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Friday, 8 August 2014

Stormy Friends

A new take on AEsop's fable  The Ant and the Grasshopper/Cricket.
What happens when a mismatched couple is forced to work together in order to survive?

'Help! Help!' cried out a poor red ant as she fought against the current. Two silk worms had already sailed past her on a mulberry leaf, a frog with red spots had glided by struggling to man a huge lily pad, as had several ants, her supposed friends, some surfing small twigs others punting in long lemongrass leafs. Unfortunately no one had stopped to help her. She was getting weaker and her morale had already drown in the painful realisation of the insignificance of life, the justification of the every-one-for-themselves philosophy as a survival tactic, and it seems, the unlucky first-hand witness of the old Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest ... She could actually understand the silkworms' attitude, for if they were an item, they certainly would not appreciate having a third party rocking the balance of both the relationship and the improvised raft; especially considering that they were both rather overweight. The ability to notice such a futile detail in a moment of dire distress surpassed her. As for the frog not stopping to help, it may have been a blessing in disguise. It would have been like getting into deeper trouble since it is public knowledge that those amphibians are always munching on something. Hungry or not, the fast gooey whip-like tongue of theirs is always snapping up unsuspecting insects; as if eating were more of a hobby than a basic need to these creatures. What angered and saddened Aurora the most was the fact that none of the ants had as much tried to grab hold of one of her legs. On the last leaf, she had clearly seen Calleigh, Hyacinth and Gregory, her so-called best friends.

It is said that the last milliseconds before crossing over to the other side – wherever the other side may be – you can see your whole life flash before your eyes. This was certainly not the case: The only thoughts that crossed poor ant's mind were those sad philosophical considerations. It did not seem worth fighting back anymore. She no longer had the strength to push on. The rain poured down, pushing her back under the few times she had managed to lift her head out of the water to breathe. The current, too, was so strong it made her twirl faster than a spin top. What a pity! Never had she imagined death would come to her this way. Her ideal death, one where she left this earth-bound world very discreetly as her eyelids dozed off for a while; she had also pictured herself kicking the bucked while carrying one last peanut, dropped on the ground by some greedy tourist, which definitely would not be too terrible a death if it were one of those salty, honey-coated peanuts. A palatable death that would be – not bad at all!
'Hey, wakey-wakey! Do not make me give you mouth to mouth!', said Nando the cricket, while he turned the ant over and patted her a few times on the back. 'Come on, if you die it'll be a waste of energy on my part ... Look! I almost died myself to save your neck, so spit out all that water!'

'Well, it seems that it's really going to be necessary! Just remember that if you wake up while I'm performing CPR, I won't marry you just because you think that we're kissing.' said the cricket before taking in a deep breath and blowing into the ant, which seemed to be neither-here-nor-there.

'Baaaarf,' the ant spat him full in the face and started coughing uncontrollably.

Even though it was not necessary due to the amount of water that bucketed down from the sky, Nando the cricket instinctively took his hand to his face to wipe it clean. 'Well, it seems that today is your lucky day,' said the cricket to the ant. 'It was a close shave but you're back now.'

'Help! Get away from me! What were you doing hovering over me?' screamed Aurora the ant not yet recovered from her near death experience and already fearing for her life.

'I was naturally about to take advantage of you, can't you see that?' retorted Nando sarcastically. 'Surely, now that there's nothing else we can do rather than try to survive, it's exactly what is on your silly little mind that I was going to do – Not! You silly, conceited little ant! Nando did not quite know whether he was angry, embarrassed or offended. Most likely he was feeling all of those emotions at the same time. However, there was no time to lose on that nonsense, so he turned his back on the ant to once again focus on the wind speed and direction.

It was dark and because of the rain she could not tell what was happening. Aurora shut her eyes and the events of her near-death experience, of the friends who had abandoned her to her fate, came to mind. True, they had been fighting for their lives as well, but how could they have ignored her cries of distress. She herself would never have abandoned them without first tossing them a hair of horse-tail that ants always carry on them, for them to try and grab onto ... What a letdown! And who was this strange, somewhat arrogant stranger? It was more than clear that he had saved her, but it seemed like he had a lot of rough edges.

'Hey, you there, if you feel better stand on the other side of the leaf, we have to keep it steady or we'll both end up in the stream ... ' Nando's voice was strong and his tone admitted no defiance. However, it would never have crossed Aurora's mind to get defensive because of that for she was well aware that the situation was a delicate one. At least her companion seemed to know something about navigation – or so she hoped.

They spent a few hours adrift, swapping places from time to time to offset the force of the water, trying not to let too much of it accumulate on the violet leaf and thus, hopefully, keep them afloat.

