Chapter 005—What Ants Do To You [REVISED]

(01)

Dawn had come. It was 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 was 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.

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.

An ant was lighter than a feather, yet its dead body weighed my leg down like a mountain, sticking to it. There wasn’t much fluid from its body, then why would it feel slimy to me? I didn’t want to think much, I didn’t dare to think much, fearing that a colony of ants would creep out from the depths of my mind.

Like the cursed name of Voldemort, it couldn’t be said out loud but still remained deep in my heart, driving a sense of fear into me that I could not name. 

The colony of ants had already dug deep and nested in my mind, where they nursed larvae and young ants. Hatched out from their eggs, the young ants devoured my heart and mind, blazing a trail in my body.Together, they marked their presence by leaving trails of their determination behind, reflected in their decorated nest. 

United we stand! For the greater good! It’s all about teamwork! Submit to your fate and be responsible! Don’t ask the colony what it can do for you, instead ask yourself what you can do for the colony!

What was pleasing for the ant colony was clammy for me. It was a thick, muddy paste which looked like snot. They dragged my body and confined my thoughts. Such heaviness, yet I couldn’t resist it.

What a scary colony of ants. I never dared to face them directly. Turning a blind eye wasn’t the best solution, yet it was the best way to deceive myself.

Inserting my key, I opened the door and entered my apartment.

There was a human-sized ant in an apron, and it was making a meal. The viscous food almost made me gag. 

It demanded me to eat it all up. I didn’t dare to resist, so I braced myself with tears and gorged down the liqueous mess.

Disgusting.

‘Does it taste good?’ It asked.

‘Yes.’ I didn’t venture to make out other answers.

(02)

Time for lunch break.

To save energy, some of the ceiling lights would be turned off, and the air conditioning would be adjusted to twenty five degrees Celsius. The office went dim instantly and the air became stuffy, almost suffocating us. Colleagues who stayed in for lunch were separated by screens as they ate their meals and killed time in their own cubicles.                              

Miss A was watching a television series online, which were always tear-jerking stories revolving around tears, arguments and suicides. Mr B was yawning; his snores were like squeals from a pig. Miss C couldn’t stop smiling when she looked up travelling details. Meanwhile, Mr D was still enjoying his large lunchbox. The food had been there for half the day, and it had already turned into a gooey mixture with deathly pale shades, giving a sense of morbidness. Miss E…

I leaned my back against the soft cushions, leaning back on the computer chair with ease. With my light jacket resting on my shoulders, I gazed up at the 2 by 2 plasterboard-made ceiling, lost in thought. The plasterboard above my head was the biggest and squarest among all of them. Looking across the whole office, the plasterboards over there were like small trapeziums. The ceiling grid gave the plain looking ceiling a sense of distance, creating a touch of beauty. Although there were a few illuminating white lights trying to balance out the gloomy feeling in the office, it wasn’t enough to suppress the dimness. The stiffening coldness was still hovering in the air. Cubicle after cubicle, like heaps of manual labour, like machines.

Everyone was robots coated with organic skin, everybody was like ants. Their own individual characteristics were slowly being blurred out, as if they were made out of molds, becoming indistinguishable. They were all trying to live their own lives in different ways, yet they were unaware that such a way of thinking had already rooted deep in their brains, corrupting their minds. After experiencing a lifetime of rollercoaster rides, they ultimately had to blindly sacrifice their whole life for the greater good. Working hard day and night, just to have a good meal for survival. As long as they weren’t dead, they would continue to sacrifice their lives while saying in that ridiculously cocky tone, ‘My life is so meaningful!’

All of a sudden, I caught a glimpse of an ant sauntering on the back of my hand. Pitiful feelings emerging, I gently put my hand down onto the table, so as to let it crawl away naturally. As I peered at the ant disappearing at the corner of the wall, I felt myself disappear as well. 

I buried myself into work behind the screen.

My fingertips flew across the keyboard, letting out tap after tap.

The words were as small as ants.

