I came home after dark last night. A flat tire turned a 30-minute bike ride into an hour-long walk. Sweaty, hungry, I kicked off my shoes at the door, eager to shower and make dinner. I was still listening to my audio book when I flipped on the bathroom light and leaped backward in surprise. A beetle or cockroach – I didn’t get a good look – scampered under the sink.
I poked my head out from behind the door, using it as a shield. The insect didn’t reemerge. I skirted the edge of the bathroom, practically pressing myself against the wall to get as far away from the sink as possible. I undressed quickly and conducted a ten-point search before entering the shower. My gaze never left the bottom of the shower door, lest the bug try to sneak up on me while I was slippery and naked and vulnerable. What if it had friends, poised and ready to attack when given the signal? What if it took flight and launched itself at me like a creepy little missile? What if it crawled on me?
The evening transpired as usual: cooked dinner, watched Netflix, folded laundry, and no tiny trespasser to be seen. I was, however, extra careful when making my way up to the bedroom, shaking out my sheets and peeking under the mattress. I awoke with no evidence of having been devoured while I slept.
This morning, when I continued to tread cautiously around my own house, I realized I was being ridiculous. This little bug could have been under the sink the entire time I’ve lived here and I never worried about it. I see a single insect one time and suddenly no part of my house is safe? What was I so scared of?
We might be able to cohabitate peacefully. I gave him a name: what else but Kafka? Now that he had an identity, I started to imagine him with sentience, and then with a life of his own.
Kafka, wearing a police hat and wielding a baton, patroling the darkened house, shining a little flashlight into the house’s tiniest nooks and crannies and, snapping his mandibles, telling the spiders to scram! (I wish he wouldn’t do this. The spiders and I are now on fair terms.) After his rounds, he sits at his post by my front door, drinking a steaming cup of coffee and unfolding yesterday’s paper. Occasionally, he looks down at his wristwatch, ensuring he is ready at the top of the hour for his next round. Time moves slowly through the dark and cool and quiet of the night.
Kafka, sensing that he has overstayed his welcome, packing a tiny knapsack. He takes one last look at my house before crawling to the train station in the light of a humid September dawn. He is on a journey around Japan to discover himself, but he takes the time to put photos in the mail: at the peak of Mt. Fuji, leaning against his walking stick; dressed in a samurai costume and brandishing a little katana with historic Kyoto in the background; holding up a cup of sake in a Sapporo onsen, surrounded by steam and mist. He returns to my house, almost a year later, and realizes there is nothing left for him here. Wordlessly, he turns to leave. Though there is a tear in his eye, it is not enough to extinguish the spark of hope in his heart.
Kafka, transforming into a human. He becomes handsome senator with a passion for justice and equality. He is immediately captivated by my charm and intelligence and begs to take me away from this life. One morning, he strides into the White House and demands that I be released from the military. The president, of course, has heard of my daring naval exploits and is hesitant to terminate my contract. Eventually, after much negotiating, he relents. I go on to become a brilliant and well-published professor of philosophy. Meanwhile, Kafka balances his political career with raising half a dozen foster children. Not once do I suspect that he was once a creepy little bug. In our twilight years, he, too, forgets, recalling only the enormous joys and miseries of a thoroughly human life.
Is this silly? Yes, clearly. But so is sleeping with one eye open and tip-toeing around my own house because of an insect the size of a tootsie roll. His little presence hasn’t affected my life at all. I can’t control under whose sink he decides to hide. So, in my own imaginings, why not choose laughter over fear?