We crouched inside a bunker of pillows and blankets. I had a heavy boot in one hand, a can of raid in the other. Beside me, Erin looked like she wanted to crawl inside my shirt and hide. We'd constructed our hasty bedroom defenses after coming home and finding the kitchen full of tiny, moving critters. Now we hunkered down like terrified Romans waiting for the barbarian horde. "Do you see anything?" she asked.
I peered past the pile of blankets. The kitchen was dark. The bedroom fluorescents showed only a swath of linoleum fading into shadow.
"No." I frowned. "I think one of us is going to have to go in there and turn on the lights."
Erin stared at me. Then she stared at the cavernous doorway. The switches were on the opposite wall. Someone would have to cross that dark space blind.
She poked my ribs. "You do it."
"I don't want to do it. You do it."
"You've got the boot," she pointed out.
I sighed. Carefully, cautiously, I stood and stepped out of our little fort. The kitchen was cool when I entered, and pitch black. Somewhere in a far corner, I heard a skitter that set my skin crawling. Like a kid fighting off the boogie monster, I ran to the wall and hit all the switches at once.
The sudden brilliance was dazzling. I stood in the center of the room, weapons at the ready, trying to see everywhere at once. For a long breath, nothing moved. Then a dark shape darted down the wall near the bedroom door.
"It's coming your way!" I shouted.
Erin shrieked. "What? Where!?"
"Wait, no! It's okay... I think it's just a gecko."
I sighed. The four to five-inch lizards were almost as ubiquitous in Vietnam as the mosquitoes, and they seemed to love apartment living. They were harmless, and helped keep vermin populations in check, so I tried not to mind them. Still, it was unsettling to turn on a light and see wriggling, brown things flitting down the walls.
"Are you sure it's just a gecko?" came Erin's trembling voice.
"Yeah," I replied.
I started to lean against the countertop, trying to control my pounding heart...
...when a three-inch cockroach scurried into view from the dark space behind our fridge.
It was my turn to shriek. The boot smacked the wall, the floor, the counter, leaving fat, sooty footprints on the paint. I didn't even remember the can of raid until the insect vanished into the cupboards under our sink.
"What happened?" Erin called, panicked by my boot-spasm.
I glanced toward the bedroom. Her face peered at me over a pillow.
"A cockroach," I said. "Stay over there."
She withdrew until only her eyes were visible.
I turned back to the dark hollow where the little beast had vanished. One hand readied the raid. The other reached for the cupboard door. I jerked it open and jumped a couple feet back, searching for movement.
But there was nothing. The area beneath the sink was dusty, covered with black specks of... something. Erin and I rarely went down there. We didn't have to. We had so few dishes that we didn't use the space for anything.
"Better safe than sorry," I muttered. I pointed the raid and let fly.
And a seething mass of roach horror swarmed from the cracks as if summoned by Beelzebub himself.
My eyes widened. I think I shouted in manly surprise (or possibly a child-like terror). I held the can of raid like a shield, pouring chemical death into our cupboard in frantic sweeps. The roaches seemed immune, darting into the light only long enough to find a better, deeper hiding place. Eventually the floor stopped moving, and everything fell silent aside from my gasping wheezes.
"Are you okay?" Erin asked in a very small voice.
I did a quick inventory. The can of raid was empty. I had not been carried off on a wriggling tide of critters. And the kitchen smelled strongly of citrus and chemical warfare.
"There were... a few roaches."
"How many are a few?" Erin asked.
"You really, really don't want to know." I put down the useless can, walked back to the bedroom, and closed the door behind me. "Let's just stay in here tonight."
Erin stared at the closed door. After a moment of silent contemplation, she sighed. "You know, I honestly thought I was cool with this."
"Roaches. I mean, we saw them in the street all the time. In hotels, in restaurants. I thought I was toughening up. And then one scurries around our kitchen and I totally lose it."
"One..." I chuckled, with just a touch of hysteria.
Erin gave me a worried look. "You okay?"
"Totally okay. But we're not going out there ever again."
"I think I'll need to use the bathroom eventually."
"Ever. Again," I said more forcefully.
In the morning, our kitchen was festively decorated with roach carcasses. We spent an hour cleaning, then another hour searching all the nooks and crannies of our apartment for the little blighters' eggs. Then we went out to the store and bought a dozen more cans of raid.
A successful skirmish... but the war, I feared, had just begun.
PS: Vietnam has something of a cockroach problem. They're generally an accepted part of apartment life here, so if you rent a place, be prepared for nighttime visitors. You can hire exterminators, but most Vietnamese housing has at least one garage-door style wall on the ground floor, and unscreened windows on every other floor. So even if you clear your house, all the roaches from the neighborhood will just move right back in.
That's not saying you have to accept their presence. Just keep your kitchen meticulously clean, and periodically douse every dark corner with harsh chemicals.
Honestly, I make it sound worse than it is. The cockroaches are unpleasant, but we've been able to keep the population down quite nicely. And frankly, even with our visitors, I'm still in Vietnam. Which is awesome. So I guess I'm saying I'll take it, bugs and all.
PPS: Erin says it's still better than the Cambodian hotel room with all the ticks embedded in the walls.