Written, in Portuguese, by Francisco C. P. Rodrigues, Brazilian author.
Two cockroaches a male and a female, a respected couple, talk in their language in the sewage, while they nibble rotten remains of food. His name is Glutof and hers is Kiti.
“Why such enthusiasm?” asks the husband, suspiciously. He is skeptical, solemn, hard-shelled, cult, repulsive, with the eyes of a serious-minded owl. A very well fed glutton, he resembles a dark and obese date, gifted with slim but sturdy and hairy legs – or whatever is the right name for its bristles. Fortunately, Glutof does not put on any weight on his small thighs, which allows him to spring at an incredible speed in moments of danger, particularly when hunted by the damned triad of men, rats and cats. The latter are revellers who kill just for fun, since they actually don’t chew their victims. They just feel too disgusted.
Glutof is proud of his brown, rather black brightness of his wings which he can frill with tremendous success, causing screaming and fainting amongst the opposite sex. Although fat he is a womanizer, or “cockroachizer”, a word he intends to include in the first dictionary of the language for cockroaches, still in its early stage and with him as a coordinator. He likes very much to philosophize and enjoys himself with the nonsense of his peers, almost all of them dumb, when compared to him. A genetic mutation had occurred, characterized by greater longevity and a larger size of the brain. But not all cockroaches have benefited with the increase of intelligence. By the way, this is also a human problem, though way older.
“You, critical and conceited as usual!” Kiti protests. “What a terrible obsession you have of diminishing me and spoiling all my fun! It isn’t enthusiasm, goddamn! I was simply dismayed or rather, horrified – is that good for you? – to watch the loathsome cleanliness of the new restaurant around the corner, that huge one. I managed to get in there only once, under the door, on the inauguration eve, and I peeped. Last night, after the inauguration, I tried to go back, to pinch a few things, sneaking through the corners, but I really got scared. Too busy. The only crack that could help me get in had already been closed. The measures taken by the scoundrels to keep us away were perfect. Entrance, only through the front door but with the risk of being squashed by the doorman’s shoe sole.”
“I still think you look rather euphoric, almost satisfied, unconsciously approving the abominable cleanliness”, insisted the husband, a theoretical much respected for his zeal in the protection of the everlasting values of filth. He interrupted the sequence of little sucks on the moldy bread and snapped his lips to sip from a little cup of mucus, dripped from a nursing home for elderly paupers.
“It’s just that I, although disapproving of course, any kind of cleanliness – what do you think I am, huh? – I like to see things well done. You know that I’ve always been a perfectionist…”
“Relatively”, interrupted the husband “at home, you take it easy. There are still many things to clean here and there… the cleanliness is becoming unbearable. You are not such a good housewife; pardon me for my frankness…”
“But you do not cooperate, either!”, she raised her squeaky voice indignantly, flapping her antennae. “You just stand there, in that old lawyer’s office, the landlord, nibbling old greasy books, bought in second-hand shops. You, my dear, you are addicted to salt and old human grease”.
“It’s you who can’t see an inch beyond your nose. It is not just gluttony, my dear. I study. My idleness is misleading. Well, indeed, it’s true that I also enjoy eating. However, I study as much as I eat. Oh! This is worth a pun”, he smiled, pleased with the finding: “And how I do read! (Exclamation). Above all, I relish slowly, tasting not only the grease from the fingers of Adam’s decadent offspring, but also the abstract side, the printed ideas themselves. This in order not to walk around speaking rubbish, as many of our hard-shelled and slender legged brothers. One day we will inherit the Earth…remember the prophecy? I have read that if a nuclear conflict takes place, only we will remain alive. We will be well protected down here, whereas the biped scoundrels toast up there, deservedly. Can you imagine the binge afterwards? Everything will be ours….from litter to computers…”
“Well, if there is time to run down here. If you are at the library when the ‘Big Boom’ happens – as you will probably be, since you are addicted to greasy books – then you won’t inherit anything at all! You will be just one more toasted date. Besides, to which atomic war do you refer? The only two giants that could do us a favour have patched it up! It is all demoralized now! The Russian chief, that blond heart-sufferer bear (she meant Boris Yeltsin) with Mongolian slanted eyes – his mother must have had a Japanese neighbour way more handsome than her own husband – has turned into a capitalist! Instead of using his plump fingers to push the missiles’ launching button, he has fun in pinching his secretary! It is disheartening…”
