It happened like most nightmares do; with a hundred legs draped across my neck. It was the middle of the night, the time most common for nightmares to occur. I came to consciousness suddenly with the feeling that something wasn’t as it had been before, like when a storm ceases in the night and the quiet brings you awake. I had slept on my left side and the fan above me touched my bare legs, face and forearms with a cool stirring of the air. My brain began a calculated exam of my exposed skin and instinctually I reached slowly toward my neck. My fingers found a sleeping form draped gently over my jugular. It was long and hard, smooth and dry, like a sealed zipper, casually borrowing my neck warmth. My pulse beneath the insect lurched and raced. I ripped it from my skin and flung it into the darkness, listening carefully to it’s great length bounce off the wall. What could I do but go back to sleep? So I did.
I’d nearly forgotten the event by the time morning crawled up the sky. I stumbled about my room in a bleary hate-the-hour-haze, drank a cup of coffee, sat on my bed. It was crawling along the wall and intermittently reaching half of its upper body out into the room, its little antennas perked forward and waving about curiously. Half of its million legs reaching toward me like a child asking to be picked up. I withdrew in revulsion.
I was a different person in the afternoon when I got home. It was still there, curled like a question mark. What a little cutie. Resting antennas contentedly down upon its forehead, I decided it was a boy. Later that evening I rushed home to search my room for my new friend. I was filled with a sense of parental pride, decided I’d keep him.
From behind me, there came a sudden shriek, my host sister with the broom raised, an eye beaded on the bug, ready to swipe. She was going for my Milli. I threw my arms out wide covering the wall.
“No!” A multilingual word.
The look on her face bypassed confusion and I could tell right away that she thought I was insane and some deep cultural difference rose between us like a wall. I tried to explain as carefully as I could that this creature in my room was “my amigo” to which she laughed loudly, stopped, peered at me again with suspicious eyes and then left the room laughing once more.
Milli and I got along great for a time. He would cruise across my walls, inch across the floor, always busy, always happy. I did have to pull my bed away from the wall as to prevent any more shared sleeping quarters, but I enjoyed having his company. He sat on the wall near my head once while I cried.
About a week into sharing my bedroom with an insect, I lost Milli for a few days. I wasn’t concerned, there was a million places a skinny creature could crawl into and hide out. But when it came time for me to pack for my visit to another volunteer, I picked up my suitcase and found a Milli nest beneath it. I was inflicted with strange emotions, surprise, jealously, betrayal. On the floor was not one Milli but a million. Two large Millis lay in the midst of countless little spirals. Now as much as I cared for Milli, I wasn’t prepared to take on an entire family, so with the same broom that I had once saved him from, I brushed him and his whole situation outside. I got to the porch and gave a mighty sweep. But then something peculiar happened, my main Milli, who had curled himself into a ball during the sweeping process, went flying off the porch with my mighty sweep and bounced all the way across the yard. But the rest of the Milli’s just fluttered gently from the porch onto the ground below. Taking a closer look, I realized moments too late that I had made a grand mistake. What I thought was a family of Milli’s was actually just the shedded skin of my main Milli. The tiny spirals were separate shedded segments of his body. Desperately I ran through the yard searching for the tiny curled form of my amigo. “Milli! Milli!” I cried while my family watched. I was desperate. But he was gone.
Later, Omar would tell me that I’d have killed him anyway.
“You weren’t even feeding him. Millipedes eat rotting fruit. He needed a little dish of water, no, a paper napkin soaked in water.” I felt terrible about myself. An irresponsible pet owner.
It’s been a few weeks now. I still miss my Milli. When it rains and floods outside I can’t help but think about my old pet. Somewhere out there I imagine him huddled in the rain and battling the storm. Maybe he is swimming down the road in a little rivulet of water. I hope he is still alive.