My Night of the Scorpions

The year was 1988; the season , winter;
The place, Jehanabad, my first District.

It was a cold November , a new house,
Unfinished , draughty , full of mosquitoes;
A garden only started , and large grounds,
Planted with mustard, wheat, blue- flowered flax,
And fruit trees.

It was my first night in the cold wet house
Of which I was the first inhabitant ,
And I had washed my long and thick dark hair,
That lay a- tangle on my snowy pillow,
On my newly-assembled wooden bed
That was yet to be finished, polished, painted,
Just like the doors and windows of the house .

Disturbed by mosquitoes , from whom protection
Was seen by my house-staff as shuttered doors and windows ,
And suffocating smoke from smouldering coals
In an old mortar-pan , an iron basket.
Just short of death from carbon – monoxide .
I woke from fitful sleep , to find in horror,
A pitch-black scorpion tangled in my hair,
It’s pincers tugging at my dusky locks,
In dreadful camouflage. Somehow,
The soft and snowy whiteness of the pillow ,
Made it look all the more grotesque ,
And for a minute , my throat just dried up.

I stared in horror , willed my voice to rise :
I screamed , and the night guard , Bartholomew
And cook , Ramesh , came running
And then stared,
In horror, as I whispered of the threat
Of the venomous tail , that half- looped forward .

Then Ramesh stole out , and came back with tongs
From the kitchen , and in a lightning move
Pulled off the arachnid , with a good bit
Of my long hair , before I even knew it,
And flung it fast into the fire-pan
Where Bartholomew killed it with his stick,
And then they took the iron-basket out ,
And threw the contents on the rubbish heap .

Shaking, I sat brushing my drying hair,
While both the men then stripped my bed of linen,
And sprayed it with strong liquid DDT,
And shook it till the scorpion’s nest fell out,
Packed tight with over a dozen baby scorpions,
Tiny and pale and dreadful replicas,
Stunning in number, as in their perfection,
White copies of their black and hard- cased mother,
Still vulnerable , still minus their shells,
And almost paper thin, but each distinct ,
With clearly-formed front-pincers and sting-tails.

Reader, I am not Pound , or DH Lawrence,
Or David Attenborough , or Jane Goodall,
Or even Gerald Durrell : I was glad
To see the end of these venomous pests .
I gave away that bed, and for a year,
Slept only on metal-rod woven camp- beds,
And called in Pest Control to clear the house
Of any cousins of the scorpion.

Reader , I am not proud ,
and I’ll say this of scorpions :
I don’t care if I never see one again ,
And , thank God , so far, I haven’t .

( Amita Sarjit Ahluwalia )

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