When the pest guy arrived, I liked him immediately. I like anyone with a baseball cap with the slogan “Fatal from the first feed.”
In the past month I’ve had dozens, perhaps hundreds, of house guests. And now I’ve had them all killed.
Yes! We had bed bugs! Don’t you feel itchy just thinking about it?
It started with a cluster of three raspberry-red bites dotted on my abdomen. The next day there were more, often in groups of three where it seems I’d been breakfast, lunch and dinner.
They kept appearing, usually in the morning, despite a frenzy of vacuuming, hot-washing, mattressuplifting, seam-checking and under-the-breathswearing. Those wingless little suckers were playing me like a cheap piano!
I hadn’t found any actual bugs but I was convinced we had them, so a week later I called a pest controller to come and perform an exorcism in the house. I didn’t care if he used a crucifix, a blowtorch or a burning faggot of sage leaves; I’d had enough.
You see, this wasn’t the first time I’d been attacked. Ten years ago in a guest house in Germany, I woke up to dozens of angry welts all over my torso. These were coin-sized discs with a hard, clear centre, which wouldn’t budge for a fortnight. Are you feeling itchy now?
“Look at these!” I hissed to my travelling companion. “This room must have bed bugs!” She was horrified.
“We have to move,” I said. She was more horrified. We could not, under any circumstances, offend our hosts. Let the record show that I would rather I be eaten alive than upset people, so I wrapped myself in a sleeping bag and slept on top of the bedding for the rest of the stay, stinking of calamine lotion.
Looking back we did the right thing because, you know, Germany. (I’m allowed to joke about the Germans because half my family is German, and when I was a child they would switch to Deutsch to talk discreetly about Christmas presents, cystitis or divorce. We also ate a lot of meatballs.)
Actually I’m crushing on Germany at the moment because Angela Merkel is the only European leader who seems compassionate as well as clever, is neither corrupt nor inclined toward extra-marital affairs and, using the international language of the single raised eyebrow, reduced Trump to the turnip he is at their White House photo call last month.
I also love that photo of her at the negotiating table giving Ivanka the side-eye, which proved that never does a poodle look more like a poodle than when it’s sitting beside a rottweiler.
When the pest guy arrived, I liked him immediately. I like anyone who wears a baseball cap with the slogan FATAL FROM THE FIRST FEED.
I explained what had happened and he nodded with recognition. Bed bugs, he said, were on the rise in Wellington. We’d made a naive mistake by storing suitcases under our bed. Bed bugs are mighty travellers, apparently – unlike me, whose passport expired five years ago. They’d likely hitched a ride from some hotel, and may have dug into our skirting boards as distantly as six months ago.
I was relieved there was a solution. I liked hearing the percussive squirt of his spray tank in the bedroom. Thanks to him I would once more become mistress of my dominion. At the moment I was sleeping on the couch and scratching myself like a family dog.
“Insects don’t like me,” he said, rather redundantly, as he sprayed. He’d been doing this for 25 years and was hardly ever bitten.
Apparently some people are tastier than others, and I’m one of them. “It’s your European genes,” he said (always, always the Germans). He also said that of all the fly species in New Zealand, only two bite; the West Coast sandfly, and the Wellington one.
So here I am, halfway around the world from my genetic roots, unable to escape them. And of all the cities in all the world, I choose the one with biting flies.
He didn’t actually find a bed bug; just something that may have been one. But it’s reassuring, isn’t it, to think I may have held the hordes at bay? Created a mustard gas haven in my house? I haven’t ceded power; I’ve taken back my territory, even if my fears were in my own head (but the bites; what could explain the bites?). I’d given nature a lethal serve, and the game was mine to win.
Half the house is shrouded in sheets and there’s an inert calm here, now that everything’s dead.
“Be vigilant,” were his parting words as he packed to leave. I watched him go and so did the neighbourhood cat, who was on its usual circuit going round the houses, looking for an inviting spot of sunshine on a soft bed. Lately, ours.
“I will!” I said, by way of goodbye, and the moggy sauntered in.
“Using the international language of the single raised eyebrow, Angela Merkel reduced Trump to the turnip he is.”