The Mosquito on the Wall

A mosquito standing on a white wall

Disclaimer: The following does not by any means amount to the greatness of the work of Virigina Woolf, but I could not resist the play on titles.

As I lay in bed thinking about my methodology chapter, I could not but notice her. She was on the wall. Her shadow small; legs fine and long. She was my unwelcome guest for the night. I quit my chapter for this new distraction. It has, after all, always fascinated me. The methodology chapter was not as interesting.

I have had a complicated relationship with insects since my early childhood. Their small bodies; their strange colours; and the sounds they make often awakened feelings of disgust and wonder in me. I loved some, I tolerated others and absolutely despised the rest. And today here is another one; standing against the white background, waiting perhaps for her meal. She looked like a decoration; a small spot of colour in the middle of the vast paint desert that is my wall.

I think of how she must live her life. How long does it last? Does she perceive of time? Is she ever aware of her position in the world? I reach for my phone on the crowded bedside table. I switch it on. Enter the code. Find my internet browser. And search mosquitoes. Under an ad the first result appears; the Wikipedia page for mosquito. I avoid it out of habit. “Wikipedia is not a credible source”, I hear the voice of my professor repeating in my head. The second result is from National Geographic. I click. It takes me to a page with a large close-up image of a mosquito. Its legs spread and body almost squashed against the bright background. It looks identical to the one on my wall, I say. “The world’s 3,000 species of mosquitoes transmit more diseases than any other creature.” the caption reads. I did not know there were so many of them, I think. I scroll down. Sections of text on mosquitoes fill my screen. Under About Mosquitoes I read:

Few animals on Earth evoke the antipathy that mosquitoes do. Their itchy, irritating bites and nearly ubiquitous presence can ruin a backyard barbecue or a hike in the woods. They have an uncanny ability to sense our murderous intentions, taking flight and disappearing milliseconds before a fatal swat. And in our bedrooms, the persistent, whiny hum of their buzzing wings can wake the soundest of sleepers.

I glance at the one in my room. She is just another being trying to survive. She feeds on my blood to guarantee the continuity of her species. I relate to her. I think of the eggs I love fried in the morning with a bit of cheese. The fish I enjoy grilled at lunch. Even the potatoes now strike me as living although I tend to disregard that thought.

I go back to the mobile phone screen.

Beyond the nuisance factor, mosquitoes are carriers, or vectors, for some of humanity’s most deadly illnesses, and they are public enemy number one in the fight against global infectious disease. Mosquito-borne diseases cause millions of deaths worldwide every year with a disproportionate effect on children and the elderly in developing countries.

In their struggle for survival mosquitoes kill. My little visitor for the night does not, however, seem to be the kind to kill. It certainly does not look dangerous. It even looks helpless, in this human-dominated world. I wonder how come it can be this deadly? I wonder why we may be deadly as well.

When biting with their proboscis, they stab two tubes into the skin: one to inject an enzyme that inhibits blood clotting; the other to suck blood into their bodies. They use the blood not for their own nourishment but as a source of protein for their eggs. For food, both males and females eat nectar and other plant sugars.

As I was reading these lines, the mosquito started to embody a maternal image in my imagination. At first I find it hard to conceptualise, but I finally see her as the mother. And not any mother, I see her as the working, caring, loving, understanding mother. She feels close, animal, human. She is no longer just a spot on the disguised concrete. She is a complete and whole living being. She is just like me, I conclude.

Mosquito wings hum at 200 to 500 beats a second.

She is no longer there. The wall is empty. I look around the room. I hear the sound of her wings, but see her not. It approaches me. It is in my face. My annoyance takes over. I remember that “A roach is a creature no one can love, but you cannot kill it.”* Before I think of it, I reflexively raise my hands and clap. The humming sound has died. I know it was a she, because I killed it. There was blood on my hands.

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*From The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.