TOKI chatted animatedly as we marched on towards the Queen’s chamber. As usual he was brimming with excitement. And as was usual for me, I was both baffled and irritated by his incomprehensible exhilaration.
What did he have to be excited about? What was it about our miserable existence that kept him effervescent and eager all the time? Even now when we face summons by the Queen, which can only mean one thing—the announcement of our nuptial flight—he is brimming with enthusiasm like we are about to be served lifelong awards, instead of our death sentences.
“You know why we all have been summoned, don’t you?” He asked now.
I didn’t respond. Every drone on the line knew.
“I think it is to announce to us the day and time for our nuptial flight, don’t you think?” My silence didn’t deter him as he stayed in step with Kite who was marching beside him.
Because all I felt like was screaming and possibly knocking his head off, I remained silent and steadily marched on… towards the beginning of our doom.
“I feel so excited.” He trilled.
You are always excited, I thought wearily.
“You don’t look happy. You, in fact, look depressed.” He twisted his head to peer at me. “You’ve been looking depressed since Dima brought us the news of the Queen’s summons.”
“Move on, Toki, you are holding up the line.” I said, weary and impatient.
“It’s because of that worker you’ve been mooning over, right?” He picked up his steps so he could meet up with Kite. “Zita. It’s because of her that you are looking so gloomy and disconsolate.”
“No, it’s not just because of Zita that I am glum and disconsolate.” I corrected. “It is because of this wretched life that we are condemned to. Tell me, Toki, what are we here for? So we can mate a Princess and then drop to our death?”
Toki halted his legs for a short second, then marched on again. “It is how we are designed to live, Zoro.” His voice was quieter. It has lost some of its fervour and eagerness.
“Who designed it to be so? That Alpha Being none of us has ever seen? Or the Queen who birthed us all?” The anger in me overflowed into my voice. “Tell me, Toki, who did?”
“I don’t know, Zoro.” Toki replied. “I don’t question these things as you do. We are ants and as ants we have a defined existence. We all have our own parts to play for the good and continuous existence of our colony. And as drones, that part is to fly out with a Princess, mate her so she can conceive and continue the colony elsewhere. And if that mating unfortunately brings our death, well… so be it.”
He sounded exasperated but I didn’t care. I knew he made sense in as far as an ant’s life was concerned but I have long spurned that sensible existence and wanted no part in it. I am an ant but I have a right to choose for myself where my life should lead me.
“Halt!” Kaza commanded as we reached the entrance into the Queen’s chamber.
Every drone on the line stopped marching.
“Then Queen will speak to you now.” Kaza stepped away from the entrance, dipping his big head in a bow as he did so.
She stepped forward and filled out the entrance. Loud gasping sounds of wonder were heard from among the drones. None of us had, before now, ever seen the Queen. She was magnificent. She glowed and shone like we have never seen any ant glow and shine before. Her wings were larger than ours and they gleamed so bright. She looked like a queen—dignified, impressive and majestic. And we, myself included, were dazzled by her.
“Drones, I welcome you to this all important meeting.”
Despite her size and her majestic appearance, her voice was soft. Soft and distinguished.
“I know that all of you have been waiting for this day. The day when you get to fulfil your mission to the colony.” Her regal voice rang out in the hushed silence. “The life of an ant is one of duty and responsibility. The duty of a drone is to his Princess.”
She paused, moved her head from side to side, and heads of drones dipped as her gaze fell on them. Her eyes locked onto mine. I stared back at her, my gaze unflinching. It appeared to me like she inclined her head, ever so slightly. But I couldn’t be sure, because she turned away and continued with her speech.
The speech lasted another minute or two and then we were all dismissed.
Back at our chamber, I counted the minutes until when Dima was finally done and left our chamber to return to hers, then I escaped.
I made my way steadily towards the workers’ chamber, not looking left or right, just focused on my march and on my mission.
“Zita. Zita.” I called urgently when I reached the entrance of their chamber.
I heard rustling sounds as she hastened forward and came towards me.
“What are you doing here, Zoro?” Zita asked, twisting her head from side to side to make sure no soldier was looking.
“It is now or never, Zita.” I said simply, my steady gaze on her.
She stopped turning her head and stared at me. I could see she didn’t need me to explain, she understood me perfectly. But there was hesitation and a little fear in her eyes.
“Zita, I love you. The nuptial flight has been fixed for tomorrow night.”
“I don’t not want to fly out with a Princess. I want to fly out with you.” I drew closer and touched her antennae gently with mine. “Come with me tonight, Zita. Fly out with me.
“She cannot fly.” Kiki has crept up behind Zita. “Zita, do not listen to him. This will mean instant death for both of you if you are caught.”
“Death is inevitable, Zita.” I spoke, not to Kiki, but to my beloved. “I love you with every beat of my heart. I saw the Queen today. She looked magnificent and majestic. But in my eyes, she was not as beautiful as you are.”
Kiki made a derisive sound. “That is the talk of a mad ant, Zita. Do not listen to his madness. Even if you are not caught, you cannot survive outside the Hill. You cannot survive without the colony.”
“Maybe we cannot survive. Maybe not for very long outside this Hill.” I stroked her head with my antennae. “But for the little time we will have, we will be together—free as the air. Free to share and express our love. Free to live as we please. Free to make our own destiny.”
I ambled closer, touched my head to hers. She quivered slightly, but did not move away.
“Come with me, Zita. Let us make our own destiny.”
I pushed back and waited. My heartbeat had literally stopped as I stared at her and waited for her answer. Kiki was watching her too.
Zita stared long into my eyes. In my eyes, I knew she saw dark pools of love and adoration. She saw dark depths of sincerity and trust, of patience and endurance. Of strength and courage. She saw the heart of an ant who loved her and who believed in their love.
“Yes.” Zita ambled forward and linked their antennae. “Let us fly out… tonight.”
“Don’t do it, both of you!” Kiki cried.
But even as she looked at us, I knew she could see that her pleading was all in vain.
“I love you.” I whispered to my beloved.
She looked back at me and I saw her eyes gleam. “I love you, Zoro.” She whispered back.
“You two are fools.” Kiki’s sigh was weary. “Fools who have unfortunately lost their heads. Azzz, God save our colony from this unfortunate disease.”
We both made trilling sounds of laughter and joy. We have chosen our own path, and tonight, we will make our own destiny.