For those unfamiliar with “Flash Fiction” it is a short story, usually less than 1,000 words. This piece was inspired by people and situations I encountered during my 2 years as a missionary in west Africa, rolling many of them together into one story. Please enjoy.
Ants on a Wall
The fly must have been dead at least a day. Its right wing dangled delicately as the insect floated up the wooden plank. Efik leaned in close to watch. The team of ants carrying the fly on their backs must have been grateful for their immanent feast. The late afternoon sun blazed through the metal bars in the window and heat radiated down from the tin roof. Efik was sweating lightly as he sat cross-legged on the dirt floor, but he didn’t even notice the heat. In fact, today was cooler than most. He sat patiently, waiting for his father to return home, grasping a white and yellow paper in his left hand. Today he would ask. He couldn’t be afraid any longer.
So he waited. Glancing up the plank, Efik saw the ants’ goal: a small hole had been eaten through the wood, disappearing into the adjacent beam. They must have a colony there. He watched the ants climb higher and higher, inching ever closer to their destination. He pushed himself up onto his bare feet and leaned closer. Reaching out, his fingertip brushed the fly. It tumbled to the ground below.
In a flurry the ants re-grouped and made their way back down the plank, then with great difficulty repositioned the fly onto their backs, and headed back up the plank.
Efik grinned to himself. “Persistent little bugs.”
Again he watched as they trekked up the wall. As they marched his thoughts wandered through the past two months. His mother, the malaria, the funeral. Alcohol had numbed Father’s grief, but Efik had found a different source of comfort. He looked down again at the paper the white missionaries had given him, and wondered how Father would react to the request.
The ants had all but entered their nest when the fragile wall shook, and the fly again plummeted to the dirt. The rusted latch squealed as the tin door of the hut was thrown open, and Father bumbled across the dirt floor, collapsing onto his sleeping mat in the corner. Efik quickly stood, hiding the yellow and white paper behind his back. “Hello, Father…”
Father mumbled unintelligibly, and the reek of alcohol slithered on his breath.
“F- Father. I… I have something to ask you.”
Father’s hands covered his face, the coal dust darkening his already black skin. Slowly his fingers pushed down to his cheeks, and his bloodshot, yellow eyes peered through the drunken haze. “What could you possibly want?” he grumbled.
Efik hung his head, staring down at his bare stomach and threadbare shorts. He knew he had to choose his words very carefully.
“Father… I’m sure you’ve seen the white men walking in the village. They always wear white shirts and ties. Well, they are missionaries from America…” Efik slowly dragged his toes across the ashy dirt. “I have been learning from them, and-“
Father bellowed a laugh, his stained, crooked teeth grinning like a hyena. Efik grimaced at the odor coming from his Father’s gaping mouth.
“Well I knew I’d raised a weakling but I didn’t know I’d raised an idiot!” Father groweld. “The only thing those fancy white pastors want is money, and we have none.”
“But, Father, they are unpaid, and never ask for money.” Efik protested. “I only wanted-”
“I said, NO!”
Efik’s eyes began to water as they glued themselves to the dirt.
“I don’t want to hear another word about missionaries. Understand?”
“I said do you understand me!?”
Grumbling, Father peeled off his once-grey shirt, threw it at the tin wall, and laid down onto his sleeping mat.
Efik sat back down, tightening his lips to muffle his quaking breath. He closed his eyes as the missionaries’ voices echoed in his mind. “You can be with your mother again.” Slowly he unfolded the yellow and white document he had concealed and flattened it onto his lap, re-reading the word that had occupied his thoughts for several weeks: baptism. He needed Father’s signature of permission first, but he would never give it.
Efik wiped his eyes and looked back up the wall. The ants had carried the fly all the way up the plank and were inches from the tiny entrance. He watched as they reached the hole, then twisted and turned until they managed to squeeze the enormous fly into the opening. He smiled, both for the ants and for himself.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. The two years I spent serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints changed my life. It meant so much to me and I was so blessed to see people’s lives changed for the better as they came to Christ. If you would like to learn more, or contact missionaries in your area, click here.