the hungry days

I LISTENED TO THE SOUND of crickets chirping in the dark night. What did they eat? I recalled watching certain native tribes in jungles munch on crickets as a food source, apparently without harm. As a matter of fact those men looked healthy, judging from what I’d seen on the twenty-inch television screen in our living room. The crickets might even be tasty. I used to catch rice crickets to feed my fish. Even my giant gourami, known to be a vegetarian fish, had enjoyed snacking on these fat, wingless, soft-bodied critters. They lived in shallow burrows, which were easy to dig up. Rice crickets were sluggish in reacting to danger. Hu and I had caught many of them easily in those days.

I didn’t know why they were called rice crickets. Was it because they tasted like rice or because rice was what they ate? It sounded delicious in either case. Surely rice crickets would taste no worse than Vietnamese June bugs, almost as big as an egg, which my classmates loved to snack on. The only enjoyment I’d experienced with those giant beetles was tying one to a string and letting it fly around like a helicopter. June bugs were easy to catch at night. While I was doing my schoolwork under the fluorescent light, they would fly through my windows and grab onto my hair, mistaking it for a nest.

I was wide awake now. The thought of a meal stirred my mind like a gale brewing up a dust storm.