I am in my car on this humid day, reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. This book depicts a white man’s experience trying to colonize the Congo in the early 20th century.
I am reading the part when Marlow, the main character, sees his first victim of greedy colonizers in the Congo, “The black bones reclined at full length[…]slowly the eyelids rose and the sunken eyes looked up at me, enormous and vacant, a kind of blind, white flicker in the depths of the orbs, which died out slowly” (32; Pt. I).
My black leather chair is stretched back, soaking up heat. The full air feels oppressive for March. My eyelids are heavy; I fall asleep within my first ten minutes of reading.
I awake to the feeling of something landing lightly on my arm. I thought it was a leaf; they have been meandering through my car windows all afternoon.
No—it is a big black June beetle, perched on my arm.
I quickly brushed it off my skin; I did not stop to think about my reaction, I knew it had pinchers. Their hard black shells speak defense, as though asking for an offensive encounter. I just had not expected a June bug, in March, to penetrate my “office,” my mobile machine abode.
I return to Heart of Darkness. I read,
Two more bundles of acute angles sat with their legs drawn up […] others were scattered in every pose of contorted collapse, as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence. While I stood horror-struck, one of these creatures rose to his hands and knees, and went off on all-fours towards the river to drink. (32; Pt. I)
I stopped reading, my stomach is churning. This maltreatment of another being is grotesque, to say the least. These men and women of the Congo did not seem human through the narrator’s perspective.
The colonizers assumed they knew best, even as they were overwhelmed by fear, prejudice—both at the root of darkness, the sinful nature embedded in every man and every woman.
I became distracted by the beetle’s buzzing behind my reclined seat.
I feel sorry for the seemingly helpless critter. I take a sheet of paper and offer it as a footstep, hoping to assist the bug outside. Every time I create a block for it to climb onto, the bug resists, becoming timid, crawling elsewhere. Clearly, it has a goal and a sense for potential danger, as it ignored me but kept scrambling for an alternative.
The bug reminds me of Gregor in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Gregor turns into a beetle. I read the book in Western Literature at Saint Benedict’s last year. Our class concluded that the death of Gregor was not that he turned into a beetle, but that he had been a beetle for quite some time in his routine, his household position trapped him into his digression.
I lay Heart of Darkness on my chest and look outside. A few cars drone in the distance on the highway. The neighbor kids talk animatedly, buzzing to their next activity down the alley. The piles of helicopters and Box elder leafs I raked are changing. Larger Maple leafs role off the top of piles like the condensation on a cup.
As I am sitting, minding my own business and ignoring my tasks, the June beetle flies straight up, out the sunroof of my car.