over the fire

I managed to grab a shovel quickly, which I lifted high above my head before letting it drop back down, pushing with all the force my arms and back could offer, and sliced it into the top of beetle’s head. The shell cracked a little and a dark pool steadily spread inside, tracing a moving black shape across the flat surface above the brain. I counted to 43 before the first of plenty viscous red blood rose and rolled freely out over the smooth brown shell, pushing a thickening stream back towards the wings. The beetle was now completely still. I pushed the shovel beneath it, taking care not to tear off the end of a feathered leg, and moved the flat metal surface carefully about, just lifting the beetle a centimetre or two from the ground to check it was balanced properly before picking it right up and walking back to the fire. The creature was heavy and I groaned and held my breath in bursts as I stepped through the grass. And then I tipped it back into the metal pan, still bubbling and spitting. I knelt down and watched the flames, and followed the movements of the beetle’s blood as it blackened and hardened in the oil. I’d lost so many of the other insects, I felt sad and angry and confused. Huge slugs had escaped and were lumbering across the garden to the neighbour’s fence. A stick insect was watching me from the branches of the plum tree above, waiting, I felt sure, to hurl its long green body onto mine, clasping me closed and breathless forever. The roach I had carried home so carefully, (so many hours of travelling, so many airports and checkpoints, we had passed through together from Saurimo to Malange to Luanda to Johannesburg to London) had also managed to escape the pan and would surely die in the damp cold winter this city offers up. I could only imagine how my face looked, lit up by the orange flames and the heavy clouds reflecting the halogen lights of the northern region.

And still behind me, the slender man (who had arrived with three women who were all wearing thick red lipstick and whispering) was playing the guitar poorly, and singing the same indulgent song. Everyone else had gone inside. I could hear their laughter, the sounds of men and women who like each other and want to be together. It was at that point that I was overcome with an urgent regret, and wished I hadn’t killed the beetle.

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