“Don’t lose your hope, Kiti”. She is gracious, with long eyelashes and with a brain full of crazy and right intuitions, all mixed up. A hottie, she is basically just pheromones and reproductive organs. She has the fame of being frivolous, but up to now no one has ever had the courage to bear witness against her, because she is influential and vengeful. The owl face intellectual, already on his fifth marriage proceeds, academically: “Parodying what an American businessman has already said, no one up to now, has ever lost money when betting on the stupidity of bragging state leaders. Or rather, in the stupidity of human species altogether without any exception, who claim to be so rational, spiritual. We, who know them well, and eat everything they throw away, we know what they really are deep inside. Especially deep inside…
He made a pause to nibble a piece of a rotten banana and continued erudite, pleased to hear the voice he knew so well how to modulate with so much authority:
“Fortunately, the so called emerging powers are just concerned with mastering the atom, scaring their neighbours. Therefore do not get disheartened. One day, they will be making atomic bombs in their backyard. Our turn will come, Kiti. I have always believed that our ideals of justice and supremacy will end up prevailing. The power of empires goes up and down, just like a seesaw. It is written in the history books that I lick – I mean – I read. Power shifts hands. I feel it in the air, especially in the polluted air – this pleasant and perfumed aerial garbage – the signs that our turn is coming! The current system of domination is utterly unfair! Any human being, smart or dumb, as soon as he sees us eat a meager crumb on the kitchen floor – even when we are on the verge of inanition – instantly opens his eyes wide like a mad exterminator and runs towards us, with his paws up. Why such prejudice? After all, we are cleaning their kitchens, without even charging! They would save up a lot without house maids! We could all get along so well, in harmony! At night, the humans would spread their dirty clothes on the floor, go to sleep naked, and we would invade the house, eating all the digestible dirtiness left on cups, bodies, dishes and cutlery. Clothes would be instantly “dry cleaned”. We would lick everyone in the house, sparing them the morning shower. Great savings! They would wake up thoroughly clean! But instead all the beasts do is crush us!”
“What if we set up an underwear “rodízio” (rodízio is a kind of Brazilian restaurant service, where the guest is served a new dish, as soon as he is done with the previous one)? We could make some money out of it…” Kiti proposes her eyes gleaming, always mindful to get some profit out of any idea. She considers herself a great entrepreneur.
“Well, you would be in charge of it. I do not enjoy involving myself with money issues…I feel as if I would lose my dignity.”
“It is all fine with these theories of yours. You know I don’t make a fuss about these readings. I personally only enjoy fast readings, but I would like to know how we are going to eat, in case a nuclear war breaks up. Wouldn’t the supplies be contaminated by radiation?”
“Oh, well…” he sounded surprised. He had never thought about that. He labeled his wife’s bouts of good sense as ‘sparks from the horseshoe’, as once a famous Brazilian critic had said. But he did not admit he was wrong. “Indeed, of course, hum, in fact, I had already thought about that… for a time, which our experts would determine, we would not eat what is on the surface. We have, in the sewage a gigantic and delicious natural supermarket stock, all of it ready and seasoned for our consumption. Therefore, we would only have to wait – it would be just a matter of waiting for a while in the sewage, until the level of radioactivity decreases”. He made a pause again to lick, snapping his lips, a kind of chocolate mousse extracted from a white piece of paper, square and of soft texture, and concluded:
“That would be the glory! As if we were now in Cambodia …”
“Because there has been a succulent civil war in Cambodia, which lasted 25 years. During this period, between 6 and 10 million land mines were planted. The result is that now, every month, between two and three hundred people ‘go into the air’ in Cambodia; and not with airliners. It is the country that – though tiny – has the highest rate of amputations in the world. We must agree, it is an earthly paradise! If there were tourism amongst our species… wow, could you imagine that? Yummy….just the thought of it makes my mouth water! … And the flame-thrower? We could even choose between rare, medium and well done meat”
“There you go with your polyglot exhibitionism…”
“And the experts say it will be necessary about three hundred years to find and disarm all the mines.”
“Why did they plant so many bombs? Wouldn’t a more traditional kind of agriculture be possible?”
