A Cockroach Moment

Added on 08 June 2011

Inspired by Sabrina Ogden's great cockroach tale from yesterday, here's a short five second story of a singular instance of a cockroach. By five second, I mean that the action took place in about five seconds, rather than the fact that it'll take five seconds to read. Being a writer 'n all, I'll spin it out to some length.

The year was 1997. We were living in West Africa and had travelled to the Casamance region of Senegal for the weekend. On the first night there were a few of us sitting at dinner. On either side of me I had The Parent Currently Known As Mum (TPCKAM) and on the other a friend we'll call Sharon.

Things were progressing smoothly - wine being drunk and the local fish stocks being steadily reduced - when all of a sudden we saw that our South African chum Chris, sitting directly across the table from us, was staring at a precise spot behind us. We all froze. That would be, we all froze until he said the wonderful words, 'Don't move….'

Still not sure to this day why he told us not to move. I don't think cockroaches obey any laws of movement or social nicety. Anyway, we all naturally immediately looked behind us.

At such moments there are a couple of things you don't want to be behind you. (And clearly at this point I'm not trying to build up tension, as it's pretty evident from the introduction what was behind us…) Top of that list would be a man with a gun. Not very likely you might think, yet the Casamance is one of those parts of Africa that has been saddled with a distant capital with which it is has little historical connection other than the fact that the French lumped them all together. Every now and again there is a bit of a stramash, and our visit to the area came shortly after the region had been reopened for tourists following a prolonged period of armed conflict. We'd been stopped by men with guns at various road blocks on the way down, so a man with a gun wasn't completely out of the question. Except that two feet behind us was a solid wall, so to be honest, it was never going to be a man with a gun.

Number two on the list of things you wouldn't want it to be - for me at least - would be a big, black, fuck-off African spider. I hate big, black, fuck-off African spiders. Fortunately in our three years in Africa the only time we came face to face with such beasts was in the wild and in situations where they could be easily avoided. It wasn't a big, black, fuck-off African spider.

Other things you wouldn't want it to be would be an ex-girlfriend, a snake or Tom Selleck's moustache. However, to get the unbearable tension over with, I should get to the point and reveal exclusively that it was…. a cockroach.

The women either side of me instantly fled. It would be a cliché to say that I've never seen my wife move so fast, but you know, I've genuinely never seen her move so fast. The cockroach - we'll call him Ramone - was a big lad. A West African cockroach, so you know, I'm not exaggerating when I say he was between two and three inches in length. If you ate him, he'd fill you up and put you off your dinner.

So, having turned round fearing that it might be a big, black, fuck-off African spider, I was somewhat relieved to find it was a cockroach and didn't really care about the size. Then, with the kind of panache that one only normally witnesses in James Bond, I casually leaned back, squished Ramone with the side of my balled fist, turned back to the table, wiped my hand on a convenient cloth and went back to eating dinner.

It was a moment of ineffable cool, enhanced somewhat by the sight of two women running up the road, screaming. If Bond ever killed a cockroach; if Jules had squished a roach in Pulp Fiction; if Muhammad Ali had killed a cockroach when he was fighting George Foreman in Zaire in 1974; if David Gower had killed a cockroach while playing a cover drive or if Adam Vinatieri had killed a cockroach while kicking the winning field goal in Superbowl XXXVI, they would have done it like this. It was a moment of singular panache, when I displayed the kind of smooth élan, verve and dash that I have singularly failed to show in virtually every other endeavour I've undertaken in my life.

As a result of this incident, for some time afterwards I became known as Douglas The Cockroach Slayer or Captain Roach Slaughterer, and I received many calls from around the region to deal with unwanted pests. Eventually, however, that fame faded, until I became That Guy Who Did Something Once. And now… now, I'm like those folk in Springsteen's Glory Days, sadly talking about the time when I smooshed a cockroach in one blindingly brilliant instance of flamboyant, reckless courage.

And now, so many years later, I do think sadly back to poor Ramone, on whose blood I rose to such heady heights of fame. What of his family? Were there hundreds of children waiting at home for their father, looking hopefully up at Ramone's wife with big eyes, saying, 'Where's Daddy? Will he be home soon?'

He haunts me to this day, does Ramone The Cockroach, so much so that if I turn round now, I feel sure I would find him sitting on the wall. Waiting to pounce and do that scuttling, scurrying cockroach thing.