Serving as words, tiny ants were deformed and typed onto the blank white sheet on the monitor, as stiff as boards. Pretending to be words, pretending to be cultural, pretending to be democratic, pretending to be liberated. Undoubtedly born to be slaves, they had no way to get rid of the servility in their genes. Yet, they just had to deliberately twist and distort their true selves, serving no more than to sugarcoat their horrifying realities with nice words and miens. Look! Words built by lives were indeed magnificent!

I curled my lips upwards, letting out a sneer, and I could feel a stream of coolness rushing inside me.  Push. Them. Dead! 

The rich, tacky perfume of my female boss had arrived earlier than her. ‘You!’ She hollered angrily as she walked towards me. 

Slap! I was startled by the sudden drop of thick piles of files onto my desk. ‘This is ridiculous! Unacceptable!’ With cherry red nail polish on her nails, her index finger pointed at the ‘mistakes’ forcefully, making several formidable punctures on the paper.

I pushed up my heavy glasses, brushed my hair away to the side of my ears, and gave a close look of that poor mistake. ‘This was the sum recorded in the data Mr. B gave me.’ I skilfully retrieved the yellow file from the file tray and handed to her the sheet of paper that Mr. B had given me. Just in case that she didn’t understand, I gave her a thorough explanation about the details.

Her face turned green, and her eyes darted towards Mr. B, who immediately defended himself by deducing that it was Miss E’s fault, saying that her explanation had misled him. Miss E gave it a thought, then pointed her finger at Miss A. Without even thinking, Miss A dragged Mr. D down with her… All this blaming traced back to the boss, going all the way back to one of her initial orders.

She burst into flames of wrath, biting my head off in front of everyone. Deep down in their hearts, my colleagues knew it wasn’t my fault at all. Nevertheless, they couldn’t go against their nature of being slaves; they had become completely numb towards injustice, witnessing me being forced to face the guillotine. They continued to let this atrocity roam over their lives, seeing it as an element that was essential to the journey of life, a routine to survive. There was no need to empathize or feel guilty for one’s tragic experiences. Words of apologies or consolation were simply unnecessary.

I felt my soul leaving my body, after which it revolved around my boss’ ugly appearance, bringing a smile to my face. Time slowed down, and I took my time to study every single detail. Her meaty cheeks were bloated beneath her big, round eyes. Her thin lips that spat out diabolic words which would not spare anyone were smeared with burgundy lipstick. Spit would occasionally come out between her two front teeth, letting a foul smell as she commanded her slaves to follow her orders. Her gigantic, stout physique was the top of the heap among the entire company, especially her abdomen and hips, plump and round. She would probably bear many children with that body.

As I began to lose interest in her, my mind drifted away from her to the ladies’ washroom, silently waiting for the arrival of my numb torso.

As my heart and my mind reunited once more, a big ant coincidentally passed by a toilet cubicle. Without doubt, I used my fingers to press its head against the floor, which plunged downwards almost instantly. Meanwhile, its plump, round abdomen went the opposite way, rising up. Its tiny limbs didn’t even have enough time to struggle before it remained stuck forever.

A peculiar sense of satisfaction swept all over my body, with goosebumps rising on my skin and my scalp tingling with excitement.

I smiled. I smiled for its befall.

(03)

Off work. I went to the bar to kill time.

The owner tried to establish the mood with dim lighting, yet to me, it made the bar look like low-cost mine lamps used in caves. It still wasn’t bright enough even after straining their every nerve. I could only make out a few steps in front of myself, so I relied on the scent of my male colleague’s cologne to lead the way. 

After a long journey, we finally reached a small sofa in the corner. From the menu, I picked a glass of  orange juice, pan-fried chicken wings, and deep fried fish fillets. He wanted a cocktail and some peanuts. I took off my glasses, and I watched the world revolving around me turn blurry. It was relaxing, and I felt like opening up myself. We ate, drank, and chatted, all while we complained about everything, especially our boss; it felt great. 

After a few drinks, my male co-worker was getting rather drunk. I tried to convince him to stop drinking and go home immediately. He refused and instead ordered another cocktail, insisting on pouring it down my throat.  

