It’s been a running joke since we started our journey in Cambodia almost four months ago. Tyrhone’s constant referral to the multitude of bitey critters hell-bent on making his life miserable, which soon became known as the ‘bug update’. Marty coined the term to highlight just how much Tyrhone spoke about, ranted over and lamented about bugs.
I got on the bandwagon too. Soon Marty and I were ganging up on Tyrhone, making light (and fun) of his propensity to attract every mosquito, ant and bug like he was some sort of insect Shangrila, and then fill us in on every detail of his interaction with them, from his unusually raised mosquito bites to a count of sand-fly bites per square inch of flesh, and often, a monologue devoted to his sheer hatred of the blood sucking parasites.
“Bug update!” we’d cry out, laughing whenever Tyrhone cursed or complained or got up and paced around the table at some outdoor restaurant.
To his credit, he’d laugh along too, half-heartedly as he stomped and slapped, frantically applying the repellent that never seemed to work.
I felt for him, I really did. But honestly, I was glad that for once, it wasn’t me being molested by mosquitoes. You see, I had always been a beacon for bites, ever since I was a kid (Mum told me my blood was sweet and strangely, this made me feel better), yet with Tyrhone around, I seemed to escape my itchy fate. It was a relief, I gotta say.
“Don’t scratch!” I’d tell him, like my Mum used to, “You’ll only make them worse!” (a tone of authority in my voice).
You see, as insensitive as it sounds (and is), when it’s not you getting bitten, you don’t really care. You just want them to shut up. They’re ruining dinner.
I tried the ‘sweet blood’ trick, to make him feel special. It didn’t work (obviously his self-esteem wasn’t as easily manipulated as my eleven-year-old self).
On Rabbit Island, Cambodia, the mosquitoes were especially bad. Tyrhone sprayed himself, his clothes and our bungalow. Sleep was really just an insecticide-induced coma.
“Why is our room so bad?” I started to think to myself, wondering why no-one else seemed to be bothered. Had Tyrhone’s obsession and paranoia become contagious? The truth was, everyone else was so stoned or enebriated, they didn’t notice.
The choice was simple, get stoned, or move hostels. And as our days with mood-altering substances were but a distant memory, we moved.
She Who Laughs Last…
A couple of months on, and karma has well and truly caught up with me. I thought I had escaped my bug-addled fate, and instead of being humble and grateful, thanking the gods of six-legged-creatures for sparing me, I laughed at, cajoled and berated my bitten boyfriend.
I was insensitive and impatient, glad not to be in the firing line.
And now, as it has all come full circle, I realise the error of my ways. I was in denial, and arrogantly thought my good luck would continue. It was but a short reprieve, however, one that I didn’t use wisely, for now the bug gods have unleashed a vengeance on me, and are laughing at my shocked expression and welted skin, chanting “bug update! bug update!” in cruel, frenzied taunting.
Still in denial, I absent-mindedly scratched and scratched at the little red bites for the whole bus ride home. I didn’t mention them to Tyrhone of course, after all he was the one that had problems with bugs, not me.
They say you can lie to everyone else, but not yourself. As the welts on my knees and ankles began to bleed and then scab (which made them itchier than ever), I finally reached my point of surrender.
“How did this happen?!” I cried to the bug gods indignantly, in the spirit of ‘don’t you know who I am?’
I mean, I had changed, I wasn’t THAT girl anymore!
Or was I?
All I knew was I couldn’t stop scratching.
I lost all self-respect. Tyrhone looked at me with a mixture of sympathy and smugness like I was hopeless junky.
“Try not to scratch,” he’d say, which I hated.
“But you don’t understand!” I’d bite back, unable to realise that he did.
When he walked out of the room, I dug my nails in, losing myself in the shamefully sublime, orgasmic ecstasy of the forbidden scratch.
The Sting In the Tail (well actually, the foot)
A few days ago, during a walk, a pain in my foot stopped me in my tracks. I looked down and saw a tiny stinger sticking out from my flesh. The cowardly animal hadn’t the decency to stick around, it just stung me and took off (and sting and run, if you like). It looked like a bee sting, so I flicked it out, careful not to squeeze its poison-filled bulb.
A small, whitish welt appeared, but that was all.
The following day, I rode my rickety hired bicycle to my friend’s house, and by the time I got there, my foot had swelled up like fluid-filled balloon.
I remembered back to stepping on a dead bee as a kid, and a similar phenomenon occurred, only it was the bottom of my foot that swelled up, leaving my toes to wiggle in the air without touching the ground.
My friend Mim was on the case. She made me ingest foul-tasting herbs (ancient Burmese remedies), then brought out a grinding stone, on which she began to make a yellow paste out of what I think was turmeric, but I can’t be sure.
Then she applied the paste to my bloated foot, her mother looking on, giving advice.
Soon my foot looked both bloated and gangrenous, thanks to the yellow paste staining my skin. It did feel quite soothing though.
After a few hours, with no sign of real improvement, Mim conceeded that I should get me some drugs.
After an entertaining trip to the pharmacy, where a friendly, albeit nosey male customer got involved, inspecting my inflated foot, I was ‘prescribed’ antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and some sort of cream. Gotta love Thailand, they give you just about anything over-the-counter.
And for the princely sum of $8, I was sent on my limping way, vowing to never, ever again laugh at another one of Tyrhone’s bug updates…
(Well not much, anyway)