

I sat in the living room the next day and watched the colourful fish in the aquarium flit about while I tapped the glass case. My aunt had told me not to bug the fish, that I would make them cry. But what about my tears? Were the fish more important than me?

I felt the sharp teeth of sharks in my mind. I felt them swim in my thoughts and pull out everything dark and terrifying. As I tried to keep them from eating away my brain, I heard a shriek. It was so terrible, so high-pitched that I felt goose bumps rise up all over my arms, my face, over all of my body. I wished for ear lids. I promised that I would pray for no more of my wishes to come true if only this noise stopped. And it did.

I did not know this then, but my life was to be changed forever.

I turned around. My mom came through the door. She looked tired and pale. I rushed to hug her but she moved away from my joyful embrace. Slowly, a smile spread across her face. She kneeled down and held out her arms to offer me the slightly moving bundle she carried. So I looked down, and in her arms I saw a large squirming piece of tomato. It had ugly eyes and weird hair. It was… grotesque! Repulsed, I ran away.

From that beautiful summer day, which turned my blissful existence into a constant struggle, till now… every time I complain about my sister, my mother persists, “by next year, she’ll be so much better”.

That year has yet to come.

She bit, she fought, she scratched, she cried and worst of all, she took ALL the attention away from me.

Quietly, sulkily, I accepted the fate that had been dealt out for me.

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And then… came the day of the cockroach. Not a regular cockroach, nu-uh, a big, red, monstrous cockroach: fat antennas, even fatter legs, almost beautiful red wings. To this day, I feel a scream go through me when I think of that bug which was the size of a bird.

I was playing in the living room with my dolls. Sitting quite peacefully on the pretty red carpet while studying its intricate patterns, I had momentarily forgotten about my tormented life with my now three-year-old sister. It was a nice evening. The wind was blowing in from the open door. The adults were all inside. The fish were happily dancing around inside their tank. For once, our household felt peaceful. But I should have known that the serene atmosphere would not, could not, last long.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. A colour just a bit more orange than blood, it climbed out from the side of the cabinet and with it, came an ear piercing, earth-shattering scream. It was mine. And with that, came an even bigger bother. My sister, my adorable little, annoying little, big-eyed sister, crawling on all fours gurgling as if all the joys of the world were contained within her – She went right up to the cockroach, broke it in half… and ate it.

Her face was blown out of proportion with excitement. Her eyes glowed with delight. Her mouth held the red juice of the bug’s body.

And then – she offered me the other half.

The answer was yet another ear piercing, earth-shattering scream that brought my parents rushing. They made her spit out the chewed remains of the insect. Annoyed at having her meal so rudely disturbed, my sister clamped her mouth shut and refused to rinse it out. My parents, shocked out of their evening naps, paced frantically, trying to think of ways to get the kid to open up her mouth. And when no ideas came, they scolded me for letting her get so close to such a terribly tasty looking cockroach!

And so, I did the only thing I could do. I moped off to my room, my only haven in a house that was dominated by a sister who craved giant insects for her evening snacks. Inside my room, I slept a fitful sleep full of strange dreams, dreams in which I was an only child, in which my room was really mine.

Of course this room that I called mine didn’t really belong to me. I just pretended that it did. My sister and her friends were the actual residents. I was just the screaming kid who wanted some space of her own.

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I was now ten and imagined that with many wise years behind me, I had gained some respect from my sister. A new chapter had begun: I was in grade five and the best student in my class. I felt invincible. It is as if my sister knew she had to crush my newfound confidence.

After a very tiring day at school, I came home and decided to take a nap. As soon as I lay down though, I felt crumbs, cookie crumbs, on my bed. You tell me, who doesn’t love cookies? So without looking or thinking, I gathered them in my hands and started chewing. They had a strange taste, too chewy, and not sweet at all. After I rinsed my mouth out, and questioned my aunt, I found out what they were – my sister’s boogers.

She had decided to sit on my bed, pick her nose, and leave the little green balls where they fell.

Since then, there have been many such incidents, incidents in which I was sure one of us would kill each other. But I have survived her torture and she has grown used to my superiority. We even have some rare ‘aw’ moments recorded in our memories.

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Published on: May 21, 2011