Aziza pulled at the heavy entrance door to the flat until it closed quietly. She picked up Hamid’s coat, brushed her hands over it and hung it up while putting her own coat away. She folded her headscarf into a square and put it in the nearby drawer with her other outdoor scarves and mother’s hijab.
These few minutes when no-one knew she was there were her space to decompress from school. She was volunteered to be pencil monitor again today, responsible for making sure everything was in the right place before and after each lesson. The flat smelt of oak and potpurri, the floorboards creaked comfortingly. Hamid’s game system beeped in his room. He must have left it on again, wasting electricity. Aziza pulled her hair out of its tight plait and put it up in a neat bun. She straightened the pictures in the hallway as she went past to check the Nintendo.
As she stalked into her older brother’s room, Aziza paused and looked at Quentin the tarantula in its plastic cage, with its hairy jointed legs and thick brown abdomen. Hamid said tarantulas were docile and delicate, not deadly, and their bite was no worse than a bee sting. He usually said this when he was running late or to some unexpected event, and wanted her to feed it. If he used a diary, he would be better prepared.
One day, Hamid would forget to shut Quentin in properly. If it crawled out, it might lie low in a dark corner and they wouldn’t find it again. It would pitter-patter across the floor at night and she’d never sleep well again. They’d constantly step on bits of exoskeleton and partly-digested beetle. Female tarantulas could live 30 years in the wild, males generally made it to 10. Quentin was probably Quentina. She’d leave for college eventually.
It could lurk until they opened the front door, then scuttle to freedom down the stairs and through the ground floor flat, terrorizing Mr and Mrs Goldstein on the way. They would complain. Hamid would be grounded.
It might settle in father’s All-Bran, mistaking the cereal for its insect prey. Tarantulas don’t use webs, they hunt on foot. Quentin clearly missed that and would stalk that All-Bran relentlessly. The spider would be given to the zoo. Hamid would get his Nintendo confiscated to teach him about carelessness and causing heart-attacks in unsuspecting accountants.
Aziza gathered some magazines and a crumpled t-shirt to reveal the game machine. As she bent down, a brown speck launched itself at the ceiling.The carton of Quentin’s food was lying open under the bed. All the crickets had escaped and were stretching their legs.
The last time this happened, Hamid went to work, and Aziza spent 5 hours grabbing at minute riccocheting exasperations that could jump further than she was tall and move faster than she could close her hand. After two hours of pest dodging, father had stamped on some of them. Aziza then got to scrape bug entrails out of the carpet in the hallway.
She hung the t-shirt over a chair and put the magazines on the desk. She turned off the Nintendo. The chirping of the escapees became the dominant noise in the room, seconded by the blood rushing in her ears.
Then she let the spider out.
Previously published in the London Short Story Prize anthology 2016.