“… so, what I am saying is this, that by observing ants closely, you’ll see they don’t do anything stupid,” Chloe said, “they always walk in orderly lines, carrying leaves, twigs and so forth, back to the nest.”
“Well not always, they sometimes fall off branches,” Anna interjected, looking left and right for an opening in the queue of traffic, “that doesn’t seem too clever.”
“Okay, I suppose, but see, a fall doesn’t kill an ant, does it? You could drop an ant from the roof of a house and the fall would in no way prove fatal.” Chloe said as she checked in both directions also.
“Well I don’t know, I’ve never carried out such an experiment. Have you ever thrown an ant off from the top of a building?”
“No. I haven’t.” Chloe’s widening eyes rolled heavenwards as she exhaled audibly in a long deep breath.
Anna pulled away from the junction with a lurch, her fingers located the heating control by touch alone and with a short twist, made a minor adjustment to the ambient temperature inside the car.
“I guess you’d need at least two people present,” Anna said, “one to throw the ant off the building and the other to monitor and record the outcome at ground level.”
Her concentration half drifted away from the car in front of her. As the registration plate began to blur, she imagined herself wearing a researcher’s starchy white laboratory coat, cradling a clipboard and peering through outsized, horn-rimmed spectacles up to the roof of a typical suburban family home. As the sequence played out, Chloe could be seen ready and in position, holding tweezers in one hand and a glass beaker in the other.
“It’d be really hard to keep track of an ant as it was falling from a roof, even if you shouted a warning.” Anna concluded, shaking her head back into the present.
“What, like – I am releasing the ant, now!” Chloe laughed.
“We could tie a piece of rainbow coloured cotton thread around the ant, to help.” Anna suggested, engaging the windscreen washers as she did so and unintentionally spraying a jet of cold soapy water into the face of a passing cyclist.
“Why not, because it would interfere with the experiment? You anticipate the ant panicking and in the struggle, getting all tangled up in the thread?” Anna watched the wipers sweep back and forth several times, “I suppose one might rashly assume the ant had died on impact, whereas it may have been due to a mid-air strangulation.”
“Look,” said Chloe, “I am just saying, ant society is structured and co-supportive. There are no stupid ants! They don’t question their role, they aren’t lazy, and they don’t forget what they’re supposed to be doing. They understand and fulfil their obligations for the common good of ant society. And, there are certainly no evil ants.”
Immediately ahead, the traffic lights switched from green to amber and then to red. Anna braked, coming to an abrupt stop, front tyres coming to rest upon a faded white line on the road.
“Why did you stop?” Chloe asked, smarting from the sudden loss in momentum.
“The light turned red.”
“It hadn’t, it had just changed to amber, you could have easily gotten through.”
“No Chloe, it was red.”
Yet more rush hour traffic poured in from a junction, only to join the bumper to bumper crawl, backed up solidly in both directions. Pedestrians made noticeably better progress. Cyclists appeared travelling at supersonic speed in comparison to the motionless cars, vans and lorries, all sharing the same cramped road space.
“Soldier ants are evil.” Squinting under the sun visor, Anna watched for the traffic lights to change. “Did you ever read those books in the school library, the one’s about unusual phenomena around the world? Giant sinkholes, the Loch Ness Monster, UFO abductions, spontaneous human combustion – piranha attacks!”
“And army ants?” Chloe said.
“Yes! That’s right, army ants. They’d be a grainy black and white photo too, showing an overweight man in his forties, stripped to the waist with lots of stings covering his swollen face and body.” Anna’s eyes widened, her grip tightened around the steering wheel. “What were those books ever doing in a school library? They used to totally scare the shit out of me!”
“Yes, they were pretty grim,” Chloe agreed, “stuffed full with nightmare material.”
“I’m sure I’ve seen old films too with ants attacking people, crawling all over them and inside their mouths.” Anna shuddered, quickly thumbing an itch on her shoulder, her forehead and along the side of her nose.
The traffic lights finally changed, signalling new hope for progress and an escape from the slow-paced monotony of the morning rush hour. Not long after, Anna flashed her lights and waved an encouraging hand to a driver to pull out of a small side road and join the queued traffic.
“What are you doing?” Chloe asked sharply.
“I’m letting her out.”
“Well, that guy on the other side let her through.” Anna continued motioning her hand. “Yes – yes, you! Go – on, go – on, go – on… go on then!” she let out an exasperated sigh, “I’ve noticed you barely ever let people out. Why is that?”
“Simple,” said Chloe, “because if a motorcyclist slammed into the side of her right now, it would be you who’d be held culpable and your insurance policy does not cover being an idiot.”
An uncomfortable silence stretched out a temporary distance between the two friends, time enough for the queues of traffic to resume their static uniformity.