“Kiti…You need to read more carefully. No one plants bombs, my darling. They place explosives in the ground! Each rival group, while withdrawing, would spread the mines to … I mean, to wound (he did not approve of dirty language in the mouth of great leaders) his rival group. And since there were many comings and goings in the continuing skirmishes, losing and regaining territories, the result is that the country turned into a vast butcher’s shop, supplying legs, heads and arms in retail. To us, a paradise, because we are very light and we can walk over mines without detonating them. Our Cambodian cousins, those lucky ones, have blood and fresh meat at hand, at all times. It is even causing damage to their liver now, they say, due to excess of iron in their nutrition. It’s just like drunkenness; it gives you that big headache the next day. The ‘very intelligent’ humans, ha! ha!” He laughed, raising his eyebrows, frilling his wings in disdain. “Never thought that one day, the firing would end? Have they forgotten that old definition that they are ‘featherless bipeds’? Since they can’t fly, they tread…and as they tread, they fly.”
“I’ve heard that a horrible little English princess – I think her name was Lady Di– had been campaigning for the ban of land mines. Do you think this misfortune will come upon us as well?”
“Unfortunately she is dead now.”
“Unfortunately?” Kiti opened her wings, surprised. “What is wrong with you? It is a good thing that she died, because this disgusting campaign stopped.”
“You have no vision, Kiti…I say unfortunately because with her death the press started to venerate her, therefore strengthening what she had campaigned for. I’d rather have her alive, only pestering… Alive, she would be less threatening to our cause. They harassed the infamous princess for years and years, keeping an eye on her, taking pictures of her from a distance, criticizing and gossiping all the time. On account of her they had even wanted the fall of the monarchy. Now the wicked reformer died and there you go! They made her a goddess! And here lies the danger for us! Henceforth, in a crisis of consciousness – such a sickening thing among humans – and above all to sell more magazines, the media wants to put into practice her ideas. This is how it works with human beings. It is only after the person is dead – no longer arousing envy on others and also because she is rotting – she is given the right value. All I hope for is that the little English princess, uglier than hygiene – and I’ve heard humans saying seriously, the opposite – does not have posthumous success in her absurd campaign to ban land mines. But even if there isn’t a nuclear war, they will die anyway, only slower, cooked in the slow fire of the greenhouse effect or poisoned by carbonic gas. They are too dumb and ambitious to stop in time.”
“Will we be like that one day too, I mean, with these character flaws like the human beings?”
“Probably…” Glutof sighed. “I’m sorry to inform…But this is the price of civilization”. He felt proud of his statesman’s coldness. “Unless we create a new Ethic, on which I have been working for years, with the deepness everyone can see. To begin with, we need to invent a reinforcement of coercion, a cockroach-god in our image and similarity: hard-shelled, with large antennae, powerful and vengeful. To a chief, president or director, not everyone is bound to obey. But a cockroach-god, with real power over life and death, the planetary cockroaches will fear…and obey. I will talk in private to him – my own self, of course – once a week on the rooftop of a tall building”, he smiled, ironically, closing his owl’s eyes “and then I will transmit to our people the message that only I heard. What do you think about the idea?”
“And do you think our people will believe it, in this divine private colloquium? Our people are more suspicious than the humans, because they have suffered much…”
“They will believe, because it’s good for the soul to believe. One always believes in what one wants to.”
“But do you believe it yourself?”
“Of course not. However, no one will ever be able to prove that I don’t believe it. Unless you open your pretty little mouth, of course; but in that case you know what awaits you. I only sell a truly necessary product. Hope, as long as there is fear in the heart of the cockroaches. It’s mere business. And speaking of fear, the human race is sinking exactly by lack of fear. Their trend right now, the ‘must’, is the deep understanding of the motivation of human actions. The idiots want to ‘understand’, mind you…. Result: they have concluded for example, that it is of no use filling up jails, because jails recover no one. Of course it doesn’t! But does impunity recover him, by any chance? They walk around, like dizzy cockroaches – oops! I meant dizzy humans – not knowing what to do. And rascally they find a way of reconciling an old wish of drawing back from circulation the detestable thief, while at the same time they can praise themselves, saying that they are doing him a great favour, by ‘reeducating him’. Me, once I’m in command of this junk, I already know how I will solve the problem: immediate death penalty to all cockroaches who commit a serious crime. This will indeed be an example. We won’t spend money and time on processes, paper, prisons and specially food. For small infractions we torture the guy, by keeping him in a sickly clean place for a few days. To him it will be like death! He will never want to make any wrongdoing ever again. Otherwise he returns to the cleanliness.”
