The van cabin is overrun with insects. The yellow Dayglo jacket I wear while working on my cameras attracts all sorts of bugs, who seem to think they’ve discovered a giant flower. Bees, wasps, daddy-long-legs, arachnids and assorted minor bugs cling to the jacket, and when I go back inside the van, they come with me.
A spider has been living in the top right corner of the windscreen for the good part of a year now. Self-satisfied and sadistic (it knows I don’t kill spiders), it grows fatter every day, quickly rushing out of its mysterious hiding place to expertly wrap yet another hapless victim in its sticky thread. I roll my eyes disapprovingly and grimace in disgust. The spider winks at me conspiratorially, in acknowledgement of our unspoken agreement of mutual interest, before disappearing again.
That’s what I’ve become: a bug cultivator and spider accomplice. I take care not to kill anything while setting up my cameras, delicately avoiding the orb-weavers, waiting for a passing ant before setting the equipment down on the ground, coaxing greenflies out of harm’s way. The other day, I was horrified to discover I accidentally trod on a butterfly, damaging its wings while its useless body twitched helplessly. Last week I was almost grief-stricken when I inadvertently squashed my van’s resident ladybird after winding the window shut.
But it wasn’t always so. As all boys worth their salt, and reassuringly displaying the cruelty that uniquely characterises our species, my brother and I took great pride in the sophistication and inventiveness of our methods for killing insects. A favourite was to set fire to saúva ants (large black ants with a hard bulbous body and a very painful bite) using only a magnifying glass and the hot Brazilian midday sun. We marvelled at the spectacular way in which they burst into flames with a fizzing rasp, like the striking of a match. There may have been countless victims before we were spotted by our father, who wasn’t impressed.
“If you haven’t given it life, what gives you the right to take it away?”, he asked, quite reasonably but with fire in his eyes.The remark hit home, and from then on we resolved to make amends by providing crickets with helicopter rides: a maximum of two crickets (for extra leg room and comfort) would be placed in the see-through cockpit of the toy helicopter followed by a swift tug of the fishing line wrapped around the base on which the helicopter sat, rotating the propellers and sending it skyward. It’s the least we could do.
Last night, arriving home late, I noticed a dead bumblebee on the otherwise bare dining table. It lay on its back motionless with its satin black and Dayglo furriness and powerful short legs facing the ceiling. I tentatively give it a tap to ascertain it is dead. Nothing, completely stiff. Tired, I leave the room and forget about it.This morning I sit down to eat breakfast and as I place the cereal bowl on the table I notice with distaste the bumblebee is still there, now under a patch of sunlight. I resolve to deal with it after breakfast.I put some yoghurt on the cereal and then drizzle it with honey, and since it is impossible to transfer honey from its jar onto another utensil without dripping it, some of it ends up on the table, a good six inches away from the dead bumblebee. Right on cue, it begins to twitch. I flip it onto its legs but all it can do is raise them pathetically without going anywhere. I push it closer to the honey and it locks its sucker onto it. Its wings vibrate, suddenly kicked into life again, like Popeye after eating a can of spinach. Fascinated, I watch it for a few seconds, then go into the bedroom and fumble around the drawers. When I return brandishing a magnifying glass I am just in time to watch it fly out of the window.