A tiny blip nipped at a growing sense of well-being that I'm experiencing these days: The bats came calling last week.

A small number arrived first, scouting. You could hear the screech, un-birdly, unbecoming. The full colony of bats alighted the following day, and took possession of the ficus on the corner in my compound, and lost no time felling nonstop the berries from above, letting off continual, annoying cries as they went to work.

The first day, when the scouts announced themselves, I said to my wife, "Bats. We must spray phenol on the tree."

"Paapa," she said. Poor things.

In the morning, when she stepped out to get in the waiting car, she changed her mind, seeing the mess of berries the bats had dropped from the branches, which fell even as we watched. A thick, springy bed of wet, organic mush had formed on the stretch of ground on which we stood — it felt like a piled carpet.

We sprayed phenol daily on the tree, and we trained every available light on to it. The tiny mammals held out three days, and then they left, leaving me drenched in guilt. I wouldn't have bothered them, I told myself, if they weren't raining stuff from above, messing the street and the stonework in the compound, and the shingles on top — and if they didn't screech as they do, and if they hadn't come in such numbers.

The confession — this written one — is not easing the guilt. I'm desperate to calm my mind. So I'm saying: "No, it's not the lights nor the phenol. They finished the fruit and went."

"You don't like bats, no?" my conscience is telling me. "You're scared they bring you bad luck. Admit it!"

I like my conscience even less.


Photo: ksana-gribakina