Nit, nit, the sound of a louse being squashed between her fingernail and lice comb like an over ripe grape was an odd satisfaction, wiping the red sticky residue on the white cloth she had spread on her lap.
She hated them, these tiny specks of crawling things, invading her space, crawling inside her hair and over her skin. She shuddered with disgust and raked the comb through her hair; stands of hair fell almost weightlessly. To be fair, she was not the kind of person who would be repulsed so easily, for everyday she cleaned other people’s filth, swept their floors, and cleaned their toilets, scraped out smelly contents of leftovers from their pots and plates with natural detachment because she knew they were outside of her. The filth belonged to others so she felt no aversion coming in contact with it, but the very thought of their hair like feet crawling on her hair, mating, laying eggs and forming some tiny colonies on her head made her want to vomit.
“Nasreen. Tea!” shouted her husband for the third time, his eyes on the television, flicking through channels.
Lice of all sizes rained crawling down on the cloth, all scurrying in different directions she felt like a giant monster reigning over them, squashing them with her nails. Nit, nit, nit. When she was younger she was fascinated by them, her mother would smother oil in her hair, and rake the comb painfully through her scalp, ripping shards of hair in the process. She would mumble about bad omen and signs of death. She was partly right, death was all around them, and people dropped off dead often by accidents, diseases, and murder because in the world of over worked, under nourished, and the depressed death’s hands knocked almost every day. She never could tell if the deaths were because of the lice or the lice population happened to grow because of the deaths.
“Nasreen!!!” he shouted again “get your head out of your lap and get me some tea”
Startled, she looks up with a slight frown at her husband who still had not bothered to look away from the television; it takes a while for her to get up. Fastening her hair she goes into the kitchen, the sound of the television grating on her nerves, that’s what he did all day just sitting in front of the television, barking orders when she came home and when she tried to find him a job he would go for a day or week at most before quitting nothing was good enough for him. Her head itched, she could feel their tiny mouths sucking on her blood for their nourishment or just scrambling around her hair like they did before on the cloth when she raked them out.
Putting the pot on the stove with water and tea, the jar of sugar was almost empty and her money was running low and the month had just started. The rent and bills took away most of what she earned by working at 3 houses.
“What’s taking you so long” he shouted “Lazy bum” this was meant to be said to himself maybe, or not. The black water bubbled over.
When she was younger, she fancied herself a seer of death; she knew there was going to be someone knocking their door with the news of death. Was he not like a louse himself? Invading her space, five years gorging on her money, her youth, her blood and then her children, she thought sadly of the children she had to abort. Those unborn, innocent angels put to death because of this louse’s whim. Those little birds who she couldn’t save from this thing, this insect who devoured whole and without remorse.
Rat kill was just under the stove, she mixed it with the milk before pouring it in the tea. Nit, nit she heard in her head as she poured the tea in a small bowl.
She was there, silently handing him the tea bowl.
“About time” he mumbled, glaring at the television.
She went back to where she was sitting, unbound her hair and spread the white cloth back on her lap, combing her hair to one side she raked the comb through her hair only a few tiny lice fell. Nit, nit, nit, she heard the bowl crash on the floor.
Lice were an omen of death, her mother used to say. His death was simply inevitable. There would be no inquiry; no one would care for the mean, poor wastrel.