‘Aren’t you only afraid of ants? Why are you scared of alcohol now?’ My male coworker asked as he pointed at my glass of orange juice, his laughs teasing my childish behaviour. His front teeth were bizarrely big, like a pair of crescents. 

‘Actually, I’m not really fond of it.’ I stuttered out timidly, rejecting his request. I was scared of alcohol, and I was also scared of him. Was it because of the dim lighting? Was it because I took my glasses off? He became unrecognisable in front of me.Beams of flaxen-coloured lighting vaguely drew out his strange silhouette: a small head, a tiny chest, and a large abdomen.

‘Or… ’ He approached me devilishly and whispered into my ear. ‘Do you actually not drink?’ Wittingly or unwittingly, the tip of his tongue lightly grazed my earlobe, leaving a slight tinge of moisture, with faint wisps of liquor lingering in his breath. 

I felt my body going limp, my head dizzy with thoughts. 

‘Ants use the scent of their excretion for communication.’ My biology teacher in secondary school didn’t know how to teach, so the class was really boring. 

I froze as my acquaintance boldly opened his mouth, ready to devour and conquer me whole.

‘By using their large pair of mandibles, ants bite to attack their enemies or defend themselves.’ My teacher had explained.

With our lips locked together and our tongues intertwined, he left a sour taste in my mouth. What he apparently wanted was Whiskey Sour’, a classic type of cocktail.

‘Ants secrete formic acid when they bite.’ Memories of my teacher’s lesson would forever be stuck with me. 

Mixing together whiskey, lemon juice, white sugar, and soda water, it created a refreshing sensation. I loved this fragrance ambling between sobriety and inebriation, much like the fiery sparks of one’s struggles between freedom and servility; so alluring, hurting, and murderous.

I chugged down the entire glass in one big gulp.

In the end, I passed out. 

Truth be told, I was actually a minuscule 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.

Or…

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.

Meaning, where was it?

Where? The whiff of his cologne enveloped me in pitch-darkness. Where? Using all six limbs, he crawled upon me, wandering upon every inch of my skin. Where? His putrid antennae explored everywhere, attempting to find the entrance of the cave.

During the mating flight, our half-transparent wings reflected out enigmatic rays of rainbow, giving a bewitching sensation to the boring surroundings. With lustful and spiritual desires entwined, thin, long wings began to stretch open enthusiastically, and the sound of flapping wings echoed around us. Light and crisp, it lulled people to their slumber. We knew that it was the point of no return, yet the temptation was so hard to resist, and so we headed right into the murky water.

We mated and landed on the ground. He was my love, my choice. I embraced him tightly, hoping to show him my affection before he lost his consciousness completely. Should I lament or rejoice in this situation?

His life was only for the purpose of seeking happiness, and his journey ended at his euphoria. Should I laugh or cry? I shed off my wings quietly as I enter the golden age of my life. I now had the ability to start a family, to bear children. Unfortunately, I also bidded farewell to my freedom at the same time…

The next morning, the aromatic smell of food woke me up. Covering my body with a blanket, I tiptoed out of the room and saw my companion busily making us a hearty breakfast.

‘Morning…’ A bashful smile grew on his face. ‘Come here and have your breakfast. I bought you corn congee. It’s soft.’

I didn’t open my mouth to reply to him. Instead, I ran towards him and gave him a warm hug, ignoring the blanket which was now on the floor.

I thought he had died, like aners after mating. 

(04)

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

Mum suddenly fainted in the living room and hurt her head. After she was sent to the hospital, we were told that it wasn’t clear what she had been diagnosed with, until her medical report became available next week.

Tears flooded the room when family members saw her. The air suffocated everyone with sorrow and worry. The solemnity in the room was too much, even for those who were mentally strong. No wonder. Mum used to be so bubbly and healthy. Yet after staying at the hospital for no more than two days, her eyes had completely lacked lustre, and she had become as thin as a rail. 

