Everyone has a story to tell, so do I. Real life stories are cognate so I will narrate mine with a hope that you find a fragment of you in my story. Every tale has a beginning but I don't remember when it all started. Let's just say that I was lucky and the ants came to me. Let’s leave the unimportant beginning and fast forward to my wedding. I got married six months ago to a girl that I hardly knew but my parents thought would bring me happiness and take care of me. I never asked them why they thought I was not happy or I needed care. Even if I was not happy, a marriage was not going to change anything. I had been experimental in life and marriage was something I had never experienced with so I readily agreed. A friend told me that when you get married some secrets have to be delved. Not all, but some. You should never hide all your secrets from your spouse because pretending that you don't have one will make them suspicious. Also don't share them at the same time. Drop them cleverly for sharing a secret sprucely develops trust. I created my list. An affair in teens that till the point it lasted I thought was true-unconditional-selfless-timeless-blah-blah-blah love, a fling with a married woman, a failed suicide attempt in my teens, my long tryst with marijuana, and the rehabilitation torture that my parents put me through. I kept the ants out of it. I had to. Two days before the wedding I realized that I had overlooked the fact that she was going to live with me so I decided to be extra careful with when to let the ants inside me.
It was the usual rich man wedding. My father flaunted his money and spent it as if it was the last marriage on the planet earth. After the ants are inside me I can pacify myself in a funeral. In any case the event didn't turn out to be as bad as I had expected. My parents booked the newly wedded couple on a flight to Melbourne for the honeymoon. They got us a suite in Chateau Yering hotel in the Yarra valley. I packed my bags and stored the ants that I had collected in a small jar. It was a blunder as by the time we checked in the hotel they were all dead. The first two days passed as I kept myself occupied exploring her dusky debonair body. The love was passionate. She was a silk ball that melted to warm honey from my sheer touch. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before and for two full days I did not even think of the therapy. Nothing lasts forever but the ants. People get hangover morning after they drink but it is the other way round for me. My head was drooling because I had been away from my therapy for four days. The last time I felt such pain was when I was locked up in the small rehabilitation centre room. The ants had come to my rescue then. She was sleeping and her long hair sprawled over the white pillow seemed like a black river flowing on fresh snow. I tried to but could not sway away the pictures of the rehab room from my mind.
Several years ago I puked my gut out and passed out after smoking multiple joints and consuming cheap alcohol. Before I got completely knocked out alone in my tatty hostel room I could hear my heart beat like it was pumping blood for two more people. The thundering noise that came from inside me that night still gives me a heavenly kick. A friend found me and I was admitted to a local hospital before my parents took me home. "I was trying to explore my limits" I had replied when my dad had asked me lividly what exactly I was trying to achieve. The good times were over. My parents got me out of my college. I am a born rebel. I will always do the opposite of what you ask me to do. Alas, they have not understood this till date. Since the day I was born I was showered with love, something that I really was not looking for. There was just too much love around me and so by the time I was ten I had received my share of love for this life time. I felt claustrophobic. Someone told me that people move on to drugs when they are lonely and are not loved. I chose marijuana to find my loneliness. My parents were furious and put me through the rehabilitation shit. This delirious reaction instigated me further. Only if my dad had known me, he would have known how to make me do things he wanted. All he needed to do was pat on my back, say something like "Well done son. Keep it up" and pass a marijuana joint over to me. The rebel in me would have ensured that I kept an arm's length distance with marijuana. Instead I was put through the terrible excruciations in the rehab centre and was released once they thought they had succeeded.”welcome to life” they had said when I came out. They never realized it was not about them. It was my decision to quit as I had found a better pleasure and a better pain.
She was still sleeping. I was restless. It was the longest I had stayed away from my therapy after coming out of the rehab centre. I felt the hair on the back of my neck raise. Restlessly I settled myself on a chair and cracked my knuckles, my right leg trembling like a mechanical device. Strange gruff sounds emerged from deep inside my stomach as if crying out loud for the therapy. I smoked three cigarettes one after another and gulped two cans of beer but it didn't rescue me from my misery. Neither nicotine nor ethyl alcohol can do what the ants can. I felt my ears twitch in wait to listen to the soul music of my life, the balmy sound of the ants crawling. Have you ever heard the ants crawling? Ever felt them because it's a heavenly experience when they are inside you. I was certain that I was not going to find them in my luxurious hotel room. I wrote a small note telling my wife that I was leaving for a drive and will be back soon. I poured bourbon and water in a thermos and set out for my hunt.
