A day in the life of a cockroach: from newspaper to wastebasket

Fri, Oct 23, 2009, 01:00

No lions, no tigers, no bears – just newsprint, crosswords, a Yeti-like cat and a thing called Nama. It’s been a rollercoaster of a day, writes MICHAEL HARDING

I FOUND THE following essay typed on my computer screen this morning:

– Imagine Michael Harding claiming that a cat was using his computer. A cat! Can you imagine anything more ridiculous? He thinks the cat hijacked his computer in the middle of the night and wrote something on Facebook. Rubbish! But the question is, should I tell him the truth – that it was me; and I’m not a cat! I’m a cockroach! He wouldn’t believe it. But, in fact, I’m not the first cockroach in history to have learned to type. There was a cockroach called Archy in New York years ago who had a newspaper column.

I know that ’cos I read a lot. I come from a long line of intellectual cockroaches. And I watch; I watch everything from behind a crack in the floor. I see him dozing by the fire, the sun warming the fur on the cat who sits curled up on a fallen curtain, that has lain near the window since midsummer night when he was plastered and tried to tug it open too suddenly, to see the dawn at 3am.

Think of it! A cockroach, browsing through the leafy academy of a wastepaper basket; I have read everything from crossword puzzles to the directions on a packet of condoms.

The writer sits by the fire all day, like a big, lazy monk in a monastery with no books. He doesn’t realise I have learned to read by going through all the copies of The Irish Timeshe stuffs in the bin.

Then yesterday, he goes off in the jeep with a bundle of old newspapers, and I’m stuck in the middle of them, and I’m thinking: “This is the end, he’ll catch me and throw me out somewhere on the way.”

But no! He doesn’t even see me.

He buys a bunch of tomatoes in Fox’s shop and wraps them in the paper, and I’m just underneath. And he buys a loaf of bread as well, and after a short drive we go into a strange house, and I know there’s girls in the house, because I can smell the perfume, and they all sit around the kitchen table with the patio door open.

The tomatoes go into a saucepan and the newspaper wrapping is thrown on the floor with me in it, and I’m there hiding between Features and Opinion trying to make myself invisible because there’s another big feline monster, like a massive white Yeti, sniffing the papers for wildlife, and I’m just thanking God I showered earlier in the morning, just after Bossman. The water is always soapy and drinkable on the floor of the shower unit after he has scrubbed himself, so I know the cat can’t smell cockroach.

As I lie there I’m thinking, “maybe it would be nice if I were left in this house with the girls”.

I appreciate girls. They got lots of nice food. They eat lovely soft green things, and tubs of buttery stuff. Oh girls! Not like the big lumps of red flesh Bossman throws on the pan.

But on the other hand there’s that big Yeti. And perhaps the Cat you know is better than the Cat you don’t.

But then all of a sudden the girls are out in the garden, picking flowers – can you believe it? – and they pick them and wrap them in what? Yeah, paper! They wrap them in the same damn paper, with me still there, clinging to some story on page 3 about something called Nama, and it begins to drizzle outside, and they say, “oh look; it’s starting to rain!” (I mean, sometimes humans disappoint me.) But then I’m in the boot of the car, and it’s quiet, except for a slug that was hitching a ride and fell into a coma.

And then Bossman is home. We’re in the kitchen. He’s running the tap, getting a vase, and I’ve all the time in the world to squiggle out of the newspaper, onto the washboard, into the crevice near the fridge and out of sight.

So I just needed to tell someone what a rollercoaster day I’ve had. But now what’s keeping me awake is this Nama thing.

What is it? I need to get into the wastebasket and read that again – just in case it affects me.