Whenever it rains, slugs seemingly out of nowhere, line up our backyard like beached seals. It started with a black variety, then another the color of butter that I find the hardest to look at. Now there’s a dominant, freckled, grey-brown variety. Apparently, they become more active when it rains because they need moisture to survive and thrive. They usually crawl down the drain and find their way into the kitchen, leaving a shiny trail behind. This evidence of their explorations is the bane of my mother’s life.
Back in primary school, there were flowerbeds full of calla lilies lining the path out of our dorms. During the rainy season, at that sinfully early hour they used to wake us up when there was still dew in the grass, the slugs would cross this path onto a grassy field. It was not uncommon to find one or two squished on the hard cement. I always chalked it up to accidents; I couldn’t imagine anyone tramping them on purpose. That was until a girl – I don’t remember who – on a mission to win my friendship, told me that if you poured salt on them they melted.
The only thing I’d ever watched melt was ice and ice cream, which had of course given me romantic ideas of what this might look like. She was eager to put on a show for me, confident that this would win me over. On the promise of a spectacle, I went along with it. The moment the first grains of salt hit the slug’s body, it recoiled. She poured more and it began flailing in agony as its body melted away. I, never having willfully killed anything for amusement, was horrified! My body went limp. I could neither stop what she had started nor tear my eyes away.
I went about the rest of my day sickened and racked with guilt. Needless to say, I not only declined the offer of friendship from that barbarian, but I also erased her clean from my memory.
Often, I find my mother on the back porch, wrists deftly pouring salt all around, purging. The image of the dying slug all those years ago comes to mind and I am compelled to talk her out of it. I start by doling out the facts, trying to convince her of the importance of slugs. “They’re part of our delicate ecosystem. They feed on mold and compost. They do the important work of breaking down rotting plants.”
My mother remains unmoved. I try to appeal to her empathetic side. “They’re just travellers in search of food and safe passage. If you leave them be, they’ll be gone in within the hour.” Then to convince her of their harmlessness I add, “Haven’t you heard that some people eat them? In fact, they’re not just food, they’re a delicacy.” At which point she’ll stop me from going further, her skin crawling from just the thought of it.
I decide to change tact and lather on a layer of guilt for good measure. “All living organisms have a place on earth. We ought to co-exist with them.”
When that doesn’t work I cajole her with visceral images. I paint the picture of a world in which we had to share the earth with bigger creatures who find our hairlessness as weird as we find it in sphynxes. “Imagine if they showered us with acid and then scraped away our sloshy remains just because they think we look repulsive. Wouldn’t that be awful?”
My sister, sympathetic to us both, straddles the middle. She takes no allies; she is Switzerland. My mother is more determined than ever. She scours the internet for hacks, but her efforts are hampered because many helpful blogs also unhelpfully litter their posts with high-resolution pictures of the very creatures she can’t stand to see. Still, she reads that crashed eggshells might do the trick. I find that equally barbaric. Then she learns that they are repelled by the smell of coffee grounds.
The next time I find her tossing ground coffee in the backyard like a flower girl at a wedding. Excited to rid herself of the scourge of the slugs for good. The slugs are undeterred and unrelenting. They must eat. They must journey to survive. She returns to the salt solution, my protests be damned.
Whenever she spots them, she is sure to call out, “Wanjiru, your friends are here!”
“Are you still pouring salt?” I half ask, half plead. This is the position I find myself in – reluctant advocate and friend of the slugs. She looks at me with unwavering resolve, like Daenerys in the final season of Game of Thrones when the city of King’s Landing rings the bells and raises the gates in surrender, and she burns it all to the ground anyway.
She has since found an organic way to control them – using smell as a repellant – and we’re all happier for it.
Last week I wrote about what I’ve been reading. I finished The Vegetarian by Han Kang and moved on to If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha. It follows the lives of four female narrators in modern-day South Korea, tackling the subjects of out-of-reach beauty standards, money and class, and gender inequality among others. It’s a fast and easy read. I always enjoy books that offer glimpses into the hidden inner thought life of their characters – the things they don’t say aloud, the emotions they only show in front of bathroom mirrors. If I Had Your Face does just that. It fed my curiosity though I thought it came to an abrupt and not entirely satisfying end. Still, it’s worth a try.
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