Mum was a typical traditional housewife, and she believed that family was the most important thing. She always liked to set examples by taking part in everything, trying so hard to keep the family whole. She sacrificed everything: her money, her youth, her time, her future, her freedom… Everyone who knew her would praise her for being a good mother, a good wife, a good daughter. To me though, I never saw her as a ‘good person’. 

She was no person. She was an ant.

She was the queen ant of the family: no power to rule, but everyone would naturally think of her as the pillar supporting the family. Everything had to revolve around her.

In front of her, everyone buried their anxieties among themselves for her sake, with their enmities concealed beneath their fake smiles. 

A harmonious family; it sounded so appealing. Yet, the beauty behind it was all built upon Mum’s existence and efforts. If she wasn’t present, would this beauty still flourish in the years to come? If not, then didn’t it mean that this beauty was only an illusion? In other words, we were all trapped under Mum’s magnificent fantasy. 

To be gravely honest, I didn’t want Mum to be discharged from the hospital.

I wanted to directly point out all of Dad’s mistakes, shouting at him for his gambling addiction that caused the whole family to suffer. I wanted to reveal the true nature of Aunt hidden behind her mask of hypocrisy: strict towards others, yet lenient towards herself.

I wanted to pierce Grandma’s heart with the truth by telling her these words: Your precious son had already abandoned you a long time ago. Stop thinking of him. Look at your daughter (Mum) whom you had always neglected. She was the one who took care of you, who tolerated your hot temper, who thought through everything for you.

I want to discuss future projects with my sister, those which had been objected to by Mum all these years…

Was I vicious? Was I selfish? Could I possibly be more selfish than Mum had been? In the name of ‘keeping the family together’, she had to make us see each other day after day, forcing us to swallow our grudges. Who cared if you couldn’t digest them? Just swallow them down!

I never understood this. Why were we still together when we didn’t get along? For our consanguinity that we were stuck with? Was that small streak of bloodline more important than everyone’s happiness and freedom? Starting families, building societies, forming tribes, all of which were to make communication and interaction more convenient among us, in order to let human culture transcend. Nevertheless, Mum had put the cart before the horse. She obliged everyone to remain still in their poor selves and not make any progress, so as to start a family. 

I was willing to care for Mum’s feelings, not because I loved her, but because I pitied her.

She was the epitome of servility. It had seeped into her bones, into her pith, and even into her genes. She survived just to survive. She followed traditions just to follow traditions. She started a family just to start a family. She wasn’t wrong. She was just blindly following the steps society had left behind, not thinking for even a moment whether they suited her or not for.

Strictly speaking, she was a victim. Same as everyone else, she thought she was living her own life, yet she was unaware that this way of thinking had already rooted deep in her brain, corrupting her mind. After experiencing a lifetime of rollercoaster rides, she ultimately had to sacrifice her whole life for the greater good…

‘I feel…’ Mum had been speaking intermittently today. ‘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. 

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… Affable and non-invasive on the outside, she was the one thing that destroyed my willpower the most out of all people. 

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

(05)

I was at a private kitchen where meetings with clients were often held.

My boss liked to be accompanied by the experienced Mr. B or Miss E whenever she had a dinner party to attend to. This time though, she chose me to go with her. Before our meal, she and the client had a casual conversation, followed by a relaxing discussion of the contract details. Their faces beamed with happiness the whole time. When food was served, the client went over the moon and he could hardly contain his joy. Meanwhile, my boss went still. I jumped up from my seat and shrieked without hiding my fear, scrambling to my feet and leapt a few steps back, until they touched the sliding screen.

The client cast a glance at me and gave me a devilish grin, ‘It’s absolutely normal to feel sick at your first ant feast.’ Having seen so many hardships, not a single trace of offence was seen on his face. 

I stood still like a stone, trembling in fear. My boss picked up the pieces at once and smiled at me amiably for the very first time. ‘Come and try some. You’ll know it’s good after you’ve tried it.’ She waved at me, motioning me to get back to the table. ‘I first found it repulsive, but after building up my courage, it really was a delicacy. I couldn’t help myself afterwards!’ She sounded like Mum did, the ant pretending to be a human.

