In the chirping evening silence, the warm air from the summer day kind of hung in the house like a spider web hangs in the musty attic: and that’s how the day felt, musty and warm and stifling. Katydids and bullfrogs called from outside, and the bougainvillea at the window bloomed gently in the evening twilight.
Strangely, bugs seem to be attracted to the house lights and the residual heat of the day and on this particular evening, the bug du jour was a praying mantis.
Small but malevolent, the razor-bladed mantis whirred in on translucent wings and gently rested on the wall just above my desk. Probably hoping for a meal, this misadventuring alien in the world of concrete and glass was (after I gathered up the courage to make my move) hastily detained and set aside in a jar I had lying nearby. I don’t like insects, and I therefore purposefully avoided looking at it: it regarded me coolly with its bug eyes and continued clearing the remains of a past kill from its forelegs. The fluted pattern in the jar magnified those eyes and gave the mantis an ominous appearance: all the more reason to stop looking at it. I looked away, but its flickering attempts to escape kept drawing my eye. Now it started pacing in its cage, closely examining the impenetrable glass, as if searching for an escape. I threw a cloth over the jar. But now I don’t know if it has escaped or not. Can it escape from the jar? Will it suddenly develop super bug strength and knock the jar over? Am I letting my imagination get the better of me?
The answer to all three is yes, as I found out: The mantis managed to squeeze out from under the jar through the gap I didn’t know was there until now and was now looking at me from a fold in the cloth that covered the jar. It looked pissed that I had locked it up and kept it beneath a cloth. But I really couldn’t bring myself to get near enough to pick it up and put it through the window and onto the bougainvillea from whence it came. I’d explain this to the thing, but after all, it’s a bug. So it’s standing there and watching me. I was frozen in my chair: at any time it might take flight and become all unpredictable again and get in my hair or land on my face and sink its bug-leg spears into me and eat me alive. It started to nonchalantly wander across my desk, taking in the pile of textbooks on the corner, a dirty coffee mug, the rings on the desk left by said coffee mug, and, eventually, an innocent little fly, sitting on the edge of the desk.
I held my breath, it was a crucial moment: I was enraptured by the horribleness of the situation. Judging by the size of the fly, it was quite immature. The young flies seem more curious that their world-wise, older counterparts. Perhaps they don’t know what can or can’t kill them. You can wave your hand and they fly much later than an older one will. Perhaps they are curious. At any rate, curiosity will kill this fly. It just stood there, minding its own business, rubbing its legs together and spreading its payload of fly-germs while the mantis approached.
As the fly stopped rubbing and suspiciously stirred, the mantis stopped dead and did its best ‘I am a leaf or a branch or a plant or something of that kind’ impression: the foolish fly fell for it, and continued grooming itself. Suddenly, with a flurry of wings and razor-bladed forelegs, the fly was impaled. I watched in morbid fascination as the mantis settled down and began carving slices off of the fly’s (still sickeningly squirming) body. Apparently flies are delicious, and it wasn’t long before the mantis had eaten its fill and apparently decided to bring a fly dinner home for the wife and kids. He readied himself, and leaped off the desk, and vanished through the window in a blur of wingbeats.
I released a breath I had long forgotten about holding in the first place. I was safe, the mantis was gone.