I was a cockroach. We were all cockroaches, which is probably why we didn’t notice. We all looked alike, terrible, scurrying between snow banks and subsisting on postage stamp glue, our brown carapaces fading, fading into the gray of what felt like a nuclear winter. This was all quite mysterious and strange, until the sun came out.
I was just riding along, commuting, when it happened. I changed back into a person.
Neil had said that I should take the road bike, that I deserved it, but I am a creature of habit. I’ve been on 32s, since the ice pulled away from the roadsides. Call it a lingering adaptation to my environs. I know I’d be faster on 25s, and the speed might have hastened the change, but I tend to think the simple alchemy of bicycle and sunshine did the trick.
I grew up in the Deep South, the soup-thick air and mouldering corners of everything providing the perfect home for Blattaria of many ilk and orders, like Kafka’s poor, desperate, alienated Gregor Samsa, a character I began to resemble the deeper February’s frozen bounty became.
I think about our shed, growing up, the light flipping on. I always kept my body outside, reaching around the corner to the switch to protect myself from the creeping awful inside. A count of three was usually enough to allow the roaches to cover whatever ground lay between them and a hiding place. This was a sort of agreement we had. I stood back and allowed them to scurry and they didn’t fly at my head, as they would if I just stormed in, cavalier and ignorant of the joys of picking large, frenzied bugs out of my hair.
When Spring came to New England, one day last week, we were all transformed. For me, the moment came on Orchard Street, pedaling along, flying really, for the first time in months. I picked my head up and looked at the sun, almost directly into it, so that a blue haze formed at the edges of my vision, and I smiled an unconscious smile, the idiot grin of unbidden happiness.
It was Kafka in reverse, where a cockroach comes to life, gains hope, and becomes human quite unexpectedly, one unremarkable morning while minding his own business, riding a bike.