Flight of the bats
THE BATS were becoming pests. They had invaded our home on the bank of the Mighty Essequibo River and had decided to stay there. I wouldn’t mind if roosting was all they did. These creatures were also into interior decoration. Their dung with its putrid smell and ugly dark stains was everywhere. On the floor, carpet, shoes, clothes (which remained permanently stained) and anything that had the misfortune to lie under their place of residence.
The sudden appearance of two or three large bats heading directly towards you caused pandemonium at times. We would panic and duck hastily to avoid the dark ‘stealth bombers’. With unerring deftness, they would glide past you and onward to their next dark area for their feet-first rendezvous. Somehow, we had to get them out of our home.
Anthony and Michael, my eleven-year-old twin brothers, decided to catch them. After a few futile attempts to sneak up on the ‘critters’, the boys changed tactics. It was quite amusing to watch them silently advance on the bats. As soon as they got within three to four feet of the creatures, the bats baled out, often straight towards the ‘great hunters’. There was the expected dive for safety from the twins as the bats relocated.
Their new plan of attack was a missile barrage. Slingshots were made, and pellets collected. The crack of shots rang out around our small house, and frightened bats scattered every-which way but outside. The girls screamed and fled. Mom dropped her favourite dish in the melee, and it smashed into irreparable pieces. The slingshots went and the bats stayed.
My uncle, who knew everything, paid us a visit. He directed us to use aluminum foil paper, cut them into strips, and tie these to the roof in the areas the bats frequented.
According to his ‘expert knowledge’, the bright colour and noise of the foil hitting each other — somewhat like chimes — would surely scare the bats away. This had a ring of confidence and authority, so we all chipped in, and soon had the place looking like a Chinese den. The next evening, everyone waited in anticipation of a bat rout.
When at last they appeared, it seemed to be working. They flew around in uncertainty and confusion, and we laughed heartily, sensing victory. By the next evening, the bats were happily roosting on the strips. So much for expert advice.
By now, we were fed up and thoroughly frustrated with the little progress we had made. We resorted to the unsophisticated approach. The brooms were kept in strategic locations, and when the bats were seen, we would grab the broom or anything handy and make violent swipes at our tormentors. Needless to say, the only things we hit were walls, roof, windows — one of which unfortunately broke, and sometimes any person in the vicinity of the battle.
This method was abandoned when we had to pry the twins apart to stop them from mauling each other. Mike — as Michael is fondly called — was engrossed in a spirited chase of the bats. As he ran, he swatted violently at the bats that were outmaneuvering him. This caused him to get angry, and he redoubled his efforts, oblivious to all else, including a howling Anthony who absorbed a swipe that would make a Samurai swordsman proud. They locked horns, kicking and biting, and had to be physically separated.
Tenesha loved reading, and when there was nothing interesting happening, she would bury herself in a book. She adored Nancy Dew and Enid Blyton. When in this mode, she was lost in the book-world. Her second hobby was questioning. Anything she heard, she asked about. Sometimes she would irritate us, and we would make fun of her. This didn’t daunt her spirit.
She came home from school one day and announced to everyone’s surprise that she had found out how to chase away the bats. We listened politely, and tried to keep a straight face, knowing that if we laughed, she would take it badly and sulk. We would be hard-pressed to find a willing ally when we wanted help with chores, or an alibi in cases of error. Her eyes were bright with excitement, and her hands gesticulated in a flurry of movement. Her voice rushed over the explanation, eager for our approval.
During class, she had approached her teacher and was told that getting rid of bats was child’s play. She believed. Mrs. Foster, you see, was her favourite teacher, and obviously, Miss must be right. According to the teacher-turned-terminator, aerosol insecticide was the answer. Buy a large can and keep it handy. Whenever the bats appeared, spray the heck out of them. End of problem. The spray was bought and kept within easy reach, and then we waited.
That night, Tenesha decided she would do the necessary. The can was positioned at her side. The bats flew, the spray spewed. A disoriented bat landed in Tenesha’s excited face with an ugly ‘Splat!’ She let out a scream like a banshee and took of for places unknown, slapping lustily at her face. The bat returned to its lair and settled down. After that, she lost interest in bats and poor Mrs. Foster.
We were poor and thus unable to buy white paint to paint the entire roof, as suggested by another pundit. Instead, we tried spraying liquid insecticide begged from our neighbour. In a short space of time, the house reeked of insecticide and became difficult for us to remain in for long periods. The bats stayed. We ended up washing off most of the spray. With Christmas approaching, things became desperate. We could picture our annual Christmas party invaded at its brightest moment by a flight of bats.
Vivid images of bats in the food, drink, cake and all over the attending children caused me much concern. My friends would be there, and it would be difficult to live that down. Somehow, I was going to send those dirty night-dwellers packing. But how?
I decided to try my luck. At fourteen, I felt a confidence that belied my age. My spirit was both exhilarated and wary of this new challenge. I am not lazy, mind you, but I have discovered many ways to reserve my energy, so this venture was a departure from the norm for me. So far, the entire bat episode was a comedy of errors. There was dire need for a professional approach, and I intended to provide this.
The first course of action was to find out more about bats. I asked my buddies, and by the time they were through with me, the bats became a confused mixture of monster vampire and rabies carrier. This was cause for serious concern.
Two of my best friends decided to help out. They came around after school and brought the equipment needed: A net. This was attached to a loop made from slit bamboo, and the end tied firmly. With net at the ready, two persons would climb up into the rafters and keep the bats moving, while another tried to catch them in the net.
But try as we might, the bats got the better of us. I was one of the climbers, and had the pleasure of sending them to the trap. David, the trapper, was not as agile as was required for the task. The bats flew to and by him, yet he caught none. He was more occupied with ducking and swinging wildly at them in an act of self-preservation. In so doing, my father’s radio and cassette player, which he guarded with firm authority, ended up broken on the floor. The hunt was abandoned. My exemption from flogging, to which status I was elevated on becoming a teenager, was temporarily withdrawn.
The next day, I mentioned the bats to an Amerindian friend who sat two desks away from me at school. Sherwin was a quiet fellow who had recently been transferred to our school from the ‘Interior’. Some of us laughed at him because he wore rubber slippers and old-looking clothes. I liked him and decided to make friends.
This kid was no dresser, but we soon discovered that in the water, he was King; no one could challenge him there. Even his detractors were quick to admit that he was by far the best swimmer in our school.
We met in the schoolyard during recess, and leaned against the fence talking. “We’ve got plenty of bats, and they won’t go away.” He grinned, and his round features brightened. “Catch one,” he offered. I glanced at him and realised that he was serious. “How? And what for? ” He laughed softly. “Don’t you know anything about animals?” he asked. Thinking about it, I was forced to admit that my knowledge in this field was negligible.
“Use a net and catch one. Paint it, and release it. The painted bat will scare away all the others.”
This sounded crazy enough to work, but my last experience with a net compelled me to seek another alternative.
“Don’t think I can.”
He contemplated this for a while, then announced: “Get a cat, and it will eat them.”
Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that before! It was so simple!
That afternoon, Sherwin dropped by. In his hands was a black cat. Mom made a fuss at first, but Tenesha adopted it immediately. It was soon after rats, lizards and bats. The cat stayed, and the bats went. Mother gave in, and we kept the cat permanently. The twins are now finalising plans to take it fishing.
Flight of the bats