Chapter 004—What Ants Do To You

Dawn had come. Time to go to work. 

Squeezing into the jam-packed train compartment, my heart found an odd sense of calmness that hardly ever came by. Looking at people on their electronic devices made me feel an odd sense of comfort. After all, it w.as hard to break away from the looks of familiar faces. 

The train went on steadily with faint wobbles as usual, enchanting its tired passengers to plunge deeper into slumber. At the same time, peckish fellows blatantly ignored the announcement on the train, gnawing and wolfing down their food while attracting unfriendly sideways glances. 

As small as grains of sand, food crumbs quietly dropped themselves onto the floor when nobody was aware and were instantly stepped on and crushed into even smaller pieces. Alas, they met their demisethe cycle of being recklessly stomped on at the next few stations, before ultimately returning to dust. 

That was my stop. I half-wittingly took a detour from the crowd, ‘accidentally’ treading on the crumbles where a few ants were crawling on, sending a stream of pleasure down my spine. As the doors closed, I turned my head back and looked into the compartment, my heart burning with desire to savour the sight of the ravaged crumbs I had trampled on. But it was too late, since the train had already left.

I couldn’t see them after all. Whatever.

*****

Dusk came. Time to get off work.

Both my head and my heart were burnt out from exhaustion. It took us ages to wedge myself and my male colleague into the compartment, after which we carried on with bad-mouthing our boss.

‘There’s an ant.’ In a flash, he pointed at a tiny ant, which had been crawling quickly from the camp of my shoe to my calf.

I froze in fear as my mind went blank. No! There was a figure in the distance. Who was that? I couldn’t see it… I didn’t want to see it…

Bang! A slap on my calf delivered by my male workmate sent the ant to its doomflattened.

‘It’s alright now!’ He flashed a grin. ‘Are you scared of creepy crawlies?’ 

‘No, I’m only scared of ants.’ I replied, my lips still faintly tremouring from terror as I forced a smile.

*****

Time for lunch break.

Miss A was watching a television series online, while Mr B was yawning. Miss C went out for lunch, and Mr D enjoyed his large lunchbox. Meanwhile, Miss E…

Looking at the different demeanours of my colleagues, I suddenly felt that all of us were like organisms so tiny to the point where… we seemed like ants. It was the last thing I wanted to see. Toiling away day and night just for subsistence, were we really so much different from ants, which were eking out their survival daily? 

All of a sudden, I caught a glimpse of an ant sauntering on the back of my hand. Yet, I didn’t have the intention to squash it. I gently put my hand down onto the table, so as to let it crawl naturally. As I peered at the ant disappearing at the corner of the wall, I felt myself disappear as well. 

*****

The truth was, I was actually an ant, but I would sometimes daydream about being a human, spending my preposterous life as a mere mortal. It would be a life of goal-oriented, hopeful efforts though. I would run towards the so-called ‘hopes’. How extravagant would that be! This was meaningful, no more, no less.

Or…

Truth be told, I was actually a miniscule human being, but I would sometimes daydream about being an ant, spending my life without rhyme or reason. I would only search for food, which was my only goal. How dull would that be! This was survival, like no other.

*****

Time to go back to work.

My head was bitten off by my boss. 

Everybody knew that it wasn’t me, but they were all afraid of getting into trouble, and I was forced to face the guillotine. After what happened, I received no words of apology or consolation either.

Feeling dejected, I had to hide in a toilet cubicle to calm myself down. 

By coincidence, an ant passed by the cubicles. Without doubt, I stepped on it.

It repaid me with exhilaration, and I smiled in return.

*****

Liquor, liquor, liquor. At the bar.

‘Aren’t you only afraid of ants? Why are you scared of alcohol now?’ My male coworker asked with a smirk.

‘Actually, I’m not really fond of it.’ I stuttered out timidly.

‘Or… do you actually not drink?’ He gave a loud chortle.

His bubbles of laughter suddenly drove me to neglect my resistance, and the next minute I found myself pouring the shot down my throat. 

In the end, I passed out. 

As my mind became foggy, I saw him crawling upon my body like an ant, exploring each inch of my skin. He had no intention of stopping, since he was burning with desire to find his cave…

When God takes away your door, He will definitely leave you a window.

This time, God gave me an ant, of which I named my ‘boyfriend’. 

*****

It was a holiday, and I was at the hospital. 

Mum had been staying at this hospital. Yet, because her medical report wasn’t available until next week, it wasn’t clear what she had been diagnosed with.

Tears flooded the room when family members saw her. The air suffocated everyone with sorrow, even those who were mentally strong. 

‘I feel…’ Mum had been speaking intermittently these few days. ‘That I…’

Everyone held their breath, their hearts beating with fear that this would be her last words. 

‘That I’m… an ant…’ Her voice was as light as a feather, but I knew everyone heard it loud and clear. 

Dead silence filled the room. 

Unexpectedly, her last words were the clearest words I’d ever heard from her, no matter physically or mentally. 

*****

Time for dinner back at home. 

An odd silence rang through the dining room, across the table and the six chairs. Sounds from the television failed to cover everyone’s chewing—the food seemed to be harder than steel. Pretending not to be concerned, I continued to eat.

‘This tastes disgusting.’ Dad put his chopsticks down suddenly. ‘Let’s head out for dinner.’