"Where do I find ants" the hotel receptionist sprang from her chair after she heard my simple question. She handed me a fat yellow pages book and I found an ant farm eighty seven kilometres from the hotel. I got into my rental car and listened to Jimi Hendrix. Mind that focused on ants, hands that trembled, vision that was blurry made it a tough drive. I sipped a little from my thermos and after two hours found the ant farm. An old man greeted me and walked me around the farm. The farm that smelled like sweat had over one hundred species of ants each one of them living in a separate glass vessel filled with dirt. I had no time for the details. I found the Tasmanian Inchman ant's nest and immediately liked them. This species was black in colour and a closer look revealed the short yellow hair and reddish brown antennae, and legs. I was in for a treat I thought watching the huge ants with their squared heads and small mandibles. The old man told me that the species was known as Inchman due to their large size. I bought enough ants to last for the entire trip and rushed to my car. The ants were kept in a special vessel that ensured that they would live for at least four more days. I drove for about three miles and found a secluded place. I parked on the edge of the road and opened up the vessel.
The ants inside were as restless as me. It was as if they knew their fate. I couldn't wait any longer and opened up the thermos. I picked up about fifteen ants with my right hand and poured them into the thermos. The ants struggled on the surface and made futile attempts to come out. I pulled the handle to recline my seat at sixty degrees and sipped the bourbon retaining it in my mouth. Soon my mouth was full with the whiskey and live ants. One of them bit me on my tongue and another one crawled on the inside walls of my cheek. I shuddered with immense excitement. I took a deep breath and gulped the cocktail slowly. One drop and one ant at a time passed through my throat. I always wondered how the ants felt getting washed away in a deep burrow probably knowing that there was no turning back. I controlled the pace of the liquid to ensure that the passing ants had plenty of time to bite me. Bite they did. The sting on the tongue was just a beginning. The next one was felt on my pharynx. The slow pace of the flow and my reclined position always presented an ant with the opportunity to find its way out through the nasal cavity. Only a calm and composed ant which is a rarity would find its way out through that passage. An ant slowly creeping through my nose was the best appetizer for my therapy. I waited for one smart ant to make a move but it didn't happen.
I didn't mind that as the feeling of the ants crawling and stinging me multiple times as they passed through my throat and then the esophagus to my stomach pacified me. Each sting felt like someone had pulled a chord on an electric guitar. Every time they chewed upon my flesh I moaned with pleasure. Some of the ants had died by the time they reached the bottom of the pit, my stomach. Some were alive though. They were alive for their climax and for mine too. I had tried a variety of ants in India which included the tiny house army, harvester, carpenter and weaver ants. This however was my first rendezvous with the Australian ants and I had high hopes. I was not left disappointed. I could feel the half alive ones moving in circles inside my stomach. I put the thermos aside and caressed my belly with the left hand. The ants were my fodder and I was theirs. They died chewing upon me and gave me a new life. They were moving inside but I felt the exhilaration all over my body. My finger tips felt like mild electric current was flowing through them to my arms. The storm as it always does was followed by a sudden silence. The turbulent waves threw me from the turmoil to a state of tranquillity. I closed my eyes and didn't realize when the sleep took me over. I slept for about two hours and before I drove back to the hotel I took another ride to the heavens. This time around one ant did oblige and passed through my nasal cavity. When it came out struggling through my nasal hair I set it free. It deserved to live.
She was furious when I got back but I calmed her down. The rest of the trip went just fine. Every morning I would get up and say a phony "I love you". I would rush to the bathroom and that was my place for the morning prayers. I had hidden the ant’s vessel in the small storage located in the bathroom. She never interfered in my matters and things went smoothly. The ants lasted till the day we flew back to New Delhi. I hoped to be back to my normal “Collect ants-therapy-sleep-wake up-therapy-breakfast-drive to office-work-lunch-therapy-work-drive back home before 7 PM-evening tea-therapy-dinner-read-collect ants” cycle. On the flight back all I was thinking is where she fit in that cycle. May be I could drop sex right after the last therapy of the day. No, that won't be fun. Sex would be so banal after the ants. I decided to replace dinner and reading with dinner with wife, reading and sex with wife. All my planning went down the gutter once we got back because she went through an astronomical change. One week after returning back she turned into a combination of my father and mother. I would hardly get time for the ants when I was home as she was all over me. Not even a moment went by when she would leave me alone. I must have done something wrong because no one till date had understood that the last things I needed was care, attention and love in that order. In my own home I had to make efforts to find that twenty minute window that I needed to sing with the ants or to collect them. I couldn't comprehend the reason for this change in her. In a nutshell, within a month my life was miserable.
