It's still there in the runnel of the sliding door in the garage. It took some killing. They always do. I stamped on it then stamped again. Cockroaches are famously durable, individually and collectively.
I have heard they will survive a nuclear blast. I do not doubt it. Out they'll crawl afterwards, shaking their heads a bit, ready to resume their plan for world domination. Their long, slow plan.
October 1979, a bar in Zaragoza, and there's a Scotsman, Dave, with a cheap leather jacket and ill-judged moustache, playing pinball. He proves to be funny, frank, honest, original and we get on and get young-man drunk (though at 22 you do not consider yourself young) and we end up late at night at the boarding house where Dave shares rooms with a long-distance lorry driver. Even from the hallway you can hear the snoring.
Dave opens the door and the snoring becomes crockery-shifting reverberant, rich as a piggery. "Go stand by the sink," says Dave. In the darkness I can just make out a pair of old-style taps. Dave turns on the light. There's a black sink. Then it's a moving black sink. Then it's a white sink. A thousand cockroaches. Gone in seconds. "Joe," says Dave, and he has a distinctive way of pronouncing my name that is not reproducible on paper, "Joe, it's like Wacky Races."
I had a childhood without cockroaches. Cockroaches live on detritus. There was none about at our place.
My mother and middle-class morality saw to that. Cupboards were cleaned. Floors were washed and vacuumed.
But when I went out on my own into adult land I didn't take cleanliness with me, or my mother, and only chosen bits of middle-class morality.
The cockroaches saw and rubbed their little feet together in anticipation and little by little they crept into my world. Or rather I into theirs.
The world where crud gathers in cupboards, and behind and under things, a world unvisited by disinfectant, cloth or pan and brush.
The word cockroach is a corruption of the Spanish cucaracha, and it was in Spain that I first met them. The shared kitchen that came with my rented room at Calle de Gascon de Gotor, had them.
And some months after Wacky Races, Dave and I moved together into a magnificently ramshackle third-floor flat, with holes in the walls you could see to the world through, and the place was cockroach central, a megalopolis of cockroaches.
Though in the daylight hours you would have known nothing of their abundance, their lurking ubiquity, their skulking in and under and behind, were it not for a faint residual smell, neither sweet nor foul, but flirting with the outer edge of nausea. You got used to it.
There was no point in trying to kill them. Their numbers were so great and anyway, there was their famous durability. You could thump one time and again with the heel of a shoe and it would wait for the beating to cease and then just go on its way, apparently unresenting.
There was but one way to be rid of them, to get a passport to leave Cockroachia, and that was to get richer. Money took you places they weren't. Money, as all over the world, bought you freedom.
A species of cockroach in South America has evolved to live on diesel engines. It is unaffected by the heat and noise.
It feeds on emulsified fuel. And because of the vehicles it dwells on, the big rigs and the earth movers and engines that haul the intercontinental trains, it is spreading throughout the Americas and will no doubt find its way here. It may be here already.
Given a toehold, they don't let go. I'm not sure they're meek. I am sure they'll inherit the earth.
And now I've got a dead one in my garage. It's been there several days. I'm surprised others have not been out at night to eat it.
They have to be there. Like Hamlet's sorrows, they come not single spies but in battalions. Somewhere, biding its time, within a few metres of where I sit to type this, there has to be a nest of them. Waiting. Multiplying in the darkness.
I've seen no sign of them in the house. But I am alert, ready, expecting them, and more eager now to fight my corner than I was when young and renting. This is my place. I'll defend it. With shoe. With poison. With ferocity.