It was the Fly.
I knew for a certainty. I knew it when I saw the gigantic, black, gleaming eyes at my window – and their cold, unblinking stare.
I knew it when I heard its shriek from across the years. And somehow deep inside, I had always known it would come looking for me.
When I opened my eyes – or maybe my eyes were already open, how can I tell? – it was gone. There was nothing at the window. Merely the night, and the lights from the streets. But I knew it was there, biding its time, watching me, waiting.
The worst of it was knowing that it was not my mistake – it was not a mistake at all, it was intentional.
I had left it to die, and when it screeched, I had poured water over it.
My Mother always said that we’re allowed to kill only one being in this world. Well, she said we shouldn’t kill any living thing, of course, but I pestered her with questions: What about the cockroach? What about the mosquito? What about the fly?
Scare off the cockroach, she said. We can’t kill it anyway. It is built to survive nuclear bombs. Our poisons would only send it into a trance. Let the housefly out, she said. You can’t kill all of them – they have this employment exchange where when one is killed, the other gets the job. Just let it out.
But isn’t it unhygienic? Aren’t flies the ones spreading diseases, and so on? I didn’t want to let those creatures free.
Yes – for that we need to keep our surroundings clean, my wise Mom said. Give no chance for the flies to come. That’s how we solve that issue, not by killing one at a time.
What about the mosquito? I said.
Well, I think that’s the only creature we are allowed to lay our hands on. She didn’t explain any further.
So we killed mosquitoes every evening, in large numbers. The mosquito army swarmed in as soon as the sun set. We would wave the electric hunter bat, and hear the click-click-click of mosquitoes getting electrocuted. We were fascinated first and then infatuated with the operation. We fought for the possession of the bat. We took turns – every one got five minutes with the bat – and we would compare numbers, who was the best mosquito hunter? There would be a pile of dead bodies at the corner of the house every day, and a smoky smell of burnt life. When the day’s assault was over, one of us would jump over the pile to ensure that any half dead ones were finished.
Never before or since had I found such joy from massacre.
The fly came in one day through an open window. By mistake, evidently. It must have lost its way. I could see it flying here and there, finding itself caged, unable to find the way out. I opened the door so that it could leave. It stayed away from the light, the fool. The window through which it came in was only open a slit – so I opened it wide and pushed the curtain to a side. It refused to approach. It stayed closer to the wall, hopped to the bed, to my clothes, and tried to fly towards the inner room from where sending it out would be impossible. Then it settled itself on my bed as if it were sight-seeing. I left the room and went inside closing the door behind me, hoping that it would fly away once I was gone.
I came back after five minutes, to find it on the other side of the bed, calm and cool, as if it were sleeping. Or taking rest. I felt my blood boil – the ugly creature with tiny dirty specks that passed for feet had to take rest on my bed. Didn’t I tell you to leave, I muttered. It jumped from the bed to the bed post. Then to something hanging on the wall looking calm and harmless. Then it hopped over to something else but my eyes stayed on the thing on the wall: quiet, dangerous: the electric hunter bat, the murderer of the mosquitoes.
You’re tempting me, I said to the fly. I give you one more chance to leave. Go and spread diseases elsewhere.
I waved at it with a pillow, towards the door. To the window. I gave it so many chances to escape. It refused to take them. It slipped by my pillow and flew the other way. I reached for the bat. Time for slaughter.
Good for me that I was such a good badminton player – for, an ordinary person cannot chase a fly with a racquet. Darn fast, these things. The art of insect-hunt needs skills, man. I swung it, smashed it, volleyed it, but the fly, with its calm confidence, hopped and zoomed around the room, easily avoiding the bat, as if it were a game. A game to it, an act of murder to me.
The more it flew, the more enraged I became. Then I stopped the swinging. I waited, began to stalk it. It would come to the bed to rest – I knew: something about the bedsheet lured it. And it did. I approached it, casually, hiding the weapon behind me. I tightened my fingers around the handle and slowly brought it forward and smashed it on the unsuspecting fly, pressing the button to start the electric action. A series of explosions rang out – and I laughed, laughed hard. Got you! Got you! I GOT YOU!
I turned the bat around, and there it was, stuck to the net, a faint motion on its wings, then none, then again a small flutter. My rage didn’t subside. I watched it struggle with its last breath. I took it to the wash basin and dropped it. I saw it crawl along the edges of the basin, half-dead, but it fell into the drain. You’re dead, I said, and opened the tap.
I closed the tap after a few seconds, thinking the fly must be part of history now, and turned to go away. That’s when I heard the sound.
The screech, from the drain, clear, deafening.
I whirled around and peered into the basin. I could see its dark face, I thought I could discern its eyes, pleading, and it was beating its wing against the net in the drain, it could not squeeze through the net to safety. It was trapped. The continuous beating of the wing against the metal net, at a frequency that only insects can reach – it was the shriek I heard. It stopped, and it began. And then it stopped and began again.
Aren’t you dead yet? I said and opened the tap and casually filled a large steel bowl. Damn creature, I breathed as I emptied the bowl on it, the five litres of water falling on it like the Niagara Falls. I didn’t hear the shriek no more – not that day.
The huge black eyes have haunted me ever since. Sometimes pleading, sometimes accusing, sometimes threatening, sometimes calm, but always watching, unblinking. At the window, in the sky, around the corners, everywhere I saw them. Just you wait – they seemed to say. Your turn will come. The shriek rang in my ears every time, across the years.
I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep.
I had had no intention of hurting him of course. Or her. Or it. I gave it enough opportunities to escape. What was I to do if it were intent on suicide?
I must have dozed, then I saw it again. The worst part was that I did not know which was nightmare and which, real.
You. The enormous eyes said.
It was you.
It was you who trapped me.
It was you who trapped me and denied me my freedom.
It was you who trapped me and denied me my freedom and then pretended not to hear me shriek.
It was you who trapped me and denied me my freedom and then pretended not to hear me shriek, when I batted my tired little wings against the bars and made as much noise as I could make – because I knew all my real screams were outside your hearing capacity.
But you could hear all the din I was making even if your ears were not tuned to my voice frequency. You could hear my wings, and you poured the water over me. Cold-blooded murderer.
You poisoned the neighbourhood and destroyed my families in hundreds, thousands. You are the cause of the annihilation of my kind. My species.
Not I, I said feebly.
But I knew. It was my species. Against its. The survival of the fittest.
And they were out in force. To get us. To get me.
I opened my eyes. My real eyes.
It was daylight. When had the day come in? I was bathed in sweat. There was no one, nothing at the window, but the bright blue sky of a new day. I lay there for long as the sun journeyed its solo journey. A low buzz reached my ears. Not the kind that mosquitoes make. A different, but familiar one. I shuddered. I knew the sound: the buzz that could become a screech behind a cage. A buzz which came with tiny pleading black eyes and swift fluttering wings and dots of feet that carry diseases. I saw it then, at the window, a small black spot fidgeting, hopping, jumping, seeking. As I reached out, it zoomed to the other side of the room. I opened the window wide, pushed the curtains aside, and I opened the doors too. I left them open and went away.
The fly did not appear to notice, intent on its task of exploring the wall. I knew when it was time, it would fly out. I did not have to help it or harm it. It would find its way.
My mother used to say, the only being you’re allowed to kill is a mosquito.
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