After thinking through I changed my cycle and started spending more and more time at work. That way I was able to increase the number of therapies at office from one to two. If I thought that everything was in place and I had achieved the perfect married life cycle then I had made the mistake of counting my chickens before they hatched. I was introduced to a moron who used to work in my department and was related to my wife through some complex connection that I can't even remember. The moron stalked me during office hours as if that was his job which left me with no time for my therapy. He was not the only idiot that I was introduced to. All of a sudden my recluse life was filled with shit load of people leaving me no time at all for the ants. Random people whom I couldn't decide if I knew or past acquaintances that I had never spoken to were saying hello to me or waving at me hoping to light up a conversation. The whole world was conspiring. It was as if everybody had one agenda, to keep me away from the music of my life. I managed to balance things out in my changed life till the day when all hell broke loose. The ants that I collected from the little garden in front of my house were no longer to be found. In fact there was not a single ant in the fifty meters radius around my house. It was summer time and I had not yet started storing the ants for the winter season in my basement so I had no stock either that I could utilize. I was left high and dry that evening. Once I gave up and came back home I realized that she had gone on a cleaning spree around the house which most certainly put me in that precarious situation that night. Enough was enough. I was not going to live my life on someone else’s terms.
I decided to tell her about the ants. It was after all a decision to let her know who I was and then she was free to make her own decision. I had made mine. I needed ants and I was willing to pay any price for their company. "I have to tell you something really important", I told her nonchalantly. She looked at me and didn't utter a single word for almost a minute. There was a vacuum like calmness in the room. I waited for her to say something but she did not. Just when I was about to say it she got up from her chair and hugged me. "I love you" she whispered in my ears. I didn't know how to respond so I just stood there. "I know what you want to tell me. You want to talk about the ants, don't you"? The earth beneath my feet suddenly felt like a marshland that was sucking me in. I felt a sudden ache in my heart and with my head spinning I pushed her away. "How do you know"? She slyly smiled at me and said, "Why do you think we married"? "Whatever you had with the ants is all over" she said. I sensed the voice of authority in her speech and shouted back. "Go to hell, you are no one to tell me what I will do or not do". She laughed. The entire room shook with her laughter and before I could say anything else two huge hands appeared in front of my face and strangled me. I struggled to break free but the hands were very powerful. I tried with all my force to break the shackles but all in vain. I felt a throbbing pain in my abdomen after it was kicked hard from behind. I saw two strong men built like bulls all over me and decided to give in. I had trouble breathing and was utterly terrified. My eye balls spun and my vision was blurry. The two guys loosened their grip and I fell on the floor. I thought I was dead.
I opened my eyes. It was pitch-dark. I was lying on a bed and couldn't move my legs. The whole body felt like needles were floating in my veins. I moved my hands and found what seemed like a table lamp. I located its switch and turned it on. The yellow light that sparkled in my eyes took me by surprise. A neck collar supported my neck that hurt like a broken bone. My legs were chained to the bed, the chains locked up with a massive old iron lock. After a minute when my eyes had adjusted to the light I found myself in a small yet expansive room. The interiors resembled medieval architecture. To my left was a red wooden parabolic window, the only one in the room. The walls were all full with simple yet elegant ancient glyptic art. There was a huge wooden door that appeared like an entry to a castle in front of me. A small chandelier hung on the dome shaped ceiling that was so high that it seemed to belong to another world. It seemed like a corner room built inside a huge ancient castle. I turned to my right and saw a huge painting. The painting was so huge that it covered the right wall completely and I had to rotate my hurting neck to view it in entirety. The top left of the painting presented the outside view of a room that hung up in the air hundred feet above the ground. A pale man in an anxious state was looking down from the window. The window was shaped like the one in my room. I turned to the right to find that the man was looking diagonally below to what seemed like black brushes. I focused my attention to the right and realized they were not brushes but ants, dead ants, trillions of them. It was as if the whole community of ants had been wiped out from earth. I turned to the left to look at the man and was taken aback. The man who looked out was no one but a younger dying version of me. Was I really there or was it a dream? The door to the room opened with a loud creak.
