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A Stranger in My Bed

By Anamika Mukherjee

Ok, now that I’ve got your undivided attention, here’s the complete story.

To start with, 4 a.m. is not the best time of night to wake me up. That’s just what Amit did night before last, and rudely at that, by turning on the overhead light. I was too sleepy to do anything more than mumble a vague protest and pull the sheet more tightly around myself, trying to return to blessed oblivion.

Cockroach, said Amit urgently. It’s a testament to the powers of sleep that this one word, usually guaranteed to have me jumping 3-feet in the air (a feat which I could under no other circumstances accomplish) – this one potent word had no perceptible effect on me at all.

Thankfully, electricity chose that moment to go off, taking the obtrusive light out of my life. So I immediately went back to deep, deep sleep. For all of one full minute. Then the light returned to my life in the form of Amit, who had managed somehow to get his hands on a functional torch. He was insisting volubly that I get up right away. “Cockroach! Cockroach!!” he said again, trying to galvanize me into action.

Reluctantly, I separated myself from the mattress, turned myself round tortoise-like, and, putting my head where my feet usually rest, I tried desperately to get back to sleep.

In addition to the torch, Amit had armed himself with a shoe – a tennis shoe of his, roughly the size of a small boat. With this sturdy weapon he intended to wage war on the hapless cockroach. Although mostly asleep, I almost felt bad for the wretched creature – easy enough to do, considering I suspected it to belong largely to the realm of imagination.

Mortal combat weapon held firmly in one hand, Amit thrust the torch into my hand, so that he could use his free hand to rearrange our bedroom furniture and furnishings in the hunt for the repulsive roach.

By this time, my best efforts to remain sleep had failed miserably, so I half-heartedly joined in the search. “It can’t be under the mattress,” I reasoned with my better half, trying to prevent him from dislodging it from its usual position. Since it was too heavy for him to shift it while I was lying on it – which I resolutely continued to do – he tried the next best thing: He ripped out the sheet to see whether the miserable insect had managed to get under it, incidentally creating the perfect opportunity for it to do so if it hadn’t yet.

“Oh, there it goes,” I exclaimed hastily, pointing vaguely in the direction of the window and trying surreptitiously to tuck the sheet back in. Amit crawled off in hot pursuit, shoe in one hand, and started violently rattling the curtains.

At this point, electricity returned. I turned off the torch, turned myself right way round in a series of complicated squirmy movements, and drifted off to sleep without further ado.

Yesterday morning I learned that Amit had been unsuccessful in tracking down and murdering the innocent trespasser. Privately, I still suspected he had dreamt the whole thing up.

I had reason to change my mind last night. Sometime in the wee hours of the night, I felt something moving on my right shoulder. Expecting a mosquito, I reached over with my left hand (while still satisfactorily asleep) and brushed it off. It was prickly, just the way a cockroach is. “Yuck,” said my brain in its sleep, refusing to wake up and think any further about the matter. Amit rolled over in his sleep. “He’s probably smothered it, anyway,” said my brain in a fuzzily satisfied manner, before firmly closing down for the night.

This morning there was no sign of the vanishing cockroach. No sign, that is, till I started folding up the bedsheet and suddenly dropped it with the customary screech that accompanies the discovery of a cockroach in waking hours.

There it was, sure enough, flattened, almost motionless and distinctly lacking in joie de vivre, but still somehow alive.

We attacked it in turns, I with a heavy book (sacrilege!) and Amit with his tennis shoe again. Our combined efforts succeeded at last in putting it out of its misery (and us out of ours).

I only hope none of its kinsmen return to share our bed tonight. It’s no fun, I tell you, with a stranger in your bed.

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Copyright 2008 Amit and Anamika Mukherjee. All rights reserved.