Younger sister put hers down, ran into her room, and flung the door. Aunt lowered her head, yet her glare at the food was still distinct. Grandma blankly stared into space, tears almost spilling from her bloodshot eyes. I sat in silence, while my eyes traced the trails of an ant which passed by the opposite wall on occasion. 

I thought to myself, when it’s the end of the world, would this ant be Earth’s last resident? 

*****

Everytime I looked at Mum, ineffable emotions flooded my mind. An image of an ant rose from the depths of the waves in my mind, as if she had always been an ant.  

An ant who made meals, did the laundry, cleaned the floor, ironed clothes, wiped the window… How ridiculous! To me, she was always an ant. That explained why I had never thought of helping her out with the chores so as to alleviate her burdens.

Over time, I would walk away every time I saw her.

Nonetheless, I knew that I couldn’t run far away forever. 

*****

I was on the bed at my boyfriend’s. 

After our foreplay, my boyfriend became extremely excited, totally unaware that I had been zoning out. As he was still sweating on top of me, my imagination flew further away—a delivery room.

There was a bed in the room, lying on which was a queen ant. She was wrenching in so much pain, which was what pregnant women referred to as ‘the tenth level of pain’. This meant that she was about to give birth. A few moments later, the whole bed was filled with larvae, creating a horrifying sight. Yet, her body didn’t seem to give in, and within seconds, the newly-born larvae had already taken off the whole delivery room, the whole hospital, and even the whole world.

As I was abound with terror, the queen ant’s voice trembled into my ear with grievance, ‘Someday thy corse shall receive the same treatment!’

I screeched in fear. My boyfriend thought I was deeply aroused as well and thrusted harder into me…

*****

It was an alumni gathering in a traditional Chinese restaurant in Mainland China.

As weird as it sounds, why would anyone choose to hold an alumni gathering in the Mainland? Some said that it was the host’s idea, and they would give us a surprise.

‘An ant feast?’ I froze in fear, but I couldn’t escape the venue. 

‘Have you watched When Heaven Burns[1]?’ Person A shoved a spoonful of scrambled eggs with fire ants down his throat.

‘Yep. The scene where they ate human flesh was astonishing!’ Person B’s mouth was filled with limbs of black ants. 

‘How was the finale?’ Person C chugged half a bowl of termite soup in one big gulp.

‘It was terrible!’ Person D spoke as they handed me a bowl of yellow ant tong sui[2]<

Yeah it was! I said to myself in my mind repeatedly, right before I dashed into the toilet and threw up heavily.

*****

My boyfriend had lots of pets which terrified me, including snakes, lizards, spiders… Everytime we made love, he would put his beloved pets next to the bed so as to deepen his arousal. 

This time though, there was no sight of his pet. Secretly pleased, I asked after our passionate encounter, ‘Where’s your pet?’

‘It’s inside you now.’

‘What is?’

‘The ant.’

*****

There was now an ant in my heart. 

What did it usually do? Making meals, doing the laundry, cleaning the floor, ironing clothes, wiping the window… It was capable of a lot of things, but it never cared about my feelings. On what grounds did it enter my mind and my life? It’d better get out of my sight as soon as possible!

In the end, one of the ants in my life had really disappeared. I vaguely remember its name: Mum.

*****

I bowed at the guests once more at the funeral.

‘Is she really dead?’ A voice whispered in my ear, yet I could tell that it didn’t belong to the people at the funeral.

‘Who?’ Another voice asked rhetorically.

‘Cousin number two hundred and ninety three.’ The first voice appeared to be annoyed. ‘She…’

Silence.

I snapped out of it and lowered my head to see the two ants I stepped on by accident.

*****

‘Is there something wrong with my ears? Why do I hear ants speaking?’ I asked the doctor.

‘No, there’s nothing wrong with them. You’re under immense pressure, which caused your auditory hallucinations.’ He replied. 

‘Am I mentally ill?’ I asked.

‘It’s an emotional disorder.’ He replied. 

‘What do I do then?’ 

‘I’ll write you a prescription. Remember, you must take your medicine on time. And also get some rest…’

‘Thank you doctor.’

‘No problem.’

As I left the clinic, I turned my head around to see the billboard—‘Specialist Ma Yi’.

No, I took a closer look and noticed it said ‘Specialist Ma Ngai’[3]<.

*****

I always felt like something was eating my insides.

Were they ants?

I was told that everything was normal after my physical examination.

My boyfriend explained that what he said about ants before was simply a joke.

My colleagues told me to get more rest and to lessen my workload.

……

‘There’s really an ant inside me!’ I screamed as I darted out the door. One giant leap off the rooftop, I had already sacrificed my life in the cruelest way possible.

As Death approached and lingered upon me, I finally made out what it was. It wasn’t an ant, but…


[1] When Heaven Burns is a 2011 Hong Kong television series produced by TVB. [Click to go back]

[2] Tong sui is a category of traditional Hong Kong dessert, which literally translates to ‘sweet water’. [Click to go back]

[3] 馬 (which means ‘horse’) and 螞 (first compound word of ‘ant’) are homophones in Cantonese, whereas 義 (which means ‘justice’) and 蟻 (second compound word of ‘ant’) are false friends in Cantonese. [Click to go back]


TOC


For chapter updates and other info, be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You can also find our team on the Verdant Lore discord server here.