Academic journal article Hecate

A Religious Cockroach

Academic journal article Hecate

A Religious Cockroach

Article excerpt

Cockroach phobia is Blattodephobia, a word grafted from phobia on Blattodea, the Order of cockroaches. Phobia for the Order of Compassionates, now a defunct Order of nuns, isn't as simple since the irrational fear is inconstant; some nuns terrorised, others inspired love. Beautiful nuns could give a girl nightmares, anticipating her teens with anorexia. Other nuns became role models for wayward girls who found grace in a contemplative life. The black/brown discipline was useful for the good camouflage that Compassionates and secretive cockroaches need, which is also ambivalent: the winged versus the wingless.

The latter are most benevolent, shuffling in the garden like inconsolable old women perennially in widows' weeds; shying from the light like myopic do-gooders. The former, however, are absolute Valkyries, swooping on the unsuspecting, then splatting indiscriminately on the nape of the neck, or scurrying near a screaming mouth. Wherever winged cockroaches fly, wherever they land, anxieties distress the unwary till the whole scenario is a nervy mess of insecurities.

They teach at the school where Ella Boijie, the newcomer in Grade 5, is phobic about all insects. This gives the only two boys in the class, Gary and Larry, supreme power to terrorise her until she starts fitting. The boys, school yard thugs, are amused by the thick saliva oozing from Ella's mouth when grasshoppers' thorny legs barb her Dutch blond hair, dangling inextricably from her hapless scalp. It's pointless to go screaming to the nuns: apart from flailing the louts when they refuse to be altar boys, nothing changes. Here comes Ella, cradling her honey biscuits; out jump Gary and Larry from behind bushes, waving huge grasshoppers gluey with plumbago, the madonna blue belying their cruel intentions. Eventually, when Ella goes to university to study psychology, she'll have an epiphany of her entomophobia, writing a paper on the possible connection between phobia of boys and terror of insects. Her tutor, always on the lookout for innovative ideas, finds that exciting and encourages Ella to probe other lateral connections, such as the phobia of food with the phobia of authority figures.

Luana Lady, the new German girl's self-imposed alias, is never tormented by the boys. She speaks a little English (Ella cannot, yet) but, more importantly, she's a big fourteen year-old, with an ample bosom. A formidable opponent, imagine Gary and Larry, if provoked. Luana's lunch hour is mainly spent in undulating her hips to a Hawaiian tune lovely Luana Lady ... smile when your dreams go crazy ... that the third migrant girl, starry-eyed Paolina, tries to ape unsuccessfully. All three girls are too old to be in Grade 5, but they're at this level temporarily till their language skills improve. Neither Ella nor Paolina have the gall to tell Luana she has nits in her hair. The voluptuous German is phobic about head and pubic lice, and is most offended if anyone comments on the disinfectant smell she occasionally emanates. How one gets the crabs isn't discussed, except for the tacit understanding that one must have hair "down there" to attract them. Luana and Ella close ranks on Paolina, whose pubis, obviously, is still bald.

One nun humiliated Luana in front of the whole class by making her an example of hair lice infestation. Luana shrinks away from the moustachioed Sister Boniface, attempting to retain her Teutonic self-composure. But insolence is detected, and Luana's whipped with the wide leather strop chained to Boniface's waist (a good whip when chastity is burdensome). The girl submits in tears of humiliation. In the new millennium, Luana Lady will obsessively check her grandchildren's hair for nits, worry incessantly that primary schools are dens for all kinds of parasites, from nits to scabies to ringworm; relieved that new-fangled cures are heavily scented, some with frangipani which makes her nostalgic for hula days. Her fetish with belts, too, reminds her of the intriguing allure of medieval chastity but the memory of being imprisoned in a bell tower for the sake of it, makes her nauseous with fear. …

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