There she is sitting on the table of an open restaurant, going through the names of the items on the menu card. The people around are busy gossiping among their own circles. The place is not noisy accept some murmurs. Quite a change from this bustling city. It is a bright sunny day; the sky is clear and yet the sunlight feels harsh to my eyes that are hidden behind a black sun glass. I walk to the table she’s sitting on and without disturbing her, I quietly sit on the chair facing her. She shifts her gaze from menu card to me and her expression from relaxed to surprise. She looks at me like I am an alien. My ears stung as if someone poked a sharp pin my ear hole.
“What the hell is wrong with your look?” She says with her mouth open in shock. It takes me few seconds to gather her words as my ear is still throbbing with pain. I don’t reply her. My eyes are itching, and I desperately want to squeeze them with my fingers. But I don’t want to, so I am just tapping my feet on the ground anxiously.
“Why have you stuffed the cotton in your ears. Are you alright?” She asks me with concern. Again, I stay silent. I am feeling bad for her, but her questions are crossing my head. My ear squeezed. But I have to answer her or else she will continue throwing questions at me.
"Cockroaches," I reply ambiguously. Not a very clear answer and judging by her expression she is clearly not ready for this abstract reply.
I know I need to be more elaborate in my response. But it’s hard to explain how my life has took a turmoil for past one week. I don’t want her to judge me. I don’t want her to think that I am a maniac. I call the waiter and order myself a coffee.
“What will you have?” I ask her but she refuses to order anything. Seeing me in this state might have made her forget about her empty stomach.
“You are scaring me now. Why are you not speaking? Answer to my questions for god’s sake.”
Her constant nagging is making me uncomfortable. My heart is thumping like a beast. My hands are shaking. Head’s spinning. I no longer have hold on my body and The last thing I remember is me collapsing down from my chair on the floor and her getting up from her chair to hold me with her horror-struck face.
It all started a week ago. I was in my college library reading newspaper. There I stumbled upon the grossest news article I had ever read. It was about a man who complained about severe pain in his ear only to find out that more than ten cockroach babies were living inside his ear canal. The reason sighted below was that the man had the habit of leaving unfinished food packets near his bed, attracting parasites such as cockroaches. I took a deep breath after reading the article and the image of those tiny parasites crawling inside my ear flashed in my head. The feeling was very real. I slipped the newspaper aside and took a paperback from the bookshelf to put my mind off the disgusting images and began reading where I had left off. After I read a few pages, though, I realized I wasn’t following the plot. My eyes were following the lines all right, but my mind was miles away. So, I decided to go home.
I lived in a small 1 BHK flat all alone. Although sometimes my girlfriend would come and spend some time with me but except that I enjoy being alone.
I changed my pant and lied on the mattress. I didn’t have bed because I was comfortable on the floor. As soon as I closed my eyes the images of those cockroaches came flashing back. I opened my eyes immediately and couldn’t sleep. I cursed myself for reading that article. The feeling was very strong. And then I got panicked because then I realized that my flat had hundreds of living cockroaches who would come during night in search of food. But I was careful enough not to leave any of my leftovers beside the mattress.
It became dark outside and, in few hours, those nocturnal creatures would crawl out from the corners of this flat. I couldn’t sleep as the risk of them entering my ears was too high. But I have been living with them for quite a while now and they never bothered me yet. In fact, there presence never occurred to me and I slept peacefully all these days and now suddenly they became a danger.
I continued reading the paperback where I had left to keep my mind occupied. After reading few lines my left ear itched. I didn’t pay much attention. My mind was totally captivated into the story. It itched again. This time I put my pinkie in my ear hole and rubbed the ear. It felt soothing. The itching’s gone and then I spotted a tiny cockroach crawling on the floor right beside my bed. They are out. And then my mind went back to my itching sensation. Shit, my ear just itched. Now I couldn’t concentrate on the story. Instead of following the words my eyes were now following the cockroach. I closed the book, raised it high in the air and slammed it hard on the floor crushing the cockroach. I turned the book to check, the cockroach’s body chipped on the floor, its tiny leg hanging on the cover of the book. I kept the book aside, took out my earphones from my schoolbag, blew air into the buds for my satisfaction. It was clear. I plugged them in my ear. I had to protect myself from those tiny monsters.
