Last night, I was sitting with my friend Niall outside his bar, listening to the women chat at the lady bar next door. There was a cheer on the other side of the potted hedges, and then a cockroach ran across our side of the sidewalk, followed by two and then several more. We stayed in our seats for the first few, but began stamping, and then a roach ran over my foot and I jumped out of my chair. Niall called his cat to come and hunt them, but she panicked and snuck away inside to hide under a table, where she stared at us wide-eyed.
Meanwhile more cockroaches emerged from between the hedge pots and out of the loose bricks between the gutters and the buildings. I smashed three or four; Niall brought his foot down on two. Niall said they had probably sprayed next door, and he went inside to get a can of pesticide to send them back. The roaches had found their way back into the cracks in our side, and stopped scurrying under our feet, so we sat down and went back to talking.
And then I felt a soft tap on my shoulder, like a leaf from the tree above our heads, and Niall cried, “Jessica – !” and sprang forward to jab at me, and then I heard a rustle by my ear. I got up again so that I could find it where it had fallen to the ground and crush it before it escaped, but Niall said that it had already flown away.
My second stint at the center, we were delivered three large boxes of donation books collected by a friendly organization. They were whatever the expats had given up – a small collection of children’s books, a lot of Man-Booker also-rans in trade paper, many suspense and nuclear-threat novels in mass market. Half were in good condition, but many were fly-spotted and covered with mouse shit and mildew stains, eaten at the corners, paper roughened and darkening. I traded the healthier books for credit at the used book store, so I could buy some gently used picture books, and we threw away the rest.
(A dozen or so Douglas Preston and Fay Weldon novels have appeared, as though by magic, on the shelves of the NGO library. I don’t know who brought them or kept them. They haven’t been touched, and are stationed high above the children’s heads, and each has a thick yellow fronting of dust to match the dust that has settled on the shelf against the bottom edges of their spines.)
In the boxes were also thirty or so cockroaches, which scattered before us when we lifted the flaps back. We didn’t manage to kill more than a few. The rest we saw at intervals through the morning and afternoon, carefully making their way into new homes.