In silence, the two unlikely companions managed to survive the flood, and by the break of dawn both rain and wind had stopped, and the creek was calm and serene. Of course, serene water and no a breeze in the air also meant that the violet leaf-recently-promoted-to-raft found itself as still as death.

'Well, it seems that we dodged that bullet. Best we hit the sack ... ' Seeing that the ant's eyes had widened with fear or outrage, Nando stopped short of finishing his sentence. It was just too much for him! 'You know,' he proceeded, 'You're either a very silly or a very perverted little ant! What I meant was that we need to get some sleep in order recover our strength. So, let's try to get a bit of shuteye, shall we? On separate ends of the raft, get it?' He felt too shattered by the ordeal they had been through to even entertain the thought of fooling around. Really, there were nut jobs everywhere!

A blush of shame crept up Aurora's face as she curled up in her corner of the makeshift raft and tried to sleep. Tried being the operative tense as she could not help thinking that she had indeed been silly to think the cricket had wanted to hurt her. After all, he had saved her life and if anything she should be grateful to him. It was with these thoughts dancing around in her head that Aurora allowed the tiredness to take over her body and fell asleep. She slept for five hours straight and would have slept longer, had her travelling companion not woken her up by splashing water on her.

'Hey, stop it! Don't you think I had enough water on me last night?' she snapped.

'It was that or go up there myself and most likely you'd think I was trying to seduce you again ... ' Nando pause to enjoy the sight of the ant blushing, and then continued in a more serious tone, 'We have to start paddling to try and find a more sheltered spot, otherwise this time we risk dying from sunburn. It's still early and we should take advantage of the fact that the sun rays aren't too intense.' On saying this, he began to hum as he used his left foreleg as a rowing paddle.

In silence, Aurora began to do the same on the right side of the leaf. However, she was not one to be quiet time too long and soon the hum of the cricket began to make her nervous.

'Oy, you there ... ,' the ant called out in annoyance.

'My name's Nando. I'm Nando the cricket.'

'Very well, Mr Nando, can you tell me why you seem so happy? I fail to see the fun in what has happened and what is still happening to us. There's no reason to hum at a time like this. '

'Hmmm, I didn't know I that sounded that bad ... ,' said Nando, pausing for a bit, in the hope that the ant would tell him that he actually sang very well; as she said nothing, he proceeded, ' ... singing helps me focus on what I'm doing and makes any task all the more enjoyable to carry out. Why don't you join me?'

'Ugh!' was the only sound that came out of the ant's mouth.

And so, in silence, correction, in the silence broken only by the song of the cricket, the two creatures continued pedaling. A while later, the exhausted ant had to stop to have a rest. Feigning sleep, she was actually listening to the cricket, while he continued paddling along.

Aurora the ant felt a bit confused. Nando seemed to contradict everything she had ever been told about crickets, which was that they were lazy and irresponsible, that they would spend their time playing music and singing instead of working hard so that in winter they did not have to go from door to door begging for charity from the creatures who, unlike them, had not fooled around and had managed to gather and store enough food to stay alive and well-nourished all through the cold months of winter. In contrast, this cricket definitely seemed to have more strength and will-power than she had herself and on top of it all, he did it willingly, humming along as he did so. Aurora, had always been hard-working but truth be told, she did what she did because she had to and not because she did not mind doing it. In fact, it annoyed her to have to do any kind of work at all, because she always ended up not having time to do anything else, not even to try and figure out what she could be doing if she did not have to do what she was doing ... A somewhat complicated explanation, but 'complicated' was her middle name.

A good while later the cricket also took a break. He was sweating so much that it seemed as if he had had a cloud raining above him. Just the thought of that happening made the ant burst out laughing.

'Now what? What's the matter?' asked the confused cricket.

'Nothing, it's nothing, really. I'm just being silly. It must be the heat.' replied the ant.

'Since you seem to be in a more talkative mood, may I ask what your name is?' enquired Nando.

'A name is just a name and it isn't worth much, especially when the total amount of time spent together is rather limited, as is our case.' replied the ant.

'You may have a point there,' conceded Nando, 'But time, too, is abstract. A minute of happiness never seems to last long enough, whereas a minute of time spent waiting to find out whether or not a family member or a friend of ours will survive, can turn into a painful eternity ... Besides, there are only two of us now, so it might be preferable to have me call you by your name than just 'Ant', don't you think?

Aurora ant was dumbfounded by the depth of the cricket's dissertation on the duration of time. What he said was true, but neither she nor any of her companions had ever had the urge to think about how long time lasted let alone reach such a realistically-idiosyncratic conclusion.

'Hey! Are you ignoring me again? What have I done this time?'

'Uh? Sorry, I was thinking of something else.' stammered the ant. 'You're right, there's no reason for us not to be on a first name basis. I'm Aurora.'