Everything was spinning around me, and they were grappling with each other in front of my eyes. I was now in an ant nest. In front of me were two human-sized ants, one male and the other female. Both of them scanned my body with their huge eyes, and my heart was about to burst under their glare. Their sweet words pirouetted around my head, summoning a terrifying colony of ants from the depths of my mind. With numerous gnaws and chomps, they devoured my heart and soul, leaving their determination behind. 

I didn’t make a sound as I let the ants in my body idle away unbridledly, start a family, build a society, and develop their culture. They promptly urged me to return to my seat, before I poured termite soup down my throat in one big gulp.

Did it taste good?

Yeah, it did.

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

‘Yep. It had bold intentions! Humans eating humans!’ A female ant’s mouth was filled with limbs of black ants.

‘I asked many friends about this. Most of them gave me the same response you did. But to me, that scene wasn’t much of a big deal.’ The aner spoke in an authoritative tone, delivering his great speech in front of his female counterpart. ‘“Humans eating humans” happens everyday. It occurs in different forms and extents in life. It doesn’t literally have to be human “flesh” when humans “eat” others. ‘“Eating” up people’s aspirations also counts as one way of “eating up humans”.’ With his mouth now dry, he scooped up a spoonful of yellow ant soup.

‘Under dire situations, the three main characters ate their friend who was severely hurt so as to survive.’ He continued on. ‘After being rescued, they were deeply disturbed by their friend’s death, and they were led astray, ultimately ruining their own lives. To put it in simpler words, their good friend lost his life physically, yet mentally he lived on in the hearts of the main characters. On the other hand, the main characters were able to survive, but their hearts were engulfed by guilt, and in the end they couldn’t be authentic to their true selves anymore…

There are no absolutes in this world. Every incident is shaped by illusions of different perspectives and angles. Me and you. The minority and the majority. Individuality and universality. Who can truly tell them apart?’

‘So by conjecturing this, then who ate whom? Who was eaten by whom? It’s so confusing!’ Sliding in a compliment so seamlessly, the female ant was destined to eat her male peer.

The feast was finally over. With the contract signed, me and my boss saw the client off. As the car slowly disappeared from our sight, we wandered in the street. 

‘Don’t blame me for not telling you tonight’s arrangement earlier.’ She took out a pack of sour sweets from her handbag and gave me three pieces generously. 

‘Mr. B had the feast once. So did Miss E. Now you had one and I already had three.’

I popped one in my mouth. It wasn’t sweet at all. The sourness was enough to melt myself away, along with the ants inside me. 

‘One day, I’ll get used to this.’ She ate another sweet, with the intention of melting herself away. ‘That’s how I convince myself.’ 

‘Once I get used to it, then I don’t have to doubt myself anymore. More feasts means more signed contracts, which means there will be more opportunities to come. And I get to live a better life…’ She popped another sweet in her mouth, after which her human skin dissolved, revealing her formic body. ‘Is it really an extravagant thing to have the desire to live a better life?’

I had a second sweet, and it melted my hatred towards her. The last one in my mouth melted my tolerance towards the world.

‘I quit,’ I said.

(06)

I didn’t return home. I sneaked into his place instead. We weren’t colleagues anymore, so I could call him ‘my boyfriend’ directly. He was puzzled by my sudden arrival, yet he asked no questions. Between sweet talks, he gave me his snacks and pyjamas, and let me play his video games and sleep in his bed. 

After a round of foreplay and passionate kisses, my boyfriend became extremely excited, totally unaware that I had been zoning out. As he pushed me down on the bed and was now on top of me, my imagination flew further away. 

There was a bed in the room, lying on which was a queen ant with a bulging stomach. She was wrenching in so much pain, the pain which was often referred to as ‘the tenth level of pain by pregnant women. Her shrieks echoed across the room as her limbs waved frantically in the air. It seemed that she was about to give birth. 

‘That’s how much it hurts during labour.’ I replied to her pain with my cold eyes. 

‘Haven’t your elders ever told you?’

