Illustration by Aanchal Thapa

It all started, as stories do, when I met a boy a couple of months ago. When the inevitable happened and we lay on my bed, he said romantically, “Something’s biting me.” My experience of boys being that they are a delicate tribe, I mumbled dismissively that there were many hullas in the house. Whereupon he corrected my pronunciation to ‘hula’ and we left it at that.

That was the first time the bedbugs made their appearance.

You see, I have this Couch. My cousin’s wife’s mother gave it to me. It’s more therapeutic than Freud’s original one: I live on it; I drink, eat and sleep on it; and I would wear adult diapers on it if it meant I could also still have friends. Anyone with any rational common sense would say that I am under its spell, but I am not superstitious when it doesn’t suit me. When I sleep on anything other than this wondrous universe-unto-itself, my neck is sprained, my sinuses collect phlegm, I sneeze, I wheeze. I have the most marvellous psychosomatic symptoms. I call myself a Buddhist on Facebook, but I cannot imagine my life without this couch. However, here’s the hamartia in my happy couch story: it is very very prone to bedbugs.

Illustration by Aanchal Thapa
Illustration by Aanchal Thapa

For a few weeks I saw a particular type of insect crawling around on my body and thought nothing of it. I take very strong psychiatric drugs, the kind you could only dream of getting on a non-existent black market. And they ensure deep slumber. However, these bedbugs were finally able to pierce through the fog and wake me up one day. They were all over me, biting hard: my hair, my neck, my back, my thighs, my armpits, my groin. Especially my groin. I tried for days to figure out why the perverts went after me down there every day. But though I plumbed the depths of the couch oracle, no answer was forthcoming. It was the first time the couch had failed me.

I have an aversion towards all things action. If the alternative to being bitten entails calling pest control, tearing the couch apart, boiling my clothes, sunning my mattresses, and worst of all, having a (shudder) b-a-t-h, I prefer being bitten. So I sat and got bitten for some days. Then I realized that the universe had finally found a way to wake me up, and I reluctantly called pest control. And yes, they turned up and sprayed the house. Eight hours later, when I was allowed to re-enter the house, I saw them: row upon row of dead insect, looking so helpless in death as I will one day, and I felt guilty about using chemical UFM* against them, as IGNOU calls it.

Not so guilty, however, when I tried to sleep and lo and behold! There they were again.

So the pest control came again. And the bedbugs came back again, but not so merrily. I learned to spot them, catch them, and drown them. The pest control told me that the eggs are in their blood, so if you squish them to death, they will be reborn hundredfold. I kept a mug of water next to my bed for days and forced myself to watch them struggle in the water before they finally stopped moving. To assuage the guilt I told myself that I, too, will die like that one day.

Then the pest control came again last week. By then I’d taken the entire house apart, reduced the couch to its component parts, sunned and boiled everything (including myself, alas), and soaked all my clothes fifty times over. The pest control, unsuccessfully suppressing their grins, tried to be more thorough, which means they opened the kitchen cupboards and sprayed pesticide into them.

That’s when they found the wood-bore termites.

They’d left neat little heaps of wood shavings everywhere, creating a miniature drumlin landscape on the kitchen shelves. The pest control guy giggled with girlish glee and immediately threw numbers at me, with an alarming number of zeroes attached. I politely declined and wrung my hands behind his back. Some irrational part of me feels that he created this problem by opening the damn cupboard. (I live by the motto “What you don’t see doesn’t exist.”)

I’m not optimistic about the effects of that last spray. Now I am waiting for the third set of bedbug eggs to hatch, waiting for that familiar first bite from the Slough of Despond that my couch has become. Sometimes I feel a few bites on my scalp but my mother says it must be lice.

I have never prayed so hard for lice.

*UFM = UnFair Means (= cheating in exams).

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Sneha Rajaram

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