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The man-faced bug: A fable

| Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Native to Southeast Asia and India, the man-faced stink bug, catacanthus incarnatus, is a real bug about the size of a thumbprint. On its back it bears a pattern that resembles a man’s face. Our story is set in a small farming village…

The man came home from a day of hard labor. He walked past his wife, who was preparing a meal in the kitchen, and glanced at the children who were playing in the front room. He entered his bedroom, closed the door behind him and fell into an old overstuffed chair.

“I am so tired,” he mumbled to himself. He was tired from hard work and tired from haggling with merchants. He was tired of always scrambling to find money to pay for food, rent and the doctor to take care of his wife and children. “If I could just get a break, just get ahead a little, maybe then I could change my luck,” he thought.

You see, the man — who had a small but fertile farm, a loving wife and devoted children — thought he was poor and cursed to remain so. “Oh God,” he pleaded, “You make so many people wealthy who work so little, why can’t you change my fortune?”

As he closed his eyes and lowered his head, he felt a tickle on the back of his neck. He knew that swatting at some insects made them bite or sting, so he swept at the site with his hand, gently snatching the annoying visitor. He slowly uncoiled his fingers, and was surprised to see a small orange face staring back at him. Initially startled, he recognized the insect as a man-faced bug. These bugs were pests, sometimes completely enveloping cashew trees, ruining the crop. They were not common in this area, as he and his neighbors did not raise crops the bugs typically ate. He also knew they were stink bugs, and he would need to handle it gently to avoid triggering its unpleasant smell.

He reached for a tissue and carefully swaddled the bug in it. He studied the face on the back of the bug; it looked like Christ in repose, as on the picture of the Shroud of Turin the village priest kept in his office. “Why would God put his son’s face on a bug; could this be a sign that my luck is changing?” he thought.

The bug slipped from the tissue and landed on a newspaper tossed on the bed. The bug walked across the photograph of some soccer players and stopped over the upcoming weekend’s dog races. With no hesitation the bug plopped excreta from its hind end on the name of a dog in the first race. The bug then stood off to one side, tilting its man-face towards the name, so that it appeared to nod approval.

The man looked at the marked name then at the bug, and decided he needed to act on this matter. The man placed the bug in a small box and went to bed that night without eating. He got up early and told his wife he had business in town. He went directly to the betting parlor, pulled out an envelope that contained rent and medicine money, and placed a generous bet on the dog selected by the bug. His heart pounded as the dogs started the first race. “This is madness,” he thought. “My wife will leave me when she hears I wasted our money gambling, relying on a bug.” He hardly heard the call of the race and sat numb as the winner was announced: the bug poop selection won.

As he walked home, the man thought that while he would replace the money, he should not tell his wife about his winnings. “She is very superstitious and will think the bug is evil and the money must be cursed. No, it’s better for her if I don’t tell her about the money,” he thought.

He continued on this way for many months, letting his farm fall into disrepair while the bug selected winners of races, stocks to invest in and politicians to support. He cut himself off from his family, stashing away his money, always fretting that the bug must soon die or its magic would end and he would sink back into poverty. His wife grew concerned, and his children longed for the times when their father played with them or at least had a kind word.

One day the man was not to be found. His wife searched the fields and asked the neighbors for help, but no one had seen him. She went into the bedroom, sat alone on the edge of the bed and wept. She thought maybe it was something she had said or done, but she heard of other men who had disappeared, perhaps to avoid responsibilities of work and family. As she wept, she felt something alight on her arm. It was a bug that had a man’s face on its back.

It startled her, and she recalled that these bugs must be handled carefully. She walked slowly to the bathroom, lowered her arm over the commode and brushed the bug into the water. It flailed frantically, trying to spread its wings and escape. She felt sorry for the bug, but she did not want it to stink up her house so she quickly flushed it away. As she sat back on the bed, another thought came to her: the mattress on her husband’s side of the bed felt lumpy, as if it were stuffed with paper.

Moral: Where your heart is, there your treasure will be.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

About Raymond Ramirez

Ray Ramirez is an attorney practicing, yet never perfecting, law in Texas while waiting patiently for a MacArthur Genius Grant. You may contact him at [email protected]

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