‘They only told me that this was my destiny! It is inevitable, and I have to accept my fate.’ She looked down at her abdomen filled with her children in the form of eggs, caressing it while thinking about the inevitability of her fate. ‘I was born to bear children. Besides that, I have no other purposes in life.’

‘That’s not a must. If you didn’t mate with aners in the first place, you wouldn’t be pregnant.’ I tore down the lies of her elders and demolished her beliefs stuck with her for her whole life. ‘You can still be a worker ant if you can’t be a queen ant.’

She wailed and was deeply hurt. My heart swelled with regret; I gave her a glance of the choices she had passed by, but only after the dice had been cast. Her bawls of torment caught up with her weeps, not even before they had died down. The eggs toppled over and came flying out of the tiny hole of her abdomen. 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 over 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…

I blatantly ignored my family’s opposition and continued to stay at my boyfriend’s. His family wasn’t easy-going either, and they had claimed the house was only large enough for two adults to live. I was buried alive by the weight of it, but it unexpectedly gave me an odd sense of security, just like the familiar routes  ants would walk on. No need to choose, no need to think, no need to worry. I just had to follow the instructions given to me, walk straight ahead, and I would naturally arrive at my destination. So relaxing. So easy. 

I leaned close to the window, staring at the black, dense tops of heads downstairs. I couldn’t tell whether they were human heads or ant heads.

I had always despised those who lived like ants, laughing at their lack of awareness for freedom, as they remained to be imprisoned in formless cages for the rest of their lives. At this moment, seeing this from another angle, hadn’t I also imprisoned myself in an alternative crate? I confined my actions, so as to prevent myself turning into their kind. I could only spend the rest of my days in my own nest, like the queen ant.

From the day I stayed at my boyfriend’s place onwards, I never left the apartment, as I was scared to face those ants who drifted along through life. I was scared of getting along with them and to communicate with them. Thoughts were highly infectious diseases which could spread through different media; language, words, images, hints, and ambiance. There was no escape!

I became quiet suddenly. Something clicked in my head.

My mind had been invaded by ants at an early age, long before I came to my senses. Maybe they were a new breed of ants. Or maybe they hadn’t been discovered or named by man. Their exclusivity was abnormally high. That explained why I was so sensitive towards other ant colonies.

Was I already at death’s door? Could it still be treated?

No! I didn’t want to end up like that poor queen ant! 

I couldn’t jump to conclusions so rashly, or else I would fall into their trap. You’ll be saved as long as you don’t die, I told myself. How would I be saved though? By setting fire to the ants? By fumigating them? By drowning them? By poisoning them?

All of a sudden, I had a eureka moment. I thought of the conversation between my client and my boss. ‘Humans eating humans’ was just an example. Killing one’s own kind was the ultimate truth! This phenomenon was apparent in every species, so as to lower competition among themselves. Everyone was most familiar with everything about their opponent, and vice versa. Humans were most capable of annihilating other humans! Ants were most capable of annihilating other ants!

I went to the kitchen and with my eyes ablaze with ferocity, my sights swept across everywhere.

There was an ant crossing by the wall corner. 

I put it in my ear. 

I longed for the day of the wolf having a winning game to come.

(07)

A black and white picture, which was the deceased’s favourite, was framed and hung up in the funeral hall. Her eyes were as bright as stars, her teeth were as white as snow, her hair was as dark as the night sky, and her skin was as pale as lilies. She was Mum. During those three months at the hospital, she had been waiting for a suitable organ transplant. Unfortunately, it never got to her turn. There were patients who had been waiting for years to receive a transplant, let alone her three-month wait…

I bowed at the guests once more at the funeral. Those who gave their regards were all ants. Standing next to me at the family table were all ants. The one lying in the coffin was an ant. There were ants everywhere. I didn’t even have a speck of fear in me, since I was used to ants now, those outside and inside of me.

I got along with the ants outside better than those inside me. A long time ago, they had been humans, and they had kept some of the human qualities. They excelled in pretending to be humans, pretending to be reflective, pretending to be free, pretending to be fair. Although their disguise was near perfect, their prominent sense of ‘exclusivity’ couldn’t be entirely covered up. Once my cover was blown, I would be in grave danger to the point of no return. 

