While the rest of the country is figuring out how to return to the golden age of a welfare state, I’m learning to live with ants.
One hot summer night an ant crawled across the living room floor. It was as long as my baby toe. I treated it as a guest, as I have learned to treat all the creepy crawlies that visit our ground floor apartment in the countryside. This particular ant’s reddish hue contrasted nicely with our rust colored floor tiles. It didn’t stop to talk, but still, I was hospitable. Until I saw its cousin. Then I urged my partner to take the broom and sweep our uninvited guests out the door. This humane treatment of creatures smaller than humans does not come naturally to me. I learned it from my partner.
The next hot summer night another ant came to visit. This ant looked like a relative of the previous night’s visitor. In the six years we have lived in the countryside, I had never seen such large ants. Again, I tried to be welcoming.
I noticed that the ants only began their visits at 9:30 and wondered if they waited until after the nightly news. Were they not interested in the massacres in Syria, the famine in Sudan?
The next night my partner went to sleep early and I sat alone in the living room. That night I counted six visitors. The next morning I called the landlord. He brought over some white stuff that I was to put in the cracks. Our house looked like it had been powdered with fairy dust.
One morning a few days later, feeling quite relaxed, I walked into the kitchen. The marble counter top was moving. On closer inspection I saw an army of tiny brown ants positioned on the marble counter. One platoon carried a bread crumb on a stretcher made from a grain of rice while another platoon attacked the watermelon rind waiting to be thrown into the compost heap. The little ants, God’s truly amazing creatures, marched in perfect lines, their discipline impeccable. When I turned around to leave the kitchen—I didn’t really want breakfast that morning—I saw another platoon crawling up the plastic garbage pail, obviously on a reconnaissance mission.
Along with my admiration for the ants’ military prowess and immunity to fairy dust, I felt the stirrings of hatred. Call it senseless or baseless hatred, in the spirit of Tisha b’Av, but hatred it was. I turned back to the kitchen, grabbed a damp cloth and wiped out the first platoon with one aggressive sweep of the arm. Then I threw the watermelon rind along with its ants into the compost heap outside. I threw the top of the garbage pail covered with intelligence ants into the sink and ran out of the house with the half-empty garbage bag.
The next morning again the marble counter top was moving. This time I boiled water and flooded the whole fucking army. I was aware that from the enemy ants’ point of view, this was a holocaust. I was not proud of my behavior and wondered if ants—the ubiquitous other—inspired in many frail humans such expressions of Evil.
That night I awoke at 2 AM scratching and itching. The next morning I spread the fairy dust in the bedroom.
At work, something tickled my arm. I looked down and saw the hairs on my arm moving and instinctively hit, slapped and brushed off the tiny brown creatures. Now I was a carrier, not only of Hatred and Evil, but also the enemy.
A friend told me that ants detest the smell of cloves so that night I decorated the kitchen counter. The rows of cloves looked like giant brown stitches on smooth white skin. There was no space left to prepare food, but it was summer and our appetites had dwindled. Still, the ants came.
One morning after a night of itching and cursing, I did not greet the ants in the kitchen with the respect due to all of God’s creatures large and small. I yelled at them in all my languages: Latin, Hebrew, English and French. I told them it wasn’t fair that they had invaded my space. Do your ant thing outside, I screamed.
As everyone knows, when tired, humans often give free reign to their Evil Impulse. After the boiling water, I sprayed (nonorganic) soap. With scratchy plastic pads I scraped the marble counter. I wanted to show the little motherfuckers who was boss. The message, I assumed, would get back to their nests via the one or two survivors.
That night I saw another big red one. My storage room of compassion was depleted. I took off my sandals and put on a pair of running shoes. I lifted one foot over the crawling monster and militantly crushed its back. First it creaked; then it crunched. I had not expected a crunch; it had looked so soft and labile as it glided over my floor. I had expected a silent death.
Within three minutes the dead mother ant was surrounded by a thousand little baby ants. They encircled the big dead body and may have wailed, but I couldn’t hear them, as I ran to get the broom. When I returned to sweep the whole red army out the front door, they were carrying their mother away. Or were they eating her?
Now I have ants on my computer, ants on the kettle and ants on the toothpaste. Sometimes I have itching in my ear and I wonder if an ant has crawled inside. Every time I see something move in my peripheral vision, I hear a creak and a crunch. This is the sound of the illusion of power, the sound, I fear, that will accompany me to the grave.