One morning Katie F woke from restless dreams to find herself transformed into a gigantic cockroach. She lay on her back, and wondered what was going on. Although her body was still a bright orange colour, it was now quite hard and shiny, with two bands near the abdomen. Her many legs, thin as wires compared to the rest of her, waved feebly as she looked.
“What’s happened to me?” she thought.
It wasn’t a dream. Her room, a proper human room, was just as it had always been. A collection of newspapers lay spread out on the table – for Katie F was a celebrity – and above it was a magazine portrait which she had framed in a nice gilded frame, showing a woman with dyed blonde hair, blue eyes, a big pearl necklace and large white teeth smiling at the viewer in a way that was neither friendly nor inviting. This was Katie F herself, and she was proud of it.
“Got to get up,” she said to herself. Her body was not well-adapted to standing upright, but she had two daughters to take to school, and couldn’t lie around. It was a very expensive school, where all the girls had nice names like Arabella and Letitia, and were so respectful of teachers that they stood frozen against the corridor walls when one passed by, never raising their eyes.
“Perhaps they won’t notice my looking like this,” she thought. “After all, I am their mother.”
It was easy to throw off the duvet, because it was made from goose feathers, but harder to roll over. She lay there, waving her little legs quite helplessly for a while, and contracting her abdomen just as she had learnt to do in the zumba class until, somehow, she slid off the bed and landed quite hard on the floor. It hurt, but there was no gain without pain, and now she was onto her many feet it was all systems go. Good heavens, was that the time? With an effort to stand on her back legs, Katie F made her way to the wardrobe where her clothes were. It was challenging to get the door open, but she did, and then she began squeezing her hard orange body into her usual top-range designer outfit for the school run.
In the end, she managed it all quite well, thanks to some enormous dark glasses, headphones and bright pink lipstick, although she had no shoes for her six feet and her long antennae had to be kept back with a headband. She got out cereal and milk, but was unable to eat any herself, because cockroaches dislike milk. Her daughters were so good that they ate up all their breakfast without looking up once from their plates, and didn’t notice when Katie F suddenly plunged her head in the rubbish bin and ate up all the left-over food there. It was strange behaviour from a respectable middle-class person like herself, but when she finished, she felt very pleased because she had made sure that nothing had been wasted, which was more than could be said for the people who got disgustingly fat on fast food.
Getting the car going was easier than expected, too. It had power steering that responded to the touch of Katie F’s little legs, and she was able to open it electronically with a touch of her antennae. She liked the feeling of being in a darker, more enclosed space, and it didn’t matter that once or twice she nearly knocked over a cyclist on the road, as her car was built like a tank. All she had to do was to pull up on the zig-zag yellow lines and drop the girls off.
“Great tan!” called another mother. “Is that coat Prada?”
Katie F nodded. Nobody noticed anything different about her, which proved that all you needed to succeed was confidence.
As soon as she got home, her mobile started ringing. It was a newspaper, wanting to hear her views on the refugee crisis.
“There isn’t a refugee crisis, there’s an economic migrant crisis,” Katie F said.
“I can’t hear you too well,” said the editor.
Her voice sounded strangely full of crackles and hissing, but she blamed it on a poor connection.
“Who cares if they starve? There are millions of them swarming over here, we can’t be soft on them. They should stay in their own country. My antennae tell me that the British people won’t stand for this kind of nonsense.”
Her antennae were, in fact, waving about because Katie F’s cleaner had just walked in. No sooner did she see her employer than she let out a piercing shriek.
“It’s me,” said Katie F, but the cleaner only shouted a stream of imprecations in Kosovan, and waved her hoover nozzle threateningly.
“Filthy bug! Devil! Get out or I kill you.”
Katie F hissed, but then instinct took over. She scuttled out of the door, and into the street.
Outside on the cold grey pavement, she met with no better reception. People failed to notice her, of if they did, drew away from her sharply, or shouted abuse. It was nothing she hadn’t handled already when going into TV studios to air her views, and Katie F hissed at them all. How revolting they were! Couldn’t they see that she was a celebrity, and if she just happened to have turned into a giant cockroach then it wasn’t as if she were fat, or tattooed or a foreigner. But that was the problem with the British public, whatever you gave them they would always moan. It was no wonder that so many of them were unemployed with an attitude like that.
From time to time, ordinary people still recognised her and exclaimed,
“Aren’t you Katie F?”
