I've lived in Africa all my life, from cool and blustery Cape Town to the steaming lowlands of Swaziland. Venomous snakes, flesh-burrowing flies and spiders the size of dinner plates are all things that I've learned to take in my stride. While I may never be a fan of creatures with more than four legs, or worse, no legs at all, I do believe in the 'live and let live' philosophy. Okay, I shot a spider once but, in my own defense, it was the middle of the night, and I was alone in the sub-tropics with three small children, and the thing was huge. Leaving it in the bathroom, where it was, was not an option. Some time during the night, I just knew it would enter my bedroom and walk all over my sang-froid. Getting up close and personal with it was out of the question, though I should warn you, nine millimeter rounds make a real mess of ceramic tiles. And the later discovery that it was harmless, is not a mitigating factor in its favor. But I did get used to them. The spiders, that is. My children even gave them names.
Moving to Johannesburg, with its higher altitude and moderate climate, I thought that I would be leaving behind all things that slither, scurry, scamper up the walls or lie in wait in the laundry basket. Ha! I know, there's just no end to my naivete. This bucolic neighborhood, with its jacaranda-lined streets and wide, grassed sidewalks holds a horror that, even now, I shudder to think about. It's known around here as the Parktown Prawn, or 'affectionately' by some misguided individuals, as Parkies.
And no, they're nothing to do with seafood. They're king crickets, Libanasidus Orthoptera, if I may quote Wikipedia. But call them what you will, they're absolutely hideous! They come out at night, which is God's little joke because you can't see them until you switch the light on and the darn thing leaps at you. Yes, they jump. Erratically. To waist height. And if you scare a Parkie it will, mid-leap, deposit foul-smelling, black liquid feces, which no amount of cleaning will quite remove from your favorite rug. Stepping on one results in the same mess. I don't care that they're harmless. Just the sound of those scratchy little legs skittering around on the parquet flooring is enough to elicit what has become known as my 'Parkie Scream'. My well-fed and pampered Siamese is no help either. One look at a Parkie and it's game on, which of course, makes the Parkie jump around even more and sets off a chain reaction of leaping, shrieking and yelling to my husband to "Get the damn thing out of here!"
I'm not the only one. Most women here feel the same way. In fact, I have a friend who keeps a cupboard well stocked with hairspray. A long burst of spray, ignited by a cigarette lighter, makes a perfect flame thrower with which to crisp a Parkie. I didn't believe her until I saw the scorch marks on her living room carpet. I'd rather call my husband. I don't care if it's 2 A.M. Parkie eviction is an integral part of his marital obligations.
There are all sorts of rumors about the origins of the Parktown Prawn. The most common is that they escaped from a laboratory in the Parktown campus of the University of the Witwatersrand. Whatever. As far as I'm concerned, they could have been dropped on us by a bunch of misogynistic extraterrestrials. I don't care. One more of these hideous, hopping, hissing horrors and I'm getting the gun out. I'm territorial that way.