After two hours of mowing the lawn, I chose an easy job to finish my day. There is a little set of steps to the rear of the building that connect the garden to the kitchen door. In between the door and the foot of the steps is a patio, with sloped sides for easy drainage and a large plughole at its center. Large black beetles live under the leaves and pine needles that have collected there. They are odd insects - the elephants of the insect world - who appear to have high family values, are entirely harmless (unlike elephants I realise), and move very, very slowly.
My task was to sweep up the leaves blocking the drain without causing a bug massacre with the brush. Anthony suggested collecting the debris in a box and throwing it in the garden, so as not to harm the beetles. I found a box and set about carefully sweeping the bugs up into the box, creating an artificial environment for them, similar to something you might find at a zoo behind a glass wall. I was surprised at how many there were, scratching at the dry leaves in panic. I could almost hear them calling to each other Save yourself, we'll find you. Watch out, here it comes as I lowered the brush towards them once again and they scattered in slow motion. There was a fly who kept dive bombing me as if caught in a strange cross-species allegiance to the beetle clan.
It got me thinking. Should compassion cause you to put yourself in their position, or simply not kill or purposefully hurt another living creature? Should you have empathy for the insects, imagining which ones belong to which family, or distance yourself from your actions, viewing your Godzilla-like presence as a necessary evil?
I guess it's all of the above. Know it or not, we must all play God at some point in the day.
The Great Beetle Relocation seemingly concluded with the contents of the drain blockage safely in the garden. I went back in the kitchen, careful not to tread on the remaining beetles, who were clumsily re-orientating themselves after my 'attack'. I willed the beetles I'd removed to find their way back, as if parted from their families by the Berlin wall, or miles and miles of hazardous terrain.
I shut the door behind me and announced the beetles were all alive but relocated. 'They'll probably all be eaten by birds the minute they set foot out there' Anthony said, 'they like the patio because it protects them from predators.'
My heart sank. Well, at least I didn't accidentally break any of their legs or behead them I thought.
That night I had a dream. A large black beetle was sat across from me in an armchair, smoking a cigar. His mouth was a set of pincers that opened and shut mechanically, and his antennae clicked with a restless air. He puffed out a plume of blue smoke, regarding me.
"You are here because you have violated our trust." He said with the composure of a dangerous gangster, about to pull a torturous implement.
Something shifted either side of me; there were two larger, and equally menacing beetles holding my arms and legs, their spare limbs clicking in all directions. My head began to spin with fright.
"That trust," the head beetle continued, "was sacred." He leaned forward with the agility of a fully grown man with murder in his past.
"You are the last human who will ever pervert the life of the beetles. It is time for our revenge."
A sea of pincers disjointedly approached me through the smoke, the scent of hunger on their sharp tips.
I woke up in a cold sweat.
I made a decision in the dark: Karma is not about superstition. It's about good intentions.
I slept soundly for the rest of the night.