“My goodness! How much finesse! When you want it, you can be really mean… maybe it would be better to just kill all at once….But how would we kill the most perverted criminals, since we have neither weapons, nor teeth or even hands?”
“We would train rats. They are clever, but dumb. There is a great difference between cleverness and intelligence. All they think about is gnawing and fornication. Unless they also suffer a mutation like ours. Then we will be damned because they have a bigger brain…and teeth…. By the way, I have already instructed our staff to inform me about any radioactive material found in the sewage. We will immediately isolate the area because with radiation, anything could happen. If rats become like us, well, goodbye to our future millennium of glories! They would be the ones who will substitute men in the dominance of Earth.”
“But back to the new restaurant around the corner, you should see the cleanliness of the kitchen! All sparkling! Not even a little dirt capable of…”
“Stop it! Stop it!” He interrupted her, shouting, tapping, shaking, rude, crumbling and throwing away the chocolate-stained toilet paper. “I can’t stand this dirty talk of yours any longer, right at meal time! Do you want to make me throw up?”
“Geez…Did you need to yell like this? Are you disgusted by the cleanliness? What a delicate sensibility…you sound just like a little girl…”
“Hey, you watch your tongue”, his antennae were vibrating with indignation. He had never beaten his wife, but he was about to do it.
Kiti did not get intimidated: “By reading too many human books you’re throwing a poet’s tantrum, all too delicate, sensitive as an ivory tower. Watch out, huh…I know one that became a sissy…”
“What kind of books would you like me to read, you silly? Do cockroaches have publishing houses and printing industry? Now we are smart, of course – so much that the humans don’t even suspect, because we mask it up – but we have to, for the time being, draw the available culture, the one from the humans, until we can elaborate our own, which will be, of course much superior.”
“I said that to upset you….Because you were rude to me.” With her two big antennae, especially gracious on her, she stroke Glutof’s antennae, smoothing them, while at the same time she emitted pheromones that turned him on. But he controlled himself because he found it dangerous to have sex right after sumptuous meals.
“Sweetie…” she asked, tenderly, “why do you read so much? Don’t you think your exaggerate? It can damage your eyesight… And we don’t have yet ophthalmologists among us. Speaking of it, I think you would look neat wearing turtle glasses. A more intellectual look is just impossible. You’re my mouldy bread, my over a year expired ‘doce de coco’ (a kind of Brazilian coconut sweet). There are many hard-shelled scamps out there envying me, you think I don’t know it?”
“I read because in case of a global cataclysm I want to be prepared to organize our species toward the new millennium. We, cockroaches, will not repeat the same human mistakes.”
“What mistakes, my darling? Excuse me, but with or without mistakes, they are on top…They are millenniums ahead of us. Our genetic mutation - thanks to the blessed radioactive dirt that they throw anywhere – is too recent. Humans smash us left and right. Or poison us with those deadly spouts. The other day I almost died, I told you, didn’t I? You would be almost talking to a ghost now. I think I even have remaining sequels. I haven’t been the same; a weird sensation in my lower womb…The housewife, a promiscuous despicable – probably coming back from revelry since she had huge rings round her eyes – as soon as she turned on the kitchen’s light and saw me there, right in the middle, dizzy because of the brightness; she ran to fetch a tube of insecticide. The cruel woman didn’t want to mess her rich shoe sole. At this moment I shot in circles, like a busca-pé [busca = seek +pé = foot (a sort of firework in Brazil, which creeps between the feet, when ignited in a party)] until I remembered that the best would be to escape underneath the door that leads to the backyard. Meanwhile, the killer beast while panting, whirling, and afraid that I would climb on her, tapped a warrior dance, trying to spout the insecticide towards me. Fortunately, it barely hit me, but nevertheless, just with the fog, right away I felt terrible colic. I think I had an abortion…It came out all mixed up. They don’t make mistakes, my dear. The world is theirs; no matter what we do…Up to this day I still regret not having climbed up her legs, up to the end. I would give carefully give a little bite right there. I assure you that the vagabond would faint out of fear!”
“When I talk about making mistakes, Kiti, I’m referring to the human behaviour towards their own fellow humans. They will eliminate themselves, be it by bombing, pollution, or criminality in the streets. We do not need to interfere. One should only wait. In Algeria, some fanatics – who won but did not partake in an election – are beheading hundreds of people in the most remote villages. Victims, including children, who by no means have contributed to the political illegality. They also rape young women. And they kill with axes. Our Algerian cousins are the ones who delight themselves on these evil humans, our forerunners.
