Stickman Readers' Submissions February 16th, 2006

Metamorphosis

When Harry was five he used to fry ants on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass and pull the wings off moths. So maybe it was a karma thing. Then again maybe it was just one of those days.

He’d already paid the price for the morning’s stupidity of parking his motorcycle by a mango tree. A helmet full of mot deng, big red ants, had left his head smarting from their burning bites. Lek had found it an opportune time
to discuss the culinary aspects, sun dried and salted if he remembered right, as she picked the buggers out. And now the afternoon’s round table had somehow got on to the subject.

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“What about the giant centipedes? Do they eat those?”

“Nok caught one yesterday but it didn’t show up for dinner.”

“Bloody hell, you probably just didn’t know it. They eat everything.”

“Yeah they do don’t they.”

Another round of beer Changs arrived and the table fell silent. Alarmed at the turn of the conversation, Harry squirmed in his chair.

“You okay Harry? You look like you’ve got mot deng in your pants.” There was a ripple of laughter.

“Do they really spray them with insecticides?”

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“That’s a Bangkok rumor.”

“Who could tell with all that chili oil they’re cooked in.”

“Think about it. If you’re living up Isaan way. How else are you going to kill a thousand bugs a day?”

“Eat them fresh and you don’t have to worry boys. A hundred baht says no one’s ever tried yam kai mot deng.”

“Oh come on.”

“Ant salad? That’s choice.”

“No, ant EGG salad.”

“Oh oh, we might be in trouble here. Never saw that one on the menus in Bangkok.” There was a guzzling of Chang and everyone started fishing for some money. Harry watched in dismay as a large beetle slowly inched its way towards
his foot.

“Add a little chili, fish sauce, lime. You get them from the nests in the trees. Woman over in Krabi must have spent two hours preparing it.”

“Glad it’s a cultural thing.”

Lek cruised up and Harry bolted from the table.

“He didn’t even finish his beer.”

On Ao Sane beach past the Yacht Club Hotel Harry flopped down in the sand. His mind started rationalizing. After all the Japanese ate seaweed, the Africans ate worms, the Aborigines ate just about anything, and Thailand… Mercifully, he
drifted off to sleep.

And landed in Bangkok. There was a nighttime blur of flashing lights, dark smiles, burning chilies, and incense flavored air. An echo of Muslim prayers mingled with the tantalizing candles of Buddhist shrines. The sidewalks were choked with
people and vendors. Everything was for sale.

Including the bugs. There were tables piled high with scorpions, beetles, grasshoppers, and grubs waiting to be peppered and splashed with soybean sauce. Yummy treats for those in the know.

“Some of these,” his friend Saunders advised, pointing at the grubs. “You’ll be an instant hit. Just hand them out where ever you go.”

Later on as they sat in one of the beer gardens gulping big bottles of Singha, he passed a fried grasshopper over.

“Come on. Try one. It won’t kill you. This is Bangkok man.”

In the thick soupy night air Harry wasn’t so sure. He grimaced and forced one down.
“It’s a cultural thing old boy,” Saunders smiled, the half leg of a grasshopper stuck to his front tooth.

Then Harry had been retching and running, tripping over wires, pipes, dead dogs, one-legged beggars, and bumping into soup stands. He desperately needed an anchor, something to grab on to. Something he understood.

The hazy image of McDonalds loomed like a heavenly oasis for him. A burger and fries, it would set him right, put his ship back on course. When the tray arrived, he dove frantically into the little paper bags. And each one was brimming with
worms.

He awoke in a pool of sweat face down in the sand. It was blazing hot and felt like the sun was burning through him, its rays strangely magnified. He jerked upright in a dazed stupor and looked down at his chest, half expecting to find a
gaping hole. A loud staccato buzzing racked his brain.

It was Lek. He watched in disbelief as she proudly thrust her prize in front of his nose. “You see?” she said, opening her hands. She turned the bug upside down and spread its wings. “Make noise here.” She poked
at it a couple of times and smiled.
He brushed her aside and stumbled to the ocean. Better just to get away. The soft waves and caress of the water slowly calmed him and after a long swim his mind relaxed. Everything was fine. Yes, the world
had a few idiosyncrasies but it wasn’t so bad. He could deal with it. It was just a matter of coping. Wasn’t it?

Back on shore Lek had a full catch bag. It was okay. She was happy. Harry prudently declined to admire the contents. Then he shivered involuntarily. The loud buzzing was everywhere. It was time to go.

“Look when Armageddon gets going you’ll have no choice. Want to be careful though, old boy. You know that old saying about you are what you eat, especially with this Buddhist karma thing. Wouldn’t want to be coming back
as the odd cockroach you know.” It had been Saunder’s last jaw boning, the grasshopper leg trying to climb out of his mouth.

Harry was forced to ponder its relevance when he emerged from the shower to find a row of de-winged cicadas buzzing angrily at him from the kitchen table. They bobbled back and forth helplessly accusing him of treachery. The panic look on
his face sent Lek scurrying outside.

A few seconds later the chink chink chink of the Thai Cuisinart started up. Mortar and pestle with bugs inside.

“Make what?”

“Make lop.” She shoved the mixture towards him and he backed off.

He tried to make himself scarce in hopes of avoiding the evening’s offering. No such luck. A short while later a small bowl smelling of bean sauce was placed in his hands. It was time to pay the grasshopper or the cicada as it were.
He plugged his nose and consoled himself in the fact that it didn’t look too crunchy.

“Well?”

“Umm, good,” he lied. “Taste like bug.”

Whatever that meant. They stared at one another, her big almond eyes and jet-black hair wild around her face. Whose world was it anyhow? At five years old there hadn’t been any doubts.

But later that night when something crab like clenched onto his mouth while he drank from his bedside water glass, all the doubts in the universe descended on him. He clawed at his face and snapped on the light. The hapless beetle lay wriggling
on the floor. He stomped it to smithereens while little drops of blood splattered on the tile around it. Unbelievably, his lip was split open.

It wasn’t fun after that and he lay on the mattress squirming and twitching, unable to calm down. His nerves were fried, his imagination rampant with horrible crawling things torturing his body. Eventually an almost rhythmic droning
sound came from the friction of the sheet where it rubbed against the mattress from his endless thrashing.

This was how Lek found him. She leaned over, her eyes curious saucers, and within those luminescent globes an alarming vision of the day’s events slowly wove its cocoon around him. He fluttered about helplessly, his voiceless screams
an echo of the night.

Lek poked at him a couple of times and smiled. Then ever so gently she began pulling off his arms.

Stickman's thoughts:

Apologies for no comments on today's submissions. I am having a hellish work at week and just do not have the time to add comments today.


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