There are no sugary treats for this plague of ants to swarm over, so I have no idea what has brought these vile creatures here to this isolated, desolate part of the city. No statues or structures of historical importance, no famous breweries or distilleries, no birthplaces of long drank themselves to death musicians or now-derelict buildings where the still alive ones recorded their first albums as fresh-faced nineteen-year-olds. Yet, here they are, milling around, trapping me on this square foot of footpath, everything about their being grating on me like fingernails down a blackboard. The shrill, excited noises they make seem to pass for speech but their language is impenetrable to me. The squeaky sounds of their feet as they shuffle around sicken me to my core. But it’s the incessant clicking. That, more than anything else. I try to leave, but they follow, the clicking sound escalating, accelerating. The chatter intensifies and I realize that they are not ignoring me the way they were seconds ago. They have recognized my presence and have locked on to me. I have become the subject of curiosity and they will not rest. Not until I stop and, one by one, take each of the smartphones they’re clicking away on from them and photograph them with their friends, in front of a fence that backs on to waste ground strewn with scrapped kitchen appliances and broken pushchairs.
My heart sinks as I discover that I am smiling and that I am readily, willingly taking their phones and making polite, accommodating sounds. What is this? These wide-eyed locusts are eating away at me, stripping me of my self-respect. When they’re done with me, when they’ve reduced me to a husk, they will move on to the next feeding ground, forgetting me like I never existed, like I was simply a feature of the landscape. My dignity is one of the last things of any worth I have left. I am not prepared to let it go this cheaply.
They say that in the event of global thermonuclear war, only the cockroaches and rats will survive. But they forget about the tourists. And the fearless way in which these vermin descend into the most dangerous parts of the city with complete abandon, drawing as much attention as they can to themselves with unknown languages and misunderstood accents, getting in your way, blocking your path, disrupting your day, like bluebottles and wasps spoiling a sunny afternoon in the garden for everyone, just begging to be swatted out of the air and crushed underfoot.
The first one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hit her with her own phone. There’s half a smile there, but it vanishes when I slam it into the side of her head again, the handset snapping with the force. I drop it to the ground along with her as her boyfriend, I assume, steps up to defend her honor. He doesn’t get far. The next phone to hand is wrapped in a protective case that transforms it into the next best thing to a brick. It takes only one smack to the temple to ship him to the kerb along with her.
I’ve angered the rest of them now and they swarm, screaming angrily, circling, arms flailing, attacking. I drop the remaining phones and take the rolled-up newspaper from my pocket. It makes me laugh to think I could dispense with these annoying pests the same way I could their tiny, winged insect cousins, but once I roll the newspaper up even tighter, it’s surprisingly effective. Even five on one, these people are no match for me. I batter three of them into submission before stopping to catch my breath.
The last two do not seize the opportunity to exact revenge. Instead they stoop and tend to their stricken comrades, pleading with me to stop as they accept defeat.
I am magnanimous in victory. I take a knee, retrieve one of the operational phones from the asphalt, and give them the group shot they were looking for. Enjoy your holiday.