Once in Mexico City, I saw five cockroaches gathered in a circle in my rented room. This was in an informal student boarding house run by an old woman, near the main university, in a maze-like neighborhood oriented around a virgin shrine. There was a painting of a tree in the room. The roaches were not disturbed by my entering, though I was shocked to see them so casually gathered in the open, and standing so still. They didn’t move as I stepped over them to sit on my bed. Their comfort was astonishing to me.
The still circle of them looked to me like a gathering of Soviets in brown greatcoats around a fire, where they warmed themselves without complaint. This gathering touched me. From my bed, I felt a mixture of admiration and sadness, the feeling of being small like them, and of witnessing from above the need for warmth which characterizes life on earth.
The prospect of disturbing their fellowship seemed terrible, but I told the old woman about the roaches and she came a minute later to spray them to death. I clogged the hole from which they had come with wads of paper towels and black electrical tape, then more towels and tape, as if trying to stifle a memory.