It was probably the sound of guns that prevented me from being aware of the real danger. Gangsters on my computer screen shot at each other as I watched dully, the volume was high as blood sprayed.
I was sitting in a green plastic chair. It’s my only means of furniture. My house is an eight by ten foot cement room. Sometimes I tilt my plastic chair back against my bed and I call that my recliner. The table in front of me sits against the far wall, the bed behind me is pushed against the opposite wall. The little green chair sits in exactly the center of the room.
So you could understand, given the dimensions of my “house”, that when it filled with ants, it filled rather quickly.
I wasn’t reclining when it happened. Both my feet were on the floor while I listened to guns go off. It was a scritcheting sound that caught my attention. Scritcheting is a word that I made up that represents the sound of ants crawling over each others.
I pulled my feet off of the floor, this was the first important step. Secondly I put the guns on pause. Third, I called Omar, of course.
In response to his greeting I stated the truth:
“I’m having an emergency.”
I had to yell a bit to be heard over the scritcheting.
“Describe your situation.”
“I’m standing on a chair.”
“Do you have your broom? Where’s your broom?”
“Go get it!”
“And what? Walk through them?” I was meanwhile tying the bottoms of my pajama pants tightly around my ankles. I had on backless slippers and wool socks.
“Just how many are there?”
“I can’t really see my floor.”
“Get onto your bed, crawl over that thing you cook on and go out the door.”
Omar is a man who thinks on his feet, he reads a situation well from an outside perspective and he gives solid and admirable advice. But instead of heeding his advice I acted on my own accord. Holding tightly to the arms of the chair, I jumped skyward, landed with a clatter amongst a sea of black, did it again and made my way toward the door. Three good hops on the chair and I was able to open the door and grasp the broom that leaned against the side of the house.
The broom was handmade, by me, and consisted of dried grass tied to the end of a stick with a strip of dirty bed sheet. With my weapon in hand I knew it was time to get off the chair.
“First the porch then the house, first the porch then the house,” I chanted.
I stepped onto the bodies, felt their black shells crunch under my slippers.
In one sweep I could clear the width of the porch. Little segmented figures flew into the night like grains of sand. I worked furiously. Sweeping and resweeping the area in front of the door. As fast as I worked they came racing back up over the cement lip of the porch like a black tide. More rushed from inside the house onto the porch then back in again. They were fast, faster than me. They were crawling over each other to regain their positions. I started sweating. I worked faster.
I knew speed alone would never work and I knew the more important battle was within the walls of my house. I abandoned the porch. Sweeping to the left I cleared myself a lane in the door. I swept directly in front of my feet clearing an area about a foot wide, shuffling forward as I worked and made my way toward the center of the room.
A pinch like a needle prick on my upper left thigh. They were aboard. I slapped as hard as I could and swept frantically. They blanketed the bristles of the broom, they were making their way higher.
“You can’t let them get to your hands, you can’t let them get to your hands,” the chants came in pants, I was sweating heavily, working too fast to take off my jacket.
I worked faster still. Sweat dripped from my chin. I swept them toward the left wall in great heaves. I was gaining. They were biting me, but I was gaining. With each grand sweep I pushed thousands of bodies toward the wall. They were becoming confused. I swept harder. I felt a searing pain on my left butt cheek. They were in my underwear, I didn’t bother to slap. They were crawling up the wall now, confused and disoriented. Crawling up my legs too. Racing back in the door, flooding across the wall, millions of insects with a mysterious mission beating the speed of my broom.
“Gotta move your feet, gotta move your feet so they can’t getcha,” I chanted to myself.
I focused on the wall. With each down sweep I jumped upward. The less time my feet were on the ground, the less ants that could come aboard. Sweep down, jump up, sweep down, up. Like a teeter-totter. A pinching sensation behind my left ear. I swept down again. Jumped upward. Banged my head on my left shoulder a few times, no more on my head. I gained more ground. Swept more bodies. I did a quick survey, slammed and locked the door. I jammed cloth in the two inch gap between the floor and the door frame.
“I’m naked on my chair again,” I panted.
“You’re naked huh?”
“Well I have my underwear and socks on, they were crawling up my back. Biting me! Oh! They’re in my sock!” I peeled my right sock off, still clutching the broom in my hand. Looking left and right desperately as I turned in circles on my chair. “I gotta go! They’re comin’ back!”
Their black bodies poured through a hole in my wall close to the floor. I would have to open the door again to sweep them out. I put my sock back on. Pulled it off after I felt bites from inside it. I put my pants back on. Put a different shirt on, apparently a dirty one, it smelled like death farted on it. I pulled my pants back off, shook them out, ants flew from of them like dust particles, put them back on.
I was already sweeping by the time my feet hit the floor, sweepin’ like a madwoman.
Only fifteen minutes had passed from the start of the whole ordeal. When it was all over and I had taken the initiative to set bait outside, a leftover pancake, most attacked it and abandoned the fight with my broom.
“I think I might go home.”
“Really? Because of the ants?”
“You don’t understand.” I felt a pinching in an awkward place.
“Why don’t you just plug up the holes so they can’t get back in?”
I fished the ant out of my butt crack. “I don’t know,” it was the only answer I could muster. I started to cry. Flicked another off my shoulder. Hung up the phone.
We do our best. When we’re overwhelmed, when we’re overwhelmed by heat, by sweat, by cold, by isolation, by depression, by the difference in culture, by language barriers. By ants. We do what we can. We call each other and later we’ll laugh about it. But while it’s happening, while the sweat is rolling and the ants are biting and your heart is pounding, it’s really something, you really feel alive. It’s not until afterwards, after it’s all said and done, after you’ve completed the mission, it’s not until afterwards that you really feel like you accomplished something. And tonight, tonight was the night I conquered the ants.