“… so, what I am saying is, by observing ants closely, you’ll see they don’t do anything stupid, they always walk in orderly lines, carrying leaves and twigs back to the nest.”
“Well, not always, they sometimes fall off branches,” Anna interjected, looking left and right, “that doesn’t seem too clever.”
“Okay, I suppose, but a fall doesn’t kill an ant, does it? You could drop an ant from the roof of a house and the fall would not prove fatal.”
“I don’t know, I’ve never carried out an experiment. Have you ever thrown an ant off from the top of a building?”
“No, I haven’t Anna.”
Anna pulled away from the junction, her fingers located the heating control to make a minor adjustment.
“I guess you’d need at least two people present; one to throw the ant off the building and the other to monitor and record the outcome at ground level.” Anna’s mind drifted, imagining herself wearing a researcher’s white laboratory coat, cradling a clipboard, peering up through black horn-rimmed glasses to the roof of a typical family home. Her friend seen ready and in position, holds 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.”
“What, like – I am releasing the ant, now!” said Phoebe.
“You could tie a piece of brightly coloured cotton thread around the ant, to help.”
“Why not, because it would interfere with the experiment? You anticipate the ant struggling, getting tangled up in the thread? I suppose one might wrongly assume the ant had died on impact, whereas it may have been due to mid air strangulation.”
“Look, I am just saying, ant society is structured and co-supportive. There are no stupid ants, they understand the role they fulfil for the common good of ant society. And, there are certainly no evil ants.”
Immediately ahead, traffic lights switched from green to amber and then to red. Anna braked, coming to a stop, front tyres coming to rest upon a faded white line on the road.
“Why did you stop?”
“The light turned red.”
“It hadn’t, it had just changed to amber, you could have gone through.”
“No Phoebe, it was red.”
The morning rush hour traffic crawled along bumper to bumper, backed up in both directions. Pedestrians made better progress, cyclists appeared travelling at supersonic speed in comparison to the cars, vans and lorries sharing the 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 sink holes, the Loch Ness monster, UFOs, spontaneous human combustion, piranha attacks.”
“And army ants?”
“Yes, that’s right, army ants. They’d be a photograph too, showing a thin man struck with strabismus, sporting a thick moustache, stripped to the waist with lots of stings all over his 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 scare the shit out of me!”
“Yes, they were pretty grim, stuffed full of nightmares.”
“I’m sure I saw films too, with ants attacking people, crawling all over them.” Anna shuddered and thumbed an itch on her shoulder, her head and the side of her nose.
The traffic lights changed colour, signalling hope for progress. Morning road-users continued in slow monotony. Anna flashed her lights and waved an encouraging hand to a driver to pull out of a side road and join the queued traffic.
“What are you doing?” Phoebe 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 then!” She let out a sigh, “I’ve noticed you barely ever let people out. Why is that?”
“Simple, because if a motorcyclist slammed into the side of her now, you’d be culpable and your insurance policy doesn’t cover being an idiot.”
Silence stretched out a temporary distance between the two friends, time enough for the queues of traffic to resume uniformity.