In the World of Cockroaches

A. Vikhrev, In the World of Cockroaches. 1973


Soviet society often met youth fashions with a barely concealed sneer. The mainstream satirical magazine Crocodile was called upon to mock a westernized youth in this all too familiar piece.

Translated by James von Geldern

Original Source: Krokodil (1973).

Goga Tarakanov had been laying on the couch for five hours and was cruelly bored. His tape recorder was disseminating the quacking of jazz around the apartment. Goga was twisting his legs and lazily dreaming about dancing.

Goga’s inactivity had been sanctioned by his mama and papa, who could just not accept the fact that their little had been rejected for college for the third straight year.

“We’ll get there,” his mama furiously told her distant and even close relatives. “Is our boy any worse than the others? He has the same feet, hands, head and everything else.”

The relatives laughed to themselves and hid their eyes. They had their own opinion about Goga’s head.

Every year, Goga flunked the entrance exams brilliantly, like a true master. The other eleven months of the year he surrendered himself to his refined idleness and awaited the next failure.

Suddenly a busy black cockroach appeared on the back of the couch. He raced up to Goga’s ear and said, panting: “The decision has been made. I congratulate you on behalf…”

“What decision?” asked Goga, not in the least surprised by the cockroach’s voice (he didn’t remember from grade school biology where cockroaches could talk).

“It’s well known which,” said the black cockroach with great solemnity, “You may now become a full member of our tribe. The Council of Elders, basing itself on three-years observation, had decided that you fully merit this honor.”

“I didn’t catch that,” yawned Goga. “What, do I have to be a cockroach or can I stay a person?”

“Precisely a cockroach, ” his interlocutor repeated willingly, wiggling his whiskers. “The matter rests in the fact that, holding normal human beings’ way of life in contempt, you have lost the appearance befitting a person. Thus, you will be permitted to join the Grand Fellowship of Domestic Parasites.”

“Stupendous!” said Goga, and came alive. The guys’ll flip out. Only I’m not gonna join the cockroaches by myself. Everyone will be hitting on Sonka when I’m gone. So why don’t you take Sonka too.”

“What Sonka?” the black cockroach was taken aback.

“Sonya Bukarashkina from apartment nine. Who can do a cool Charleston. A groovy chick.”

“We’ll take appropriate measures,” muttered the black cockroach, who understood little from his utterances. “And now it’s time.”

And he tickled Goga’s ear with the end of a whisker.

You, of course, don’t have to believe me, but here’s what happened: there was a soft whistle, and Goga’s size began to quickly shrink. He grew smaller so fast it was if you were hovering over him in a helicopter. All the while he was growing yellow, brown and dark, until he had assumed the complete form of a black, three-centimeter cockroach with luxurious whiskers.

“Let’s run to the Big Crack!” the cockroach wizard yelled to him.

“Okay, pops, let’s buzz,” answered Goga with curiosity as he followed him.

The crack under the floor trim was dark and warm. It smelled of rotting and decay. The cockroaches scurried over to eyeball their new-found brother. Goga held himself with an offhand dignity.

“Hey, roaches,” he said, hopping up, “Who wants to do the twist?”

The roaches didn’t answer, because human language was known only to the wise cockroach wizard, who was the Council of Elders’ special emissary on matter of particular import.

Goga slowly grew accustomed to his silent existence. That, by the way, was no surprise: on one hand, language had not been off much use to him in human society; and on the other hand, the elementary feelings and thoughts of the whiskered parasites around him did not demand an information system more complex than the rustling of whiskers.

At night the cockroaches, after the watchman at the Crack had given the signal, would race off to their business. Goga ransacked the kitchen along with everyone else, searching out bread crumbs and sausage skins. The cockroaches would eat their fill of their catch wherever they found it. They did not drag any provisions back to the Crack for reserves. They lived only for today, or more precisely, tonight. This new life was entirely to Goga’s liking.

Meanwhile, the wise black cockroach had kept his word, and a week later he brought the enchanted Sonya Bukarashkina to the Crack. When she caught sight of Goga she shouted: “What happened to my waist, Garry? And what happened to my high-heeled leathers?”

She sobbed and was ready to break out howling, but the wise black cockroach tactfully gave her to understand that cockroaches do not cry, due to a lack of tear ducts.

Goga’s life became merrier. He and Sonka moved into a far corner of the Little Crack, and when in the evening, the tape player’s yammering melodies could be heard from above, Goga invited his girlfriend to dance. The curious residents of the cracks and clefts ran over to watch the spouses’ strange occupation and, observing an intricate pas, nervously pulled at their whiskers to show their surprise and incomprehension. Hidebound retrogrades, they followed the ways of their ancestors and had no idea of the newest crazes in parasite fashion.

However, the cockroach tribe slowly got used to the strange amusements of Goga and Sonka; the most sportive of them began, at first in secret, and then out in the open to imitate them. Things reached the point that, when the council of elders once announced a mass campaign to repair the Big Crack, dozens of young cockroaches, who were busy dancing and playing blind-man’s-bluff, didn’t answer the signal.

Meanwhile Goga and Sonka, who were absolutely corrupted by the consumerist way of life, became so lazy that they ceased crawling out of the Big Crack at night for their nourishment. They preferred taking bread crumbs and other comestibles that minors had been supplied by their mamas and papas. Even more so, they had come to terms with wandering bedbugs and traded simple kitchen products with them for the delicacies of the dining room.

The behavior of the spouses was the crown of parasitism even for the cockroaches. An ever increasing number of cockroaches began to forget not only their family obligations, but even elementary precautionary rules. They dared to dance in open places, the result of which was that dozens of young individuals perished beneath a mop. Corruption shook the very foundations of cockroach life. The super-parasitic mor»s of Goga and Sonka infected the tribe like the plague. It was threatened with complete degeneration.

An emergency meeting of the council of elders assigned negotiations with Goga and Sonka to the wise black cockroach, with the aim of achieving their consent for a reverse reincarnation into human beings.

Having heard out the demands of the council of elders, the spouses laughed insolently and declared that in no way did they want to leave their warm, dark hole, inasmuch as cockroach life seemed to be the easiest and sunniest in the world …

The black wizard was infuriated and, quickly touching the spouses with his whiskers, magically turned them back into human beings.

And now I see Goga and Sonka. It seems they go dancing at night, and look around themselves like hunted animals; when they sit at a table in a restaurant, blankly staring at their glasses and slobbering on their cigarettes; when they stand by the entrance, shifting from one foot to the other like they were doing the twist; it seems to me then that a fatal longing for the warm, dark cockroach hole smelling of rot and decay has frozen forever in their eyes.

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