Insect aside

BC Pires -
BC Pires -


BC Pires

AN OLD one-liner which, for best comic effect, you should set up with extra, preliminary questions and then leave the last question hanging, so the listener supplies the answer: What do you call the killing of a man? Homicide. What do you call the killing of a brother? Fratricide. Of a father? Patricide. Of a king? Regicide. Of oneself? Suicide.

What do you call the killing of an insect?

Good one, yes, but is there a word for the killing of snails? And is there a special word for the wholesale murder of gastropods? I’d like to know what crime I’m committing.

The rains this week brought the snails out, dozens of them, from scores of hiding places. Cancer, its treatment and its consequences (including staggering weight loss, from 175 lbs to 118 in five weeks) have kept me out of my garden for nearly a year. It’s a big garden and I’m no longer a mesomorph (of a compact and muscular build) with tendencies towards endomorph (soft, round, fatty build). Post-cancer, I’m a short version of ectomorph (lean, delicate, gangly build). They say you can never be too rich or too thin but I’m dangerously close to disproving the latter.

The first time I tried to cut a croton using long-handled clippers after cancer treatment ended in early May, I could have wept in frustration: I simply didn’t have the strength to close the clipper jaws. On a firetrucking croton! I’m much stronger now, powerful enough to saw, by hand, by myself, a 50m-long sea grape hedge down from 10m to 1.5m high (and drag the thick cut branches into the bush 150m away).

But I’ve gained very little weight. I sometimes feel as defenceless as the snails I scoop up and drop into a bucket of saltwater.

Really, it’s not good for a prison guard to develop sympathy for the inmates. It’s like the old one about putting make-up on a pig: it doesn’t help and it annoys the pig.

Every time the snails clatter off the shovel into the bucket, it feels like my heart will drop through what’s left of my stomach. (My surgeon removed two-thirds of my stomach as a hedge against the return of cancer; what remains is so negligible, my surgeon calls it my conduit.)

Towards the end of my gastropod ethnic cleansing this week, I didn’t have the heart to murder the last shovelful of snails I’d gathered. And the bucket was full. So I flung them into the savannah across the road and hoped that, with that gesture, I’d done enough for life generally to put my own specific one in its most karmically advantageous position when my next CT-scan rolls around. Hopefully nothing will light up next month even though I’ve this week delivered my garden’s snail population the equivalent of Hiroshima.

And the next couple o’ weeks of expected rain, and, ergo, likely continuing gastropod-genocide, is not going to help. Nagasaki is looming on the snail horizon.

When I sat in front of the TV to unwind later, something – fate? The Devil? God? My masochism? – made me choose to watch Our Planet II, probably 97-year-old David Attenborough’s last BBC nature special. In episode one, lions surround, chase and kill a buffalo, reminding me of my own afternoon’s worth of killing; but at least the lions ate what they killed.

If you must choke, it’s better to do it on food than guilt.

My stomach – which is to say, my conduit – can’t handle too much food at any one time. The oesophageal and pyloric sphincter valves at the top and end of my former stomach were also removed surgically. Deprived of peristalsis, eating for me, now, is not so much three square meals a day as half-a-dozen shapeless ones. Often, I have to put a half-finished meal into the microwave for an hour before I can finish it. I may be better off with saucers than plates of food.

But the rain will fall and the snails will come out and I will be shocked by their sheer numbers, like a British Home Secretary looking at small boats in the English Channel.

And the actions I’ll have to take, for the benefit of sea grape hedges and zaboca trees, will make me sick to my stomach.

Which is to say, conduit.

BC Pires doesn’t have the guts to deal with plagues of snails


"Insect aside"

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