I warned myself repeatedly that I must restrain myself. By not exposing them under their masks, I would get through all of this and I wouldn’t be attacked. This wasn’t an easy task at all. After all, I wasn’t one of one of their kind. There was bound to be some difficulty in behaving like them exactly.

Thankfully, I still have the ants inside me, which consisted of two different colonies. They kept fighting for more resources, declaring war on each other on each part of my body. When there was a sharp pain in a certain part of my body, I would know that they were starting a war again. In the aftermath, no matter who won or lost, the corpses of the dead would rot and decompose as mucus, flowing to other parts of my body along with their strength of will, ultimately becoming a part of me.  

Compared to my past self, the current me resembled more of an ant, no matter cognitively or behaviourally. Yet, I clearly knew that I was a person in an ant’s disguise.

After the funeral, I left with my sister.

I didn’t know whether to call my sister a ‘she’ or an ‘it’. In my state of half-human half-ant, which group did she/it belong to? I honestly didn’t know. She/It used to think the same way as I did. She/It had found family disputes troubling as I did. Nonetheless, when Mum was in hospital, her/its attitude did a full one eighty.

The words ‘blood is thicker than water’ were always on her/its mouth. I neither agreed nor retorted, simply leaving it hanging in the air.

We spoke of nothing, yet we started talking because of a tiny ant. 

‘Watch out!’ My sister blew away the ant on my arm . ‘Was it from the funeral hall?’ she/it asked. She/it said there were several ants near our seats, but she/it wasn’t brave enough to get rid of all of them. Legend says that the ghosts of the dead could cling on creepy crawlies.

‘Possibly.’ I let out a faint smile, secretly thrilled by the fact that she/it still recalled my myrmecophobia. Unexpectedly, she/it still remembered who I used to be. 

‘There’s another ant here!’ She/It pulled at the rim of my shirt after we walked a few steps ahead.

I stole a glimpse of the ant and flicked it away by my finger. I knew where it came from—my body. Recently, I would find a few ants in my excrement. I guessed that they probably had already moved down ‘there’. Some of them must have found the exit, and explored the outside world with wonder. 

‘Hmm? There’s another one…’ The shock on my sister’s face reminded me of the situation. If we kept talking about this, she/it would soon find out the terrifying truth. 

‘I’ll go and clean up. You don’t have to wait for me.’ I hurriedly turned away and left.

My sister would never understand me, nor did I plan on forcing her/it to do so.

Sometimes, I wondered why servility could reach this level of madness. Was it of an innate nature? Was it only this simple? Of course not. It was because having a clear mind would cause headaches, and the pain came from helplessness. This was caused by witnessing how twisted and distorted the world was, yet there was nothing one could do to change the cruelty of reality, never mind the people who actually cared about our sick, sick world. Day by day, our frames of mind were tortured in the endless abyss of hell, starting from the moment we fell from the sky as a baby to the moment which we bid farewell to life. The helplessness of many slaughtered themselves without spilling any blood. 

Or perhaps, I shouldn’t mind other people’s business and instead let go of them, the people whose minds had already been tarnished by ants and continued to live their lives in servility. 

Like my boyfriend.

Three days ago, he found out where the ants were nested and went bananas, dragging me to visit the doctor. I refused. 

‘You’ll die!’ He loved me. 

‘Humans will eventually die one day. There’s no need to be afraid. I’d rather die with a clear head than to live on without any ambitions!’ I loved him. ‘Let’s choose our own happiness by ourselves!’

He froze. 

Before we dated, he had mentioned his dreams. He didn’t relish the idea of spending the rest of his life reading people’s faces at all, so he wanted to start a company and become the boss himself. After we started going out, we gave thoughts about marriage. It was at that time that he wanted to properly find a job with high pay, so as to give me a life of security and to earn enough money to sustain a living for the wife and kids, wanting our children to be doctors or lawyers… He gave me a warm embrace, talking passionately about his dreams in his sleep. Such sweet dreams. Ridiculously sweet. Guilt swelled in my heart, as his love for me drove him to change everything about him. He twisted his true self for me, and ended up not even being human.  

