I saw a line of tiny red ants speeding by on a ledge of bathroom tiles. The traffic was trickling but constant. As usual, they stopped for barely a second when they passed each other to exchange greetings or news. Then they were off again to run errands till they died.
I killed one.
I don’t know why I did it. I just stuck my finger out; squished and rolled it into a thin red line. I mean I’ve had them bite me before, so it could have been revenge. Then something odd began to happen.
The ants in the line froze, starting from the one closest to the deceased. One by one they just stopped dead in their tracks. It was as though an inaudible cry had gone out to warn them. It was intriguing to see them stop with timed intervals as the news reached their tiny ears or feelers or whatever it was that helped them ‘hear’.
I observed them awhile longer. A few minutes later they were still frozen. Others who came onto the ledge only had to go as far as a 50 feet (1 human inch) to their nearest compadre and they too froze. I was fascinated by this behavior for a short while. Ants that played dead. Who knew?
Then I killed them all.
I didn’t care that they were complex creatures, capable of interaction and unity. They were smaller than me and they might have bitten me again. They had no faces big enough for me to see to feel compassion; and I have a feeling that had their pincered jaws been magnified I would have crushed them sooner and with more repulsion. I didn’t hear them cry but I made sure theirs deaths were swift; no torturing by pulling out their feelers or squishing half their bodies and watching them squirm. I am not a sadist.
As I went on to shower I thought of the little things. I felt small. I was smaller than others; a small fish in a big pond definitely. Would the other fish gobble me up because they were hungry? Or maybe because they were tired of me swimming around their tail? The smarter ones may even get rid of me sensing that though I ate little now, one day I might grow big enough to compete for their food source.
Life can be vicious. The strong do thrive while the little guy struggles. What could the ants have done? Maybe they are already doing something? I may have left witnesses to the massacre. They could be mobilizing under my bed as I write this; peeing on my blanket; farting on my pillow; or sitting in my pants preparing to give me an angry bite before I smack the sting making their kamikaze dreams come true.
These things are beneath me though.
Or maybe like me the ants don’t like the concept of revenge. They could have just buried their dead, counted their blessings and soldiered on. Life needs you to do that sometimes. Just soldier on. That’s what keeps them present in every household, in every nation, and on every continent I think. Even a barren straw hut in Zimbabwe I’m sure has an ant problem. But that seems to be their solution – to soldier on.
Then again this morning I woke up with three itchy swells on my forehead. I wonder…