The ant paused for a while.
Was it really what he thought?
It wasn't just any random grain. It was The Grain. The one that they, ants, had all grown up to respect as The Precious (they say the name The Precious was nicked from a book, but then, they say a lot of things).
Not any ant came across it. In fact, The Elders used to say that only one in a billion ants was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of The Precious. And that too didn't happen naturally - it had to happen when there was an eclipse, a drought and a war in the same year (or something equally improbable - so improbable that no one really cared to remember).
All that possibly meant that the ant was possibly the first, and also the last in the history of antkind to come across The Precious.
He looked around himself. No, there really wasn't anyone watching him. Could this possibly mean that he could take away, and hence own The Precious forever?
He tiptoed towards The Precious. Was he doing anything wrong? Was he actually not supposed to take it? He tried to browse through the various courses he had undertaken as a student of the Inf Ant Inf Ant Ry. No, he couldn't remember a single word against it. Whatever was preached, it was towards how priceless the thing was - not the taboo on it.
He actually turned back.
He was drawn, hypnotically, as if tied by an invisible mysterious thread. He walked towards it, helpless in front of the magical aura of the sheer presence of The Precious. He placed one of his front legs on it, and completed the grip with another.
It was his.
Er, it was really his.
The Precious held securely between its front limbs, it scurried back to its anthill.
No, not the anthill.
Too many eyes there. Too many eyes per ant, in fact. And too many eyes per ant times too many ants meant the product of two very high numbers, which invariably meant a reasonably high number. It was difficult enough hiding it from a single eye, let alone that many.
Then, there were the grasshoppers as well.
No, this was not the story of The Perseverant Ant and The Lazy Yet Sporting Grasshopper, as narrated by Mr Aesop. The grasshopper there accepted its winter starvation.
This was also not the story of The Innumerable Ants and The Few Grasshoppers, as narrated by Messrs. Pixar. The grasshoppers there were outnumbered, and made to flee.
This was the story of The Solitary Ant and the Innumerable Grasshoppers. Whenever our ant was in possession of something better than the husk of half a grain, this band of grasshoppers always seemed to appear out of nowhere, and made a dash for it. The ant was always left robbed. Funnily, despite the overhyped bonding that one usually associates with ant, not a single arthropod ever came out of the anthill to its rescue.
So basically, it had to protect itself, and more importantly, hide The Precious, from his own species as well as the mighty 'hoppers. He knew that if anyone ever caught a glimpse of The Precious, it shall be taken away for good: he didn't stand a chance in front of the others. More importantly, even if The Precious did have special powers of its own, why would it actually want to stay with someone so incompetent, so commonplace?
It needed a hiding place for The Precious. It was his. HIS. HIS. He simply would not share it with, let alone lose it to a single other entity. He knew that his entire philosophy towards life was a simple, happy-go-lucky one: generally unmotivated, seldom driven by desire or any equivalent emotion.
The Precious had changed everything. He was now a protective, a supremely possessive ant, unlike his previous self. He didn't miss that previous self, though: he now knew that his aimless life now had a meaning, a goal to look forward to.
He tried to hide it everywhere: beds of drying rivers; hollows of barren trees; skeletons of withering carcasses; holes behind rejected cupboards. But everything seemed to be a giveaway. Everything. Where could he reach, that was unreachable to his fellow ants, or for that matter, those tyrannical green demons?
There must be a place to hide The Precious, but WHERE?
And then he knew.
It had to be within himself. As deep as he could. There had to be somewhere happier than his happiest memories, brighter than his brightest dreams, clearer than his clearest thoughts. He tried to ransack his insides, tried to lay them out by strata, but couldn't: it was, after all, an ant's brain, and offered only so much.
There was only one way left, then.
Mustering all the effort he could, he stood up on his hind limbs: using the other four pincers, he ripped his thorax apart, and with a weak grip, clasped The Precious and stuffed it inside himself. Then he salivated on the wound with as much vigour as as he could, and as his dying moments approached, he could feel himself curling around The Precious in a grip that could never be separated.
The sweeper noticed the oversize, swollen, grotesque ant next morning, but didn't care. He simply threw it away, took out his packed lunch and carried on in a drone to the person who sat next to him.
The Precious was lost to the world. Forever this time.
BANNER CREDITS: RITUPARNA CHATTERJEE
A woman with the potential to make it big. It is not that she cannot: she simply will not.
PHOTO CREDITS: ANIESHA BRAHMA
The closest anyone has come to being an adopted daughter.