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Updated: Sep 25, 2020

The stubborn little creep went down with a smack. The blow was far from lethal, but if you’re a cockroach that happens to be on the wrong end of a thick-soled size eleven slipper, I wouldn’t bet on your chances. I regarded its crushed body with complete disdain. That thing had lost two legs and left a whitish secretion on my bedroom floor as an insult. There were more of them. I could sense their frantic skittering across the bedroom, I could hear the ambitious flap of their wings in the dead of night, I could hear them drop from the ceiling like they owned the place, and worst of all, I could smell their nose-crinkling filth from where I was standing.

It was like this almost every summer. When the heat was at its worst, the cockroaches came out to play. They skittered up an unsuspecting sleeper’s leg, aimlessly flew across the room, and crawled out of the weirdest corners. It was worse when my sister still lived here. She would wake me up with her screams, and I would find her shadow flailing and stomping madly in the hallway. She wasn’t a proficient killer, and every graceless blow she attempted was preceded by high-pitched screams. Eventually all the noise she made would wake everyone in the house and my mother would come out of her room with a slipper in hand. It didn’t help that our house was breaking down; it had been for many years now. It didn’t help either that my father had always fancied himself the Mr. Fixit of the household. His manly pride never once allowed him to call a professional to repair the cracks and crevices that these pests seem to take for an invitation. Well, that and a lack of budget, which is another thing that his manly pride doesn’t care to admit. Since my grandparents died, he considered the house his, and no one was allowed to touch anything that belonged to him, absolutely no one. The boarders were an exception. Like my father they lived in newer parts of the house. Whenever there were minor repairs to be made, anything at all that might cause them the smallest discomfort, he would fix them immediately.We weren’t so lucky. During the rainy season we suffered from a badly leaking roof, during the summer we braced for invasions.

I backed up just past the doorframe of my room and groped for the light switch in the hall, half-expecting a cockroach to come flying straight into my face.

“Meron nanaman?” Mother asked as she emerged from her room across the hall. She was lucky these creepers stayed out of her room. They bred in bathrooms, frequented hallways, and left droppings wherever they pleased, but they always stayed away from mother’s room. The light flickered on and I noticed her hair was disheveled, her eyes heavy with sleep. I had done my best to keep the ruckus to a minimum, but she had always been a light sleeper. Besides, we were both used to it.

“Oo.” I murmured, laconic as always. It was two in the morning, and all I wanted was sleep. I thought of the online classes I had to teach in the morning. I had reports due, readings, assignments, and compositions to pass for graduate school. It was bad enough that I had to work and study from home. I felt cornered, not because of the roaches, but because school and work encroached my personal space, and now I had to stay up fending off another infestation.

We met the roach infestation with resolute faces. Mother spent the next hour counting our kills and clicking her tongue, I spent mine counting the hours until sunrise. We stood there, eyes and ears attuned to every small indication of movement, ineptly holding aloft a slipper in one hand, and a half-empty can of Kwik in the other. We found every last one of those pests, toppling them with thick streams of Kwik and smacking those that attempted escape. I watched some of them lie on their backs, artlessly thrashing their filamented legs in a last fit of defiance.

Maybe I was just sleep-deprived, but as I surveyed the area for further signs of invasion, all I could see were the pins and needles that held this sordid house together. Every single corner of this house showed age. The peeled off paint that bares the rough nakedness of concrete, the red oxide floors that lost its shine long ago, the visible cracks on uneven flooring waiting for an excuse to split open, the tape marks that tell you where the pails will likely sit on the rainy season, and the chalk marks on the ceiling that directed you to suspected sources of leakage. Not even the faux futuristic flair of aluminum sheets taped over the ceiling could hope to cover up years of neglect.

I mopped the sweat off my brow with the back of my hand. Somewhere in the house, father’s boarders slept soundly in their recently renovated rooms. Somewhere in his room, father slept soundly too.

Something in me ached to leave behind all the decay and decadence in this house, to play the part of the schadenfreude and watch it bend and fold from the outside until it gives way. Then I’d let the neighbors go through the rubble to search for whatever secrets they hoped to find, anything they might be able to infer from a grave of cockroaches. Then I would be right there across the street mouthing: “I told you so.”

Mother was quick to sweep the dead cockroaches into the dustpan. Wouldn’t want the ants to come, would we? I sighed and told her I would get the mop. On my way out, she reminded me we were out of Kwik. It was three in the morning and all I wanted to do was sleep.

(May 2020)


Paulo Lorenzo Garcia is a teacher and a writer. He is currently pursuing his MA Creative Writing at the University of Santo Tomas. Some of his poems have appeared at The Literary Yard and Revolt Magazine Ph. He hopes to publish a poetry collection in the future.


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Stories and images in the time of COVID-19

An anthology of the struggles and hopes of Filipinos during the global health crisis of our time.

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