Nobody liked Dengue Boy. It might have been his long beak, or the constant annoying buzz of his wings rubbing together, which distracted the rest of the class, but whatever it was, when the kids rushed into the yard at recess to eat sandwiches, talk and joke, poor Dengue Boy sat alone at his desk in the classroom, staring into space, pretending to focus intently on a page of notes to spare himself the embarrassment of going outside and revealing that he didn’t have a single friend to talk to.
There were all kinds of rumors about how he got the way he was. Some blamed the pestilential lot where his family lived, full of rusty cans, old tires and festering pools of rainwater. They said a mutant species had bred there, a giant insect, and that it had raped and impregnated his mother after killing her husband in gruesome fashion. Others claimed the giant insect must have raped and infected his father, who upon ejaculating into his mother had sired the misfit creature, only to run off the minute he got a glimpse of the baby, disappearing forever.
People had plenty of other theories about the poor kid, but there’s no need to go into them now. Whatever had happened, when his classmates got bored and saw that Dengue Boy had stayed behind in the classroom pretending to work, they were sure to tease him.
‘Hey, Dengue Boy, is it true your mom was raped by a mosquito?’
‘Ho, bug boy, what’s it like to be born from rotting bug scum?’
‘Hey, fly crud, is it true your mom’s cunt is a smelly hole full of worms and cockroaches and other bugs and that’s why you came out the way you did?’
Immediately Dengue Boy’s little antennae would begin to quiver with rage and indignation, and his tormentors would run off laughing, leaving Dengue Boy behind to nurse his sorrows.
Dengue Boy’s life wasn’t much better at home. His mother considered him a burden – he was sure of it – a freak of nature who had ruined her life forever. Wasn’t she a single mother with a kid? Raising children alone is hard, of course, but as the years go by a mother’s efforts are more than repaid. Eventually the boy becomes a young man and then an adult, a companion and a source of support for his mother, who in her old age thinks back nostalgically on their beautiful shared past, filled with pride by the accomplishments of her firstborn. But a mutant child, a dengue kid? He’s a monster she’ll have to feed and care for until she dies. A genetic mistake, a sick cross between human and insect who in the disgusted gaze of acquaintances and strangers will bring only shame, never once granting his mother the slightest achievement or satisfaction.
That’s why his mother hated and resented him – he was sure of it.
In fact, she worked from sunrise to sunset to provide for him. Every day, even weekends and holidays, she rode a crowded ferry the wearisome 150 kilometers to Santa Rosa. During the week she worked as a cleaner in the financial district, while on Saturdays and Sundays she was a nanny for wealthy families in Santa Rosa’s residential districts. When she got home at night she was too tired to do much, and having endured her bosses’ rough treatment all day she had no patience left. Sometimes when she opened the door and saw the mess Dengue Boy had left on the table and the floor (he didn’t mean to but he had no hands), she would scream, ‘Stupid bug! Look what you’ve done!’
And she would clean up resignedly, eyeing him with bitter hatred – he was sure of it.
Dengue Boy’s mother was still young and pretty, and since she didn’t have time to go out and meet anyone, she went on virtual dates in her room when she thought her son was asleep. From his own bed, Dengue Boy could hear her talking animatedly and even laughing.
The sound of wonderful happiness: something he never heard when she was with him. Dengue Boy was so curious that he flitted stealthily from the kitchen to his mother’s door (making a great effort to control his buzzing), and put one of the ommatidia of his compound eye to the keyhole. As he suspected, his mother looked happy. She was wearing a beautiful flowered dress, laughing and telling jokes, almost like a stranger or even a new person, since in their everyday lives she was always worried, tired or sad.
As he spied through the keyhole, Dengue Boy grew somber, and thought how much better his mother’s life would have been if a mosquito had never invaded her vagina and given her a repulsive mutant child.
The ghastly horror of the bitter truth!
He was a monster, and he had ruined his mother’s life forever!
It was then, unable to sleep and in the dawning light, that Dengue Boy went back to his room and looked at himself in the mirror, shrinking in disgust.
Where his mother had surely hoped for sweet little ears, Dengue Boy had big hairy antennae.
Where his mother had surely hoped for a sweet little nose, Dengue Boy had a long beak, black and brittle as a charred stick.
Where his mother had surely hoped for a sweet little mouth, Dengue Boy had misshapen flesh bristling with maxillary palps.
Where his mother had surely hoped for pretty eyes the color of hers, Dengue Boy had two grotesque brown globes composed of hundreds of ommatidia moving constantly and out of sync, to the disgust and loathing of all.
Where his mother had surely hoped for fat little feet with darling baby toes, Dengue Boy had spindly bicolored claws, sharp as four needles.
Where his mother had surely hoped for a cute little tummy, Dengue Boy had a rough abdomen, rigid and translucent, containing a clump of reeking greenish guts.
Where his mother had surely hoped for sweet little arms, his wings sprouted, their ribbing like the varicose veins of a disgusting old man. And where his mother must have hoped for little giggles and enchanting burbles, there was that constant, maddening buzz, grating on the nerves of even the calmest person.
His reflection in the mirror thus confirmed what he had always known: his body was revolting.
Brooding over this awful certainty, Dengue Boy wondered whether he wasn’t only a repulsive monster, whether he might also be destined to one day become a deadly threat.
He knew that his mother’s great worry – it tormented her day and night – was that when her little Dengue Boy grew up and became Dengue Man, he would be unable to control his impulses. That he would begin to bite everyone and infect them with dengue, including herself or some friend from school. Not only would he be a mutant carrier of the virus, he would become its deliberate transmitter, its gleeful homicidal vehicle, dooming her to an even more terrible suffering. And so, when Dengue Boy left for school in the morning, his mother would hand him an extra Tupperware container along with his lunch, whispering sorrowfully in his ear, ‘Remember, my little bug: if you feel any strange new urge, you can suck on this.’
Poor Dengue Boy would look down in consternation and nod, trying in vain to hold back the tears falling from his ommatidia onto his maxillary palps. Humiliated, he would set the box on his back and go flying off to school, enduring the shame of being thought a potentially dangerous criminal, contagious vector of incurable ills. Which is why, when he was far enough from home, he would angrily fling the Tupperware container in some ditch. And when the container hit the ground and came open, Dengue Boy, never looking down, his eyes still filled with tears, went right on flying. Dengue Boy didn’t look down because there was no need to confirm, no need to verify what he already knew was in the mortifying container: a blood sausage, quivering, greasy and still warm, slowly coming apart and trickling into the cracks in the gutter.
Cooked blood, coagulated blood, black blood, thick blood.
That was what his mother thought would sate his shameful insect instincts.