Everything matters; or nothing does

I AM angry.

Angry enough to kill. Only a fly, it’s true; but if a human being were annoying me the way this pestilential little insect is, I could kill a human being, too.

I have my fly swat ready. I’m good with a fly swat. My fly swat and I have a dead‑fly tally that makes fly spray look like under-arm deodorant. But they’ve always been those jumbo flies. The ones that cruise in like B52 bombers and treat your thigh like a docking platform.

This is not one of those flies. This fly is an athlete. It is small and wiry and it doesn’t actually bite. It just tickles. And yes, I know it’s very unfair that I can feel more passionate, more deadly, about something that tickles me than about something that bites me and very possibly gives me typhoid or pumps me full of its eggs.

And it’s not even the tickling that I mind. It’s the scream-inducing; frenzy‑developing; blind, black‑rage‑making persistence of the thing that is ruining my coffee break.

I have swatted it with newspapers. I have swatted it with my bare hands. I now have the fly swat and yes, I have now swatted it with that – and I have missed.

It lives. It buzzes. It tickles. It persists.

As a consolation prize I may kill my wife instead. Especially if she says one more time: “Poor little thing. It doesn’t live long anyway.”

“It’s a fly, dearest. You cannot wax sentimental about a fly. They walk through cow dung and dog turds and then they come and walk on us and it’s disgusting.”

“It isn’t walking on us,” she said. “It’s walking on you. It’s winding you up. If you ignore it, it will probably go away.”

“No. If I kill it, it will go away. If I ignore it, it will drive me insane.”

“Yes, I know the feeling.”

“What’s that supposed to mean!”

During the whole of this conversation I took frantic and spasmodic swipes at my fly… I tried to hit an object no bigger than a pea… a small pea… with a weapon the size of a ping pong bat; and I failed. I have bruises on my legs and arms from futile attempts to destroy it. Even my wife has bruises. The end justifies the means.

“I thought we always taught the children to respect living things,” she said.

“Yes… but not… not disgusting things like flies. They don’t count.”

“Everything counts; or nothing does. You said that.”

“WELL I WAS WRONG! And shut up. Look… it’s settled on the tablecloth…”

“Aaaah…. it’s washing itself.”

“Shhh…and don’t be ridiculous.”

I raised the fly swat. My fly was definitely busy. Up to this point it had beamed itself into another dimension whenever I so much as twitched an eyelid; only to return a nano-second later in my ear, or my nostril.

This time, however, I have the fly swat raised. I have manoeuvered it into the airspace directly above my fly. It is about to discover that even a very small pea can’t survive the impact of a fine-meshed fly swat travelling at the speed of sound.

“They have more right to be here than you do, as a species…”


“Not all flies live on excrement…”

“For God’s sake woman…!”

“Well – what are you waiting for? Hit it!… Hit it….

…you can’t do it, can you?”

“Of course I can bloody well do it! It’s just….”

“Just what?”

“It’s just… washing itself, I suppose.”

“Aah! I think that’s rather sweet.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

I went back to work, slamming shut the door and windows so I couldn’t hear her triumphant mockery.