The Ant Hill. Fiction by emerging writer Mikael Shamsie

The two men walked side by side down abandoned train tracks that stretched out before and behind them. The tracks were so old they had accumulated rust, so that the air that otherwise had a sweet woody scent also contained metallic undertones that tickled the nose. Grass sprouted through cracked railroad ties, and on either side of the tracks densely packed Lebanese Cedars leaned in. 

The men stood in stark contrast to one other and the tracks. Unlike the tracks, they had an ageless quality about them. The man on the left, cloaked in deep grey. The man on the right, in a loose-fitted silver shirt and trousers. They walked unhurried, measured, as if they had been at it a while and were a long way from done. Save for the occasional crunch made by the man in grey biting into an apple—a ripened seductive red—they made little noise. 

As the setting sun’s tangential rays caught the silver on the man on the right’s shimmering garments, they reflected into the man in grey’s dark eyes. He tch’ed his annoyance. “Gaudy as always, Silver.” 

“Dull as ever, Grey.” 

Another bite of the apple. A droplet of its juice dripped upon a single blade of grass that had forced its way through another splintered slab of wood, bathing it in sugar. Grey’s teeth hit the apple core from one side. He spat a seed from his mouth, shooting it into the concentrated vegetation that lay around the trees. 

Silver’s lips drew down ever so slightly. 

Grey raised an eyebrow, awaiting comment. It didn’t come. As his eyebrow dropped he sighed. “How long have you and I walked this path?” 

“A while.” 

Cheeks bunched in wry amusement. “A long while. Long enough for me not to want to walk another step. Wouldn’t that be something, stopping now? Or perhaps turning away entirely?” 

Silver’s eyes flashed as a gust of wind blew across them. “You won’t.”
“I can’t.”
Eyes returned to normal, a blue so light they appeared colorless. Dancing leaves 

continued to whirl and flip around them, still overcome by the sudden caprice of nature.
“I would be flattered at how much you need me, if I didn’t know how little you thought 

of me,” Grey remarked.
“Indeed. Necessity does not necessitate goodwill.” Silver turned his head incrementally 

to the left. “But you say that like it doesn’t go both ways.”
Grey shrugged. “I’m not the reason we’re here.”
Silver exhaled, a little too sharply to be a sigh. “You’d rather not be?”
Silence. Then, another crunch. Nothing more.
Their feet hit the ground in unison with each step, their shoulders no more than six inches 

apart. Second after second, minute after minute, this remained unchanged. The routine seemed 

like it would go on for eternity, yet, it didn’t. The feet on the left stopped moving and turned away. A small brown mound, about a foot high, covered in ants, lay besides the tracks. 

“What are you doing?” 

Grey crouched down and examined the ant hill. The ants sped all over it at a frenzied pace, their bodies the color of his unblinking eyes. He reached out his free hand and pulled it back a second later, rubbing it against his cloak. 

“Get up.” 

Like fissures running down a mountain crest, his brow crinkled, deeper and deeper, the longer he studied the scurrying insects. His breaths came shallow through barely parted lips. The juice of the apple leaked down one hand and the other scratched at its palm with the use of the nails of four fingers. 

“Up.” 

Grey blinked. “Alright.” He straightened. “But it’ll take more than a word to get me moving again.” 

Silver bristled. “What is this?”
“An attempt at a conversation.”
“Who knew you were so lonely.” Silver’s tone was not mocking, the comment came 

dispassionately.
“I would say ‘who knew you were so cold,’ but let’s face it, everyone does.” Grey turned 

back to the ant hill, his eyes heavy with something ineffable. Perhaps pity. “Look at them go,” he murmured, his voice dropping to little more than a whisper. Perhaps longing. 

Silver waited, when no further words were spoken, he responded, “It is all they know. No…it’s more than that—it is all they can do. They are born to an environment they have no control over, with a constitution they had no hand in making.” 

“On and on they march”— Grey shook his head to himself—“without a second thought. You see no issue with that, do you?” 

“Should I? Are you and I any different?” 

“No,” Grey answered, opening and closing his hands, agitated, “just more cognizant. More powerful. There’s freedom in that.” His hands closed, remaining balled this time. “Or at the very least the illusion of it.” 

“Causality doesn’t make exceptions.” 

They stood in silence. The air seemed to shimmer around them in the dying light of the sun, it’s twilight rays feebly reaching them. Grey grunted. He raised a boot as dark as divine indifference and let it hang over the ant hill. His companion’s darting eyes brought a grin to his face. “A problem?” 

Silver hesitated. Grey’s grin grey wider. Silver said nothing.
He began lowering his boot.
Silver’s mouth opened—Grey’s boot paused—and snapped shut. The grey cloak went up and down in silent mirth. “So…impotent.” Silver grimaced and turned away, looking forward once more. 

“So ends our conversation.” No reply. 

Humour left Grey’s face. He retracted his boot and set it down. “I don’t know how you stand it. Forever being the watcher. Given where you look now, perhaps calling you that is even too kind.” 

Silver turned his head just enough to look at Grey with a sidelong glance. “Don’t confuse well-considered choice with weakness.” 

Amusement touched Grey’s face again but there was no happiness in it. Though his eyes gleamed, they were two dark pits one could forever fall down. “I thought we didn’t have that.” 

Silver took a step forward down the tracks. “Come on.” 

Grey took half a step forward and hesitated, dropping his half-eaten apple besides the hill. The ants converged upon it. 

“Let’s go.” 

Grey took one last look at the ants, that now flooded out of their home blissfully unaware of the source of their good fortune, and nodded. 

On they walked down train tracks that seemed to stretch on forever, side by side, slow with deliberate speed, like each footstep held the weight of the world or nothing at all, only they could know, moment by moment, leaving behind a temporarily abandoned ant hill. 

About the contributor

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1 COMMENT

  1. When my beautiful girl was little, I asked her not to eat her mithai carelessly as she was leaving crumbs all over the floor and attracting ants. She asked me why the ants would come for the mithai crumbs and I answered “because they’re hungry”, off-hand as I wandered off to find something to sweep away the crumbs.
    Much later, I looked and looked for my darling girl and found her crouched behind the sofa in our living-room, having identified the point of ingress of the ants from the balcony nearby. She was carefully crumbling more mithai especially procured for this purpose amongst the ants. When I asked her why she was doing this, she replied, “But Mama, you told me they were hungry”. I was in equal parts exasperated and so deeply moved. As I was descending into the chaos of housewifely order, my wild and beautiful child has kept holding my hand and prevented me from falling into the abyss of the ‘grown-up’ world. There is something of the divine reflected in children’s generosity of love. As I reflect on all the children who hold pieces of my soul no matter how far they are, I hope and pray they can hang on to and cultivate their divinity for all they’re worth as they ‘grow up’. Ultimately it is the only thing which can make them see the light which in reality floods this life, lighting our way to the next.

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