Some of them would ask for her autograph, but then they’d realise that they were talking to a gigantic cockroach and then they would run away, screaming,
Being a full-time mother who never made a fuss about it, Katie F lingered near her home for a while, checking up on her daughters. They were being looked after by their useless father, pulling his weight at last, but Katie F used her initiative and went off to look for something better. That was what was wrong with human beings, they didn’t have the slightest idea what to do with their lives and spent half their time sleeping, whereas cockroaches were always busy eating or cleaning their antennae or making more cockroaches. Over the next few days, despite her energetic recycling of lazy humans’ waste, she began to shrink – result! As if anyone needed to be a plus-sized bug, when a little discipline made it much easier to slip into pubs, dustbins and houses. Initially she stuck to streets like her own, but soon found a flat where immigrants were sleeping six to a room, the floor a sea of mattresses, a dead giveaway that they were illegal and on benefits. They were still picky, though, because if one of them saw her they’d scream and try to bash her with a boot.
“Piss off, I’m British!” she hissed, but their English wasn’t good enough to understand even the simplest words.
“Dirty, dirty!” they cried. It was the only word they knew, apart from “police,” and “help.” They made no effort to integrate, and some wouldn’t even leave, sitting there like great big cry-babies, sighing and moaning. Look at me, she wanted to say: I’ve been turned into a giant cockroach but I’m not complaining, am I? They might have backs and arms and legs ridged and pocked with scars and burns, but what was the fuss about? Why couldn’t they just toughen up and grow a thicker skin, like Katie F?
Yet the climate made her restive. As the year was drained of its warmth, she began to look for heat but every day was a little colder. Eventually, Katie F spotted an empty lorry, returning to Europe. It was a matter of moments to scuttle onto it because of course nobody wanted to leave Britain, only to get there. By now she was so much smaller that her little legs carried her faster than ever, and she clung on, or rolled around like an amber bead on the floor. The empty lorry rumbled onto a ferry and off again, and then they were passing a jumble of plastic tents and cardboard sheets and rubbish heaps where people squatted or stood about holding placards, or else made sudden dashes to get over and under the barbed wire fences. They were too big to avoid capture, being stupid lumbering humans, and the other humans didn’t think to spray them with poison as they did cockroaches. There weren’t many pickings to be had there, though, and it was too cold, so she waited for another lorry, and moved on South because that was where her antennae told her she’d find heat.
Soon her path was crossing with those travelling in the opposite direction. She passed wave after wave of humans, tramping along through the countryside in an endless file, all the idiots who had brought their kids, their grannies, their disabled, to push or pull in buggies and carts and wheelchairs or carry on their shoulders, their soft human bodies getting slower and wearier and colder and more bruised. By contrast Katie F’s hard little body was working with increased efficiency and speed the warmer it became. She wasn’t weak and slow like people: as a cockroach she could live for a month without food.
The warmer it became, the harder her little legs worked. Within days, she reached the sea, and there, too, was more rubbish floating about, including several humans who had drowned. Katie F hissed to herself in disgust. Her excellent many-lensed eyes soon showed her where an empty rubber dinghy was floating on the shore, as if waiting to convey her. She scuttled onto it, and soon the dinghy was being driven across the sea by the wind. The waves were whipped into walls of water that swelled to the size of houses and yet there were still humans coming the opposite direction, huddled together like greedy fools. She could see them clutching each other, screaming, trying to keep their children from capsizing, sinking, drowning. Why did these idiots fling themselves into the water if they couldn’t swim?
At last the deflating dinghy landed on a shore, and her hard little body quivered with the heat. This was more like it! She ran up the beach and along a dusty road until she came to a place that was all broken concrete and twisted metal and craters. Here, at last, humans were running from place to place, shooting at each other, crawling on their abdomens into ragged tunnels and dark places where the noise and tremors from explosions had them all shaking. Only they could never run as fast as she could, having only two legs and a foolish tendency to bleed when cut. There were not many humans left, and indeed Katie H soon discovered that they had been replaced by far more of her own kind, and that the entire city as it was emptied was now filling with the tough, armoured bodies of cockroaches. What a wonderful place this was! The cockroaches swarmed over more and more, and when fire fell from the sky it simply gave them more to eat. They would survive anything, anywhere, and the world was theirs as it always had been,
“How much better it is to be as I am,” Katie H said to herself, running about in her new home.
For cockroaches can live for a whole week with their heads blown off.