He remained frozen and let me walk past him on my own. I left the ant nest. 

He had completely turned into an ant. My heart ached for his transformation, yet I still hoped that he would be happily immersed in his sweet dreams. 

(08)

I sold all my valuables and threw away my ID card. My life was about to go off the rails.

Clothes. I wore the same outfit everyday: the same clothes, the same pair of trousers, the same pair of shoes and the same pair of socks, until they became dirty and smelled. I no longer worried about people’s gazes anymore. Food. There was always someone who wasted food. So I ate their leftovers, bringing prosperity to the world in my own way. Accommodation. When the weather was nice outside, I would find everywhere to be a good place to chill. When it wasn’t, I would hide in a random public toilet. Travelling. I relied on my feet, except for when I wanted to enjoy the scenery on the other side of the Victoria Harbour, then for that I had to take the train. 

Taking the railway train was the most similar thing from my past life. With time and space interweaving, the past me and the current me overlapped with each other.

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 was 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 and ants I had trampled on. But it was too late, since the train drove on.

I couldn’t see them after all. Whatever.

Experiencing the whole thing again was already enough. There was no need to bring anything with me, not even a wisp of a cloud. I didn’t cling on to my past self as I parted ways with her once again and disappeared into the crowd.

After a sneeze, I reached the ground. The difference in the temperature between the cold, chilly compartment and the hot, stuffy ground was immense. I neither wanted to take off my cap and mask, nor did I plan to change into loose T-shirts or hot pants. To maintain my freedom, I ensured that I was covered in garments so tightly that I was impenetrable. Compared to my physical comfort, my mental state was more worthy of my attention and care. 

Life could be so easy, yet it could also be so hard. ‘I’ was the noblest of them all, letting no one place me on the chopping block.  Or ‘I’ was the lowest of the low, letting anyone place me on the chopping block. Using culture as a cutting board, opinions as blades, and materialism as bait, of which people willingly took, they then offered ‘me’ up obediently. They killed without spilling blood.

In the end, the shell of a body was ultimately full of stench. The routine of daily life, including eating, drinking, defecating and urinating, was chained to materialistic needs. No wonder those mundane ants were reluctant to leave my body. Their extreme gluttony urged them to blaze trails all over my body incessantly, running between my skin and flesh. My skin was so thin that it was almost transparent, under which were tiny black dots squirming in random directions. 

It was disgusting on the outside, but after realising the truth, I could only sigh out loud for these little creatures. With ‘the world is our oyster’ in their heads, they could carve out a niche. The truth was, it wasn’t their whole world, but rather the body of another minuscule living creature. 

The universe never brooded over the Earth’s presence, as same as the Earth to the presence of humans. That’s why I wasn’t concerned about their existence anymore.

Go and empty my insides unbridledly.

Scraping out all my blood and flesh, the ants bursted out of my body. I collapsed, half-lying on the heaps of rubbish in this reeking alleyway. There was only little time left of my life. To die clear-headed was such an elation for me, and I could even say my last words to the ants I interacted with day and night. 

I opened my eyes to see the outer world. It was boundless, which wasn’t exactly what the elders had said.

That was my fate, which wasn’t fixed.

You don’t have to be a queen ant who bears children. You don’t have to be a worker ant, who serves a slave for its whole life. You don’t have to be an aner, who is only driven by its instinct. 

I didn’t have to be the good daughter of my mother, the marital partner of my boyfriend, the unreasonable underling of my boss, the cogs and wheels of society, a follower of traditional beliefs. 

See? I altered my ‘fate’! If I had continued my old ways, I would be at the office at this moment, forcing myself to grin from ear to ear at my boss. How would I ever achieve true happiness?

Ants! Be free! Follow your heart and go to places you genuinely yearn for.

 


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


Previous ChapterNext Chapter