A small man dressed up like a doctor walked in. Behind him was a nurse who was wearing a heavy makeup. I thought I had seen that face but in my dizzy state I wasn't be sure. "Hello Mr. K. I hope you are doing fine" he said. "What the fuck is going on? What is this place? What are you guys up to?" I screamed and lost my cool. I pounced on the doctor and held the small man by his neck. The two huge guys that had almost killed me few days ago appeared from nowhere and got the doctor free from my grip. One of them pulled me by my hair and put me to the bed while the other one tied up my hands. "Easy, easy" said the doctor smiling, his white teeth shining bright. "You have become aggressive. Just like those wild ants, haven't you? Calm down. Let me clear the air first. We are not your enemies. In fact we have come here to help you". "I don't need any help. I am fine the way I am. Just let me go" I said. "You think you don't need help" he said and laughed. "All of us need help. Let me tell you that the ants have done severe damage to your food pipe and intestines. It is a wonder that you have survived but you are on the verge of severe gastric disorders that will lead to disaster. You do need help". He got a small vaccine out and pointed to the nurse. The nurse looked at me and smiled, "How are you honey"? That was my wife's voice. I looked at her and failed to recognize her. One moment she looked like her, the other she seemed to be a different woman. She rolled up my shirt exposing my stomach. The doctor shoved the vaccine in it. "Good bye. Spend some time together the two of you" he said and walked out. "Your parents have said hello. They will visit you soon. Your mother has sent your favourite fish curry" she said and placed a bowl besides the table lamp. "Let me go. What wrong have I done?" I said on the verge of breaking down. "It's hard for me as well darling. I am doing this for you because I love you". "No, you are not doing it because you love me. You are doing it to turn me into a man that you want to love". "I will be back soon" she untied my hands and left. The injection had its effect and I was fast asleep. When I woke up I was hungry. No, I didn't need the food. I needed ants. I didn't bother looking around because I knew I wouldn't find them. I cried.
Time passed at a deadening pace in that room. The doctor would appear every day at the same time. He was always accompanied with a new nurse that had something in her that made her look like my wife. Every day they came in I would protest and the two guys would beat me up. They would then tie my hands and then my stomach would be injected with the vaccine. One day after few weeks had passed without the ants my whole body started to shiver. My tongue was dry as a desert. I put my hands up to cover my ears and looked up at the ceiling. I wailed loud in pain. What is wrong with the world? Isn’t it my life? Isn’t it my flesh? I will decide what I want to do with it. My intestines. If I want to I will feed them to the dogs. Why should anyone have a problem? As long as I don't interfere with someone else's life what is wrong with sleeping with the ants. Neither I asked anyone to accompany me in my journey nor did I want to step into someone else's path. Why should anyone complain? The only community that had a valid reason to complain were the ants. I continued to scream. Then something fell on my lap and looked at me with its small eyes. I stopped screaming, looked at it and smiled.
The next day my parents came to visit me along with the doctor and as was the custom a new nurse accompanied them. I decided to be cooperative from that day on. My parents promised to visit me every other day. I was fed the best food and I started to recover. My craving for the ants diminished gradually through the injections that I was subjected to everyday. I never saw the two guys. There was no need for them. I was improving the doctor told me every day. The wounds inflicted over the years by the ants had almost healed said the doctor. They allowed me once in a while to smoke and have a drink. The painting to my right I realized started to change. The black brushes were changing their colour to green with every passing day. The anxious expression on the man’s face was changing gradually towards a blithe spirit. The picture changed one frame every day. It was as if spring was breaking into a hard cold winter. I woke up one day to look at the painting. The ground was greenish with a tinge of yellow and red. I looked at the left and saw that the man in the window was no longer there. I looked at my legs and realized there were no chains. I got up and walked to the door and opened it up.
My wife who appeared the way she did when I had seen her for the first time stood there. I recognized her at the very first glance for the first time in months. My parents stood besides her smiling. The sun was shining bright. The doctor was missing. They approached me one by one and hugged me whispering "welcome to life" in my ears. No one noticed the small house lizard that slept sound in my pocket.