'Please to meet you, Aurora. Nando, a servant at your service!' said the cricket bowing, mockingly.

'Er ... Nando,' said Aurora, once again with flushed cheeks, 'I think I owe you many thanks for saving me. If you hadn't pulled me up from the water, I might not have survived. So, thank you . '

This time it was the cricket's turn to feel embarrassed. He had never known how to accept praise nor thank-yous gracefully let alone one coming from an ant – everyone knows the contempt ants feel towards crickets!

'Well, that's not important now,' he said, trying to sound indifferent, 'What's important is that we've both survived the storm and we're safe and sound. All we need to do now is to focus on reaching dry land.'

Aurora smiled, noticing that the cricket felt ill at ease, but was kind enough not to make any ironic comment.

'Cricket Nando?'


'Where did you learn to sing? It's well-known that you crickets spend your days singing ... ' She was about to add 'instead of working', but checked herself in time and added, ' ... but your chanting sounds different, you know, like more polished and exotic.'

Nando became taller with pride, 'As a matter of fact, I really wanted to be a composer, but as there is a lot of competition among crickets, I decided I would travel the world to listen to and learn the songs of the various tribes of crickets, and then compose a few songs of my own. I have always been well-accepted by the different tribes because ... ' he hesitated before he continued, 'Because there's always room in our different tribes for those who are willing to share the many daily tasks that need to be carried out. As long as you're willing to do that, they'll take you in.'

You mean the idea that crickets spend their time singing a lie?' asked Aurora feeling more and more intrigued by what Nando was saying.

'Well, it is and it isn't. Though it's true crickets have many flaws, such as being highly competitive as I've already mentioned, we also work hard and we're a very happy lot as well as musically gifted.'

As there was no sign of annoyance or irony coming from the ant, Nando continued, 'Over the years our scientists have also observed that music makes us more productive and proportionally happier. Combined with the awareness of our low life-expectancy, we believe that each day is to be lived as if it were our last ... That's why our days begin and end with a song of gratitude to life, as if celebrating our daily rebirth. We do work, but we also try to develop other areas that give us pleasure, which, for most of us, is singing ... And what about you? What do ants do in their free time?'

Aurora the ant felt a bit uncomfortable with the question. 'Well, you know, we kind of work from sunrise to sunset so that we don't go hungry in the winter. And in fact, we always survive the harshest of winters ... But spare time is something we do not have. When we get home, it's already time to go to bed ... '

'But what about in wintertime? There's no longer need for you to work then ... so how do you spend your time?

'We basically eat and sleep,' said Aurora a bit dismayed at the realisation that she might not have been living life to the fullest.
'Ah! We do lead different lives. I'm starting to understand the hostility you feel towards us ... ' Nando's voice trailed off weakly.

'Yes, it seems that for too long both species have had erroneous pre-conceived ideas about one another.' said the ant sadly.

'Anyway, ... ' added Nando in an almost exaggerated cheerful voice as the conversation had become somewhat heavy, 'I seem to see land over there. Shall we get back to paddling? But let's switch places or else we'll have an over-developed arm like tennis players do!’

'Yes, let's, that makes sense. But try not to rock the raft too much, will you?'

And another lapse of silence was broken by the cricket's song.

'Nando,' interrupted Aurora some time later, 'have you thought about where you'll go once we get to dry land? '

'No, I can't say I have. Actually, I almost never know where I'm going until I get there. And then «there» never becomes a permanent place for me either.'

'Don't you ever get tired of roaming the world?'

'I want to be the best composer in the word, and travelling is the only way I know of to pick up new melodies and rhythms ... Then again, I've also never stayed too long in one place because there was nothing there that made me feel I belonged ... I don't know … I really can't explain it.'

'And what will you do when you're old and you're unable to travel from one place to another? '

'I don't know. I've never given it much thought, to be honest. Like I said, adult crickets don't usually live long ... I might not even live to be seven weeks old, which is the longest any cricket has ever lived ... but never mind that. What about you, Aurora, what do you plan to do when we get off this leaf? '

'I've never been separated from my army. I don't know what will become of me, to be honest. I have no idea whether I'll manage to survive on my own or not. As far as I know, no ant has ever been able to. But even if I find my mates, I don't think I'll join them. I'd rather die alone than go back to working with them. You know, they didn't even try to save me. They sailed right past me when I was struggling against the cold, wild water ... nor did they throw me a horse-tail hair, which is something all ants have tied around their legs, in case one of us falls off a cliff or something. I wasn't at the bottom of a ravine, but they could have at least tried to save me ... ' Aurora's voice failed as she said this. It was such an unpleasant memory!

