From under the sheets, Chelsi smoothed the blankets over the bed before reaching down to hoist up Daisy. “Come on, you gotta work with me,” Daisy wiggled a little bit away every time Chelsi reached out for her. “Yeah, and as soon as I get tucked in you’re gonna start crying to come up here.” Reaching out her arm just a little more by pulling aside her mosquito net, Chelsi was able to get her around the center and pull her up on the bed. Daisy immediately went to settle herself on the stack of pillows, but Chelsi, not so subtly, pushed her down to the foot of the bed. The puppy curled up resting her head on Chelsi’s foot, her tail thumping against the wall as she closed her eyes. “Spoiled, that’s what you are.” By morning Daisy’s head would be resting next to hers on the pillow.
Her bed was what was referred to as a ¾ size, and boarded by walls on three sides. The space which was referred to as her “bedroom” could not have fit a second one. To compound the claustrophobic feeling of the room every night Chelsi diligently tucked her mosquito net deep into her bed frame. Bed nets were compulsory for volunteers, a measure against malaria, but more so a measure against mosquitos coming and biting up your face while you slept. Not to say a few would not slip in as you settled yourself, but certainly better that nothing.
She turned off the headlamp she kept next to her pillow and the claustrophobic feeling began to dissipate. 22:00 hours, this was one of her favorite times of the day. Having bathed, eaten and spent the day in the field she was ready to fully enjoy some quiet time. And this day had been a particularly trying one, having been the first one out of the house after being ill, her bicycle tire exploded on her way to her first program at a school about an hour away and she spent the rest of time running around canceling her programs and trying to get a spare tube. She flicked the screen of her phone on. But now, with the village sleeping, no appointments for at least ten hours and all tucked in her bed nothing could go wrong. She opened the reading app on her phone and scooted down under the blankets. She would read for about an hour, before she was too tired to keep her eyes open and her phone fell out of her hand.
As tired as she could be, it was rare she slept through the night. Either she would have to pee, or the puppy would have to pee, or a mouse would start rustling through empty grocery bags, there would always be something. Tonight it was the sound of crackling. She had heard a fire burning in the bush behind her house just before falling asleep, but this sounded too close. She looked at her watch, 02:20. Crap, she though while trying to clear the fuzziness from her mind, my roof is on fire. But, just as the ‘why me?’ feeling started to set in, it stopped.
If her roof was in fact on fire, a lot of her problems would be solved. In three months not a single repair to her house had been made despite her complaints and pressure. And, if the house were to simply burn down, then they would have to come build me another one, one with a door frame tall enough so I don’t keep hitting my head. Sleep began to drift back over her, the crackling like a soothing white noise machine, when her eyes snapped open. I should move some of my things out of the house before the fire gets too bad. Not enough to make people think she set the fire herself she reasoned, but here she was lucky enough to have some advance warning, she should take advantage of it. Sitting up, she started pulling the mosquito net out of the bedframe. First, go outside and see what damage has already been done. When her feet hit the ground she stood up and reached out for a chitenge to wrap herself in. Heading towards the door in the dark the ‘why me?’ feeling flickered back a little as her feet began to itch; like she had just stepped on a couple of the fuzzy caterpillars that make people break out in hives. She waded up the chitenge and tried to brush them off her feet but as the feeling spread she stopped. She imagined that her best attempts to shake them off were just spreading the fuzzy stuff. Stepping away from the door and towards the light hanging from the ceiling she thought, I don’t have time for this. The light flicked on.
A roof fire would have been a pain, but a blessing in disguise, the caterpillars would make her itchy, but she had antihistamines for that, but this?
“What the fuck!” her feet began to burn though there were no caterpillars. Her scalp began to burn but she did not need to look to know there was no roof fire. She tried to use the chitenge again to brush off her feet and legs, which were covered in impazhi.
Impazhi are like a cross between fire ants and army ant, but with a taste for blood. They were the reason Chelsi advised her farmers to build their rabbit hutches a meter off the ground and to sink the legs in bucket of motor oil, “because impazhi will come and eat you rabbits alive.” She imagined baby birds and other slow, docile creatures might be subject to the same fate without precaution; maybe even humans. Her attempt to use the chitenge to brush them off was futile, the ones that were already latch on would have to have their jaws broken first, and the chitenge itself what covered with them. The floor was covered with them, the walls where covered with them; little black and red devils crawling over her house. “Ah, fucking damn it.”
She was annoyed, but she knew this was not her end. After all she was not the first volunteer to have the house flooded with impazhi. They are roving creatures, constantly on the hunt, a one way street with them, and when they come across something in their path they do not got around it, they over take it. Tonight Chelsi’s house, her sad, little house had been in their path, and they were over taking it. That was the crackling sound in her roof. For every one she saw on the floor she figured there had to be a hundred more in the roof. And as if any more evidence was needed, they were falling out of the roof and into her hair.
She reached up and turned off the light and walked back to the bedroom on her heels. The bedroom floor was less infested. She figure most of them where coming from under the door frame and they would have had to make a 90 degree turn at just the right spot to make it in there. Vicious creatures but not the most self-aware. She did not need light to know where she had impazhi to pick off herself and as soon as she felt less stinging and burning she crawled back under her bed net. Clicking on the head lamp to ensure she did not crush her puppy she saw that a few had made it up under the bed net while she was in the other room and were going after Daisy. Chelsi hastily stuffed the bed net back into the bed frame to stop the flow and help Daisy with the ones that had crawled between her paw pads.
There was nothing she could do except wait, and hope they would be gone by morning. She flicked the screen of her phone on, 03:10 hours. She turned on some music to drown out the crackling in the roof and closed her eyes. Daisy’s whiskers tickled her cheek and she reached her arm around to rub the puppy’s belly. “You are so spoiled.”