“Regarding us”, Glutof proceeded, as he felt specially inspired, “and also the rats, for example – these resistant scoundrels, very clever but short sighted, who also attack us when starving – they, the humans, are very efficient….Well, partly efficient, because I have heard that in the Pentagon building there once was a plague of thousands of American cockroaches, right there, face to face, excellent computer warriors, as they are. Yes humans know how to kill but, fortunately for us, they hate themselves mutually. They love each other during small intervals in life; but, once thwarted, they hate each other. One needs only to disagree and is right away damned. Father hates son and vice-versa. It is amazing.
“Excuse me, but I don’t find it quite so…”, Kiti felt a subtle pleasure every time she found a flaw in Glutof’s arguments. “Some human beings are not aggressive, not even with us. Last week, I and about fifty friends were down on the sewage system’s roof, gossiping, when a worker, from the public system, descended there through a small ladder. Seeing us, just a few centimeters away from his head, he shouted over to his colleagues, who were just above, at road level: ‘Everything is fine, guys! There’s no danger!’And he started working on the sewage pipe, without causing us any damage whatsoever. A saint, an exception. I was touched… I almost flew to his lips to give him a kiss…. Really, humans are astonishing… they are not always evil.”
Glutof smiled, amused with his partner’s candor. “So the pretty girl thought that the man spared you because he liked you? None of that, my darling. He let you alive because the fact that there are cockroaches in the sewage pipe means that there are no toxic gases around. Exactly when there are no cockroaches there lies the danger. If there are, they can work without fear. They only spare us when we’re useful, got it?”
“My God! They do nothing without a selfish motive.” Disconcerted, Kiti scratched her right armpit, as she always did, when she felt ridiculed. “How you know it all, sweetie… Why don’t you, with all this knowledge, organize a mass attack against humans? They are frightful. They eat a lot and have a calm life. I have seen a big man jump like a monkey, panicky, just because there were two cockroaches in his shirt, which he dressed in the dark. Or just because an innocent colleague of ours flew and casually got into an old man’s mouth. He was practicing respiratory exercises, making a deep inhalation movement. It was indeed the death kiss. The poor little thing was spat as if she was a disgusting thing and…crumbled! The scariest of all is that the old man afterwards went off to pray! Can you imagine that?”
“I know that humans are chickens, but they have the technology of death. In a war, we would be defeated. We would only win a few initial skirmishes, by giving them only a few frights. Flying, for example, into their eyes, or into their mouths, or hiding ourselves in the underwear of a few big shots, vibrating our wings near their …. you know where …but that would be all…frights, little things. At most a few infarcts, because these big shots, full of power, pizza, lasagna and ‘filet mignon’ (prime beef) have their tubes – what is the name of it, again? Oh yes, arteries! – Altogether full of fat. Nature was a stepmother for us. We do not even have stingers. If only a mutation towards this was possible….But they occur without any control. Now we do have intelligence, but you have noticed that not everyone has it. We are really far from being able to manipulate genetic engineering. Without hands, little beings that we are, what could we do meanwhile? Just think and organize ourselves. And hope they kill each other, which is almost certain.
“But, my darling, some of them are terrorists, blow themselves up with bombs. They seem idealists.”
“Right, right…but only the silly ones…
“Darling, you talk so much that I get dizzy. I am worried with time…Don’t you think we should be going home right now? Soon the rats will wake up…
“Well, I am starting to feel tired. O. K. Let’s go home.
Entwined, they slowly walked towards the hole down the house’s sink in which they lived. They did not notice that two big famished rats, with evil eyes, were coming right behind them, on their tiptoes, their mouths already watering for the ‘dates’ which they considered as good as eaten.
Kiti, lighter and less greedy, miraculously escaped the attack, but lost two of her legs, an antenna and a wing. She cried, mourning the next day at her husband’s funeral. Or rather, at the two little hairy thighs and one wing’s funeral – all that was left from “Glutof, the Rescuer”, the great leader who had already joined history.
But she was pregnant, and soon, very soon, all those projects of heroes, still dormant in their eggs, would be born, replacing their father in the heroic creation of a new civilization.
(This fable was written some years ago. So it refers to Boris Yeltsin and other facts more mentioned at that time)