Arachnophobia—the irrational fear of spiders—is not always so irrational.
When I first arrived in Taiwan, I shared an apartment with two other teachers. One day I came stumbling home from work, late at night, exhausted, and tripped through the darkness into the bathroom. As I closed the door and switched on the lights, something ran across my foot. It was hairy and had mass. I assumed it was a small rat.
I was quickly disabused of that notion when I spotted a spider the size of my head clinging to the tile wall over the tub. He apparently was trying to avoid being noticed. Small chance of that—it’s hard not to notice every twitch and muscle spasm of a spider the size of a human baby when you’re locked in a space little bigger than a closet with him.
I made an effort to fight down my fear, channel my coureur de bois ancestry, and do something to rid our domicile of this eight-eyed hairy invader. Actually, I don’t know if he was really hairy, but in my mind he had a full Fu Manchu. I desperately searched the bathroom for a weapon. When my eyes lit upon the toilet brush in the corner, I hastily grabbed it, armed and ready to join the battle, I screwed my eyes shut and waved the brush in the general vicinity of the spider like a spastic preteen majorette trying to swat an epileptic fly with her baton.
That’s when I realized the spider was fast. It jumped off the wall and started racing around the room like Speedy Gonzales on bennies. It ran across the wall, and then somehow jumped and skittered across my midriff, all the while I was banging the toilet brush in its wake. Somewhere in the back of my mind I must’ve been heartened to realize that anything that fast would not be poisonous. However, the frenetic speed of the spider was disconcerting. He ran to the left, zigged to the right, deked left, deked right, and jumped about five feet into the air, bringing us face-to-face. We looked each other in the eyes, he let out a terrified squeak, at least I assume he did, as I couldn’t hear it above my own girly cries, and then we both took off in opposite directions, leaving nothing but a pair of vapor trails.
I slammed the bathroom door behind me and quickly locked myself in the bedroom, hoping that the spider wouldn’t come a hunting. Who needs a bathroom anyway? I cowered in my room, contemplating leaving the house to the spider and finding new digs. When my roommates arrived home I was still in the bedroom, fear and laziness battling to see whether I was distressed enough to actually pack, a chore I despise.
As soon as I heard the front lock open, I ran out of my bedroom and excitedly told my roommates of the eight-legged behemoth currently making use of the facilities. I could almost see it, perched over the bowl, idly leafing through that month’s Penthouse while smoking a cigarette.
My roommates—big, strong, healthy young men both—were gratifyingly dainty in their reaction, and join me in a trembling group as far from the bathroom as possible. We huddled together and in quick nattering voices discussed what to do. None of us had a plan beyond avoiding the bathroom’s vicinity.
Into that cringeworthy huddle of masculinity strode one of the guy’s Taiwanese girlfriend, a cute little slip of a thing saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it”. She marched past us, picking up a broom on her way to the bathroom. She quickly slipped into the bathroom, locking the door behind. From the bathroom there came grunts, some excited yells, and the sounds of banging and thrashing, while we three men excitedly clutched each other outside the door and chattered about what might be going on inside.
Suddenly the bathroom door burst open, we collectively jumped back, and out she strode—triumphant—with one hand holding the broom over her shoulder like a shotgun, while holding the dead spider, dangling by one leg, in her other hand. Our hero.
I was a little disappointed to see that the spider was not really as big as my head. It was only it’s long legs which made it appear so large. The body was big, perhaps a little smaller than a ping pong ball. Someone later told me it was a banana spider, disconcertingly fast, but ultimately harmless.