The Case of the Curious Bees
Studying the brown marks on the exterior of the large glass panel from inside my living room, I sucked in a deep breath. Splattered widely across were the stains in varied shapes and sizes. The phenomenon felt weird, alien and hard to speculate: dotted specks and long trails. Labourously scrubbed with detergent water and old newspapers only a few days before. The sliding door now appeared to be under some siege. Thinking about the time and effort that would get spent in restoring it to its former squeaky, clean image – a little exhaustion came over me.
The stains had already begun to dry up a few days after the discovery on a clear sunny morning. Clueless then, we let them remain for a few more days until they stopped appearing completely. The idea was to avoid frustrating the person for his repeated labour.
A spit of careless betel leaf stains on the threshold balcony of a spotlessly maintained home was how it appeared to everyone. Or a malicious intent, arising out of deep-personal grievance. Perhaps even hatred. Tracing my finger along the ragtag trails dripping downwards, they resembled the nervous intentions of a novice painter. Besides, thinking about the clear glass also brought alive a past incident.
Beyond the glass door, the narrow balcony led to a wider space serving as an area for drying clothes during scorching summers. The washing machine is fixed to a tap here with an outlet to the floor to let out the wastewater. My absent-mindedness was rudely knocked awake during one rushed afternoon; I had assumed no barrier to exist between me and the outside world. The knock, though hitting my self-esteem hard, accidentally restored it by letting me discover the pride in my cleaning.
It didn’t take much to connect the dots and link it to a decision taken on the advice of an expert of sorts, or so we thought. The story began a couple of months back when unknown to us, bees in thousands had been gathering to build a hive on a branch of the old mango tree opposite the balcony. Though the balcony is in alignment with the treetop, none could have guessed the build-up that went on, ensconced within the thick foliage. The hive took on a sizable shape in no time.
Thinking it to be a case of curious intrusion attracted by the house lights. When one or two whizzed past I ignored them and continued my chores, mistaking them to be wasps. But as more showed up during the nights, it made the kids run and scramble all over the house in a panic. Every potential entry point was investigated, though the apartment windows were already secured with nets meant for the purpose.
Soon, I noticed many more lodged behind the glass frames of the papyrus paintings. Their tightly squeezed bodies trapped between the wall and the wood frames in a grotesque display of some specimen, becoming a part of it. As I lifted the heavy glass, their lifeless bodies slid down softly, swirling to the floor. I made a habit of releasing them each morning as part of my ritual cleaning. Praying that in their release lay the atonement for the loss as a result of the entrapment. The blame that hung around the house would require many more rituals of cleaning.
The doorbell rang with urgency. A man stood beside the apartment caretaker with concern in his voice. He spoke, engaging my attention and ready to remedy the problem plaguing us for several weeks. The growing beehive would pose a threat to the occupants if not hived off immediately. In a scenario it became attractive to the birds as a potential food source, the situation could turn grim. Permission had to be immediate. I conceded though the vague feeling of getting coerced into it stayed with me.
He spelt out his strategy: to smoke out the bees first to distract them. The honey collected would suffice as payment for his service, saving a small jar of the nectar for us too – I suspected was more for being a party to his plan.
Soon life fell into a pattern. The younger one insisted on dinners with rotis slathered on with pure honey regularly. And so, it was utter disbelief when I witnessed brown stains on the exterior of the glass panels of the sliding door. They appeared to be insect discharge of some kind. As we waited for more clues, the mystery became clearer.
Upon losing their home, the bees resorted to throwing their vomit onto the glass panel. Researching on it led to more interesting facts. I was left to wonder if there were any more secrets and surprises nature kept concealed and waited to unravel. Bees collect pollen or nectar and deposit them in the mouth of the house bees inside their hives. This movement of the substance from mouth to mouth continues until the moisture content reduces from 70 – 20%. Nectar this way forms into honey and is then stored inside the hive and sealed with beeswax.
The stains were a collective display of anger as a protest for destroying their home. The honey collector left a part of the hive untouched so that the opportunity to rebuild could take place all over again. Simultaneously, the festering guilt felt slightly at ease, yet the question lingered. Was the act humane enough towards another species?
Zerine Wahid is a poet/author based in Guwahati and has been contributing her poems, short stories and articles in some of the city-based dailies for some time now. Her poems have been published in The Horizon of The Assam Tribune and Melange of The Sentinel. Besides that, her articles (nonfiction) and short stories have appeared in Newsmove, Gplus, Don Bosco Guwahati souvenir magazine and Tezpur University Silver Jubilee magazine, Telegraph, The Assam Tribune and in ‘Ode to a Poetess’, a digital platform