It is never going to be the most promising of conversations. In fact, it would not be a conversation at all if I were not at a loose end, or if I had thought to dispose of the bowl of grapes on the windowsill of my office a day or so sooner. Why am I in my office on a fine afternoon – perhaps the last fine afternoon of a dwindling summer?
I am taking refuge.
Downstairs, my significant other is preparing soup. I stay with it as long as I can; I inhale the odours of nameless boiling things, the rancid steam, suffer the metaphorical Cheshire Cat grinning at me malevolently on top of the bread-maker and dog Honey sitting grinning equally mischievously in ‘food corner’- that place she always occupies at times of high risk, on the off chance of a dropped morsel.
I endure. I choke. I leave. Make like a tree and…
In the blessed peace of my office, beside an open window wherewith to scent the first nip of autumn, I turn on my computer, settling down to write.
“Good stuff, this!”
Startled by the interruption, I turn. “Sorry?”
The voice comes from that bowl of once edible grapes. “See, what youze don’t unnerstand is, jus’ how bootiful this is…”
A pair of black antenna appear, waving somewhat aimlessly, from between two moldy and rather shriveled fruit. A foot appears, dragging down one of the antenna. “Neez a wash, man. Neez a wash.”
Some might require more visible evidence, but experience comes to my aid. This is indubitably a wasp.
“You’re drunk.” I say, groping beneath my desk for the can of ‘Raid’. Just because this wasp happens to be vocal, doesn’t mean I can’t spray it into oblivion.
“Drunk? Me, drunk? Tha’s against my religion, man!” The antenna reappears, refreshed, and gropes its way over a penicillin-rich specimen that has clearly been its host for a good twenty minutes of gorging, before I appeared. A black and yellow face comes into view. “I never drink, me.”
“No. You eat rotten fruit instead, and the sugars have turned to alcohol. Ergo, you are drunk.” I have found the ‘Raid’ and am ready to end this conversation in the way most of my encounters with wasps do.
“Oh! Oh, tha’s right!” He sees the canister, my finger on the aerosol button. “Tha’s it. Do that. Do what you do to all of my people. Nuke us, man! Kill us, jus’ ‘cos we’re black and yellow. Don’t give us a chans to say nothing. Don’ allow us a voice!”
“I’m not killing you because you’re black and yellow. I’m killing you because if I don’t you’ll sting me!”
“Issat right? Wha’ f you deserves to be stung?”
“I still wouldn’t want to be. Anyway, why should I deserve to be stung? What have I done, apart from provide you with those grapes?”
“You and your kind, destroyin’ all our nests, driving us away, generations of waspicide. You oppress us, tha’s what you do, man.”
“Only because you’re so aggressive. You can’t handle your drink…”
“I told you! I said, I don’ drink!”
“Alright, you can’t handle your rotten fruit. You’re stoned out of your mind, you’re loud and argumentative, and you turn violent. If I give you half a chance now you’ll sting me. And why? I can never understand why.”
“Why? WHY? Becoz…becoz it’s like he says…”
“The Vespam, man. ‘Is bloody ‘Oliness – he says – he says iz our duty to go out and sting the infiddle. Yeah. So I’ve got the courage to fly into the face of the sticky mist and thrust me sting into yez as many times as I can before I drop, see? An’ then I gets virgins.”
“Virgin wasps?” I sound incredulous. I might be forgiven.
“Yeah, well summing like that. Right tasty queens anyways. So tha’s why I’m out here, man. I’m goin’ ter get me own nest in Paradise, see?”
“What’s wrong with your nest here on earth?”
“You kiddin? Thousands of us stuck in a li’l paper ball waitin’ for youze to come along and exterminate us? (he struggles over the word ‘exterminate’). An’, an’! (he flicks an antenna for emphasis) soon as you gets rid of us you moves the bloody bees in. Bloody bees!”
I look at him accusingly. “You’ve built a nest in my loft again, haven’t you?”
He goes defensive: “Not sayin’.”
“Yes you have. And your Vespam’s turned you out of it because you’re an old male and ….
“Nah, nah! You got it wrong, man! Iz a holy war, see, an’ iz our priv’lege to sacrifice ourselves for the cause. Until you stop building beehives all over our land we’re goin’ to keep comin’ at you and stinging you, see?”
At last the pieces come together in my mind. A mile to the south of my house a landfill site has recently been closed: the area has been turfed over with meadow grass and yes, several beehives have been installed there.
“You come from the old waste tip at Westbank, don’t you?”
“We was dispossessed, man. We was driven out! No sooner we gone, that the bees move in on our land. The bloody bees!”
“I might prefer wild bees over you, but I’m not going to build a beehive in my loft!”
“I don’t care what your ‘Vespam’ says. Bear in mind he’s sitting comfortably in the nest he’s turned you out of – at least until we destroy it. You should get back up there – demand to be let in.”
For a moment I wonder if I might have carried the argument. He shifts about on all six feet, rubbing his antennae over his big compound eyes, a pattern of movement I take to be consistent with thought. But then…
“Nah! ‘Is ‘oliness said it’d be like this. Infiddles is very persuasive, ‘e says. They’ll promise you all sorts, ‘e sez: proper hives, reg’lar rubbish, lots of fruit. Don’ believe ‘em. They’ll ‘ave you workin’ yourself to death to feed a fat cow of a queen who pumps out kids at about two a minute; loadin’ your legs up wi’ pollen from pretty flowers so you nearly rupture your wings flying home to fat mummy? Tha’s jus’ a typical human answer, isn’ it? You think about it, though. Whose goin’ to clear up your rubbish then?” The wasp stabs at the fruit beneath his front legs, which have now emerged in pursuit of his antennae. “Good, this. Can you see those pink elephants?”
He begins to rotate his wings, letting me know the time for conversation is at an end. The tail of his abdomen twitches eagerly and his head lowers for the effort of take-off. He launches himself forward.
My hand points the spray, my finger presses the button. He flies into the mist, and his cry of “Vespula is Great!” is all but lost as the gum binds his wings.
I watch dispassionately as he squirms and dies because he is angry and aggressive and I cannot love him. Nevertheless I hope he finds his ‘virgins’. He deserves that at least.
The clatter and crescendo from the kitchen tells me that soup has been achieved. So, distracted from my original purpose, I take up the bowl of moldy grapes and prepare to descend. On my way downstairs, I wonder, idly, whether it is possible to have a beehive in my loft?