An ant on its own would not survive even a minute, Nando the cricket was well-aware of that. He had learned about it in a survival class. How did the manual read? «If attacked by ants, crickets should try to disperse them for they are powerless against us, on their own. They will also not be able to find their way back home; they will eventually die of sadness or because of their lack of survival skills when isolated in inhospitable terrain.»

'How about joining another colony of ants?' suggested the cricket.

'How little you know about us!' replied the ant, feeling increasingly depressed. 'We're divided into different groups. Each group is called an 'Army' for a reason: We are always ready to fight for our territory. No ant can escape from a neighboring territory alive let alone from a territory that's so far away from home. At least, not alone, they won't!'

'But don't worry about me. Teach me that gratitude song of yours and I'll do as the crickets do. I'll sing it all day during whatever time I've got left. I may even find something I enjoy doing before I die: That would be a far bigger accomplishment than if I had lived a lifetime in my colony '

And that is how Aurora the ant learnt the song of crickets. She did not sing it at all well. No, that she did not. However, her commitment and feeling were such that Nando's sensitive eardrums suffered no irreparable blow.

Aurora sang with all her heart and soul. She had learnt something precious: Adult crickets lived four to six weeks only and thus knew they had to live the time they had to the fullest. A time well employed might seem like an eternity, she said to herself, recalling what the cricket had said on the subjectivity of the length a minute. Well, she had reversed his theory just a tad, giving it a more positive interpretation. But if it worked one way, it could easily work just as well the other way round.

The average lifespan of an ant is 45 to 60 days. So, 39 days in, she should really stop wasting time. Isolated from the rest of her colony she would be lucky if she lived to be 40, let alone 60.

Finally on dry land! What a great feeling - both Aurora the ant and Nando the cricket were ecstatic.

'We've made it, haven't we?' asked Aurora, still a bit incredulous.

'Of course we have. We've both made it safe and sound! Nice team work!' was Nando's reply.

'Listen! I think there's a group of crickets over there. How lucky can you get! And you don't have to walk far to get there either.' Aurora pointed out.

Nando couldn't be happier, 'Wonderful! This gives a new meaning to the word 'luck'!

'Good luck, Nando ... and once again, thank you for saving me, and for everything you've taught me. You've got a heart the size of the Moon.' Aurora did not know where all that had come from or exactly what she was feeling at that moment. She had never had to say goodbye to anyone.

'The pleasure was all mine. And as I said earlier, I think we saved each other. I'm not sure either of us would have made ​​it this far without help.' Nando had barely finished uttering these words when like a bolt of lightening, Aurora flung her arms around his neck.

She gave him such a tight hug that Nando thought one of his wings would be non-operational for days. But what a hug! He had never received such a warm a hug! It was so powerful, that it almost made ​​him feel like not joining the other crickets. But what else could he do? With a hurt so deep inside that crushed his heart and his spirit, he began to say his farewells to this amazing friend he had just met and was prematurely about to lose forever.

'Goodbye Aurora, my friend. Take good care of yourself, okay?'

'Yes. You too ... You know, I think you're already the best composer in the world … Goodbye!' Aurora turned her back on him to hide the tears that stubbornly rolled down her cheek, and started walking aimlessly in the opposite direction.

'Wait, Aurora, wait! We're both a little lost, aren't we? How about coming along with me to the new tribe of crickets over there and showing them that you can also sing the song of gratitude to life? ' Nando was euphoric. Why had he not thought of that before?

'You know,' he continued, 'crickets have always nurtured an inferiority complex towards you ants and if an ant like you were to prove that they actually appreciated us, well, I'm sure they'd take you in in a wink. They'd let you stay as long as you wanted, until you've decided if you want to stay or leave. So, what do you say? Shall we give it a go?'

'Yes. Yes. Yes. Let's go there and see what happens! ' Said Aurora, once again throwing her arms around Nando's neck. 'But what if they don't accept me? And what'll happen when you decide to leave again?'

'Calm down. One thing at a time. You will be accepted or I'm not the best composer in the world and vicinity! And if I decide to leave again, you ask? Then,' he said giving her an intense look, 'you can decide whether you want to follow me, stay behind with the crickets or set off in search of your own colony ... But let's agree to deal with each challenge as they arise, Okay?

'OK OK Okay!' Aurora had never felt so happy.

Hand in hand, Nando and Aurora walked towards the bush at the end of the path.

What a precious sight! Two very distinct beings – from different planets almost, one could say –, walking side by side, enjoying and sharing a common feeling of Love and Friendship.

'Ah, yes, just one more thing before we arrive,' said Nando tentatively, almost afraid of his mate's reaction, 'when you sing our song, do you think you can lower your pitch by about 5 decibels?'

- COPYRIGHT/Registado no IGAC

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