I cleared the dead body and dumped it in the dustbin. But it was just one among tens and hundreds. I thought one death would make no difference. It wouldn’t stop them from sneaking. I could see them in the darkness of the kitchen, crawling on the utensils that I cook my food in, on the tip of the stainless steel from which I drink water. They are everywhere. They are more visible than before. Even on my tooth fucking brush. Their tiny little weightless body is overpowering me.
My nights are sleepless. The earphones are stuck in my ear the entire night. I can’t take my mind off those parasites. They are in my dreams, invading my brain, establishing a colony inside my skull. My ears itch after every few seconds. But I won’t take the buds out. I can control the sensation.
I started bunking my college because I was too tired to walk down the building and catch an auto. I would sleep during daytime so I could be vigilant at night. The cockroaches had fucked up my sleep cycle nevertheless my life cycle. I couldn't contact my friends or call my girlfriend and speak my problem out. They would definitely think it absurd and me crazy. I didn’t know what else to do so I thought let's just handle it by myself. I hadn't seen the living world for four straight days now. I was getting anxious trapped inside. Every time my ear would itch, I would get panicked and my heart would pound like a roaring engine.
I tried various things to churn those little beasts out of my head. I would turn on the gas stove and lean close to the fire. Letting all the heat pass through my ear hole. In within few seconds I would give up because the heat was jarring. But those stubborn little parasites won't budge. They had definitely started building their small settlement inside my head. And in few months, they would line up a whole army of theirs ready to attack and reign over my body. I had to do something before they get too smart. I had some cockroach killer spray left in the bottle. I had emptied half the bottle in every possible location of the house where they might be hiding in. Few died and most would crawl back into the living world from their cracks during night.
I picked up the bottle and decided to put it to some use. I erected the straw that was attached to the head of the bottle, took a deep breath, brought the straw close to my ears and penetrated its head a little inside my ear hole. My heart was pounding to death. But I had to do it. I had to force them out of my head, the way Hitler forced Jews out of his Germany. Light stream of sweat was trickling down my forehead. My palms were so sweaty that the light weighted bottle was slipping off my grip. I would lose hold of it any second if I didn’t hurry and then I did it. I pressed the damned button.
The gas pumped inside my ear. As soon as the tiny liquid droplets shot in my ears my eyes started burning. The bottle slipped from my hands and fell on the floor. My brain was on fire. The sensation was so strong that it made my mind numb. I thought my mind would explode. I felt like a volcano has just erupted in my head. My eyes were burning from the chemicals. I fell on the ground with a loud thud. My body was shaking. The world blurred in front of my eyes and in few seconds, everything became pitch black.
I woke up to a phones call. I slowly opened my eyes the room was much brighter than before my eye lids shut. My head was spinning. The phone continued ringing. I turned my head in the direction of the song. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was not lying on my mattress but besides the washroom door. I rubbed my eyes to stop the itching but the more I rubbed them the more they itched. So, I finally gave up. I slowly raised my body and walked to grab the phone. As I reached near it and picked it up it stopped ringing. I saw the name on the True caller, and it was my girlfriend. I had seven missed calls from her. I decided to call her back. She answered immediately.
"Where the hell are you. I am calling for past two hours now. And you didn't bother to answer a single time." She scolded.
"I am sorry I was sleeping." I admitted.
"Anyways where are you. You haven't come to college this whole week. Do you realize that it will affect your attendance? Don't forget you weren't allowed to enter in the exam last year."
"Yeah I remember. Listen I know you are frustrated but I need to talk to you. It's urgent. Can we meet someplace?"
I woke up in the hospital. I was lying on a bed. My girlfriend was sitting right beside me on a stool, staring at me. She woke up and ran out of the room. My mouth tasted foul. My ear has stopped hurting. My eyes have stopped itching. Did the doctor find cockroaches in my ear canal? Did he successfully pluck them out? How many cockroaches did he discover? The questions were rambling in my head.
She came back followed by a doctor in the room. The doctor was tall, maybe in his mid-30’s and sported a mustache, stethoscope hanging over his neck. He pressed the stethoscope against my chest to check my heartbeat.
“How are you feeling now?” The doctor asked.
“How many…” I was struggling with my speech. I cleared my throat. The doctor leaned his head to listen carefully.
“How many baby cockroaches did you find in my ears?” I asked. The doctor looked at me with concern. He was thinking.
“Look son there were no cockroaches inside your ears. It was a clear case of paranoia. You almost damaged your ear.”
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