Wednesday, February 18

7

Francesca the Bee


by Daniel Nkado

My name is Francesca and I am a bee. I live with my colony in one of the hives in Mr. Ewi’s farm.

Mother headed the colony. She always said that she wanted us to be different. She wanted us to be friendly bees. Most friendly bees ever to live we were if you ask me.

Mother told us never to sting anyone. You must not use your sting no matter what— she began and always ended the weekly evening gatherings with.

It is also in these meetings that Mother share out new tasks for us, and praise the group that has done marvellously well the previous week.

I liked how the roles were divided. The big muscular soldier bees with their big arms and long, scarily-curved stingers were in charge of protecting the colony. The lesser-bodied hunters went out to gather nectar and pollen for honey-making. The engineer bees worked in the honey factory, making and packaging honey.

Then there was the special group that attended to the queen. Mother selects the bees that she wanted to be her attendants herself.

She had selected me at quite a very young age. This made the other older attendants to always murmur behind my back. They said Mother had been partial. That I should have joined the other bees my age in cleaning.

The cleaner bees were little happy youngies. They were the happiest, if you ask me— maybe because they felt much disconnected from the major happenings of the hive. They don’t know the fears, the toils, only always cleaning—singing and dancing while at it!

I knew Mother was aware of the murmurings of the older attendants about her choosing me, but she did nothing about it. Not like there is anything any of them could do, except to murmur on and on. Mother was queen and her words were final.

Father is lazy. He joins the rest of the other fat drones in lazing the day away. Sometimes you will see them staggering this way and that about the hive, drunk on honey gin.

I never enjoyed the attendant job, even though it was the most preferred task of all. Only pretty and intelligent bees were made attendants.

I wanted to fly out with the boys. I like adventure. The first time I told Mother about it, she’d shook her head, quite so sternly, as she said no.

‘No, you won’t go,’ Mother said. ‘It’s too dangerous out there.’

‘I will be careful, Mother,’ I said.

‘No. I am preparing you for something special. You won’t go.’ She walked into her chambers.

And so I stayed back. I will not disrespect mother. No bee ever did.

But then a day came…

Every bee in the hive dreaded one season in particular—the time of the harvest.

The time Mr. Ewi came with his sons to harvest our honey-filled cells.

They send the entire colony amok as they picked the cells, heavy with precious honey. With toils and toils of their hard work gone, the engineer bees wailed in despair.

But it was mother who was most affected.

During each harvest, the fat farmer and his round sons crushed delicate eggs and squashed tender larvae. They were never careful.

They destroy tens of younglings, pale adorable younglings that would have grown to become my brothers and sisters.

In the night, Mother would cry and cry, filling her chamber with transparent liquid.

The harvest always brought so much sadness.

But we always healed, sometimes as fast as in weeks, and life would start all over again.

Koje hated Mother’s style of leadership. He had always showed his disapproval of mother’s laws. He was the most muscular of the soldiers. It hadn’t been any difficult for him to overthrow Aman, the previous commander and took over.

‘How can we be called protectors, soldiers, when we can’t use the only weapon we have?’ Koje asked Mother once. It was some days after yet another harvest and mother was just about closing the weekly meeting. In his fury, his two antennas stood upright above his head.

‘We must not sting anyone,’ Mother repeated, a reply not just for Koje but for all of us.

‘But how can we—’

Mother raised a hushing palm. ‘That would be all, Koje.’

As Koje watched Mother walk into her chambers, I glimpsed on the rage that burned in his eyes. It was un-beelike, an emotion as strong as that. He hit his two fists together and let out a throaty groan.

And then the time of the harvest came again.

A thick veil of apprehension has descended on the hive.

Mother has called for an emergency meeting two days earlier. Once again she told us what to do, the safety precautions we should take to avoid being hurt.

The nursing bees worked day and night, moving eggs and larvae into the deeper, safer chambers.

I didn’t ask for mother’s permission before joining them. I wanted them all to be safe.

But we couldn’t move them all. Moving them requires extreme care, and only the second-skin larvae is more likely to survive. Moving the newly-hatched is almost as risky as the harvest attack itself.

That evening, a young hunter bee flew into the hive with the news we all dreaded, yet have been waiting for. Mr. Ewi and his three sons are preparing for the harvest.

It’s today. The harvest is today.

The warning call sent the entire hive into frenzy. Everyone was running helter-skelter as they scrambled to safety. If there was ever anything like that.

We quickly surrounded Mother.

She was the life of the hive. If anything happened to her, there would no longer be us. A colony cannot survive without the queen. We would have to disperse and go and join other colonies.

Other colonies whose ways were different. They would laugh if they heard neither of us has used our sting before.

At the other end of the hive, an unusual gathering was going on. Koje was addressing all the soldiers.

They were going to defile Mother’s orders and sting Mr. Ewi and his sons.

Mother noticed this almost at the same time as me, and she rose and walked to them.

‘Disperse!’ she screamed at them. ‘Disperse now! Nobody is going to sting anybody!’

Just then Koje picked a dry grass straw and plunged into Mother’s belly.

I screamed and ran to Mother.

The other attendants huddled together in fear. The matron bees ran to the chamber where they had hid away their healing gels. But it was late.

Mother’s body was cold. ‘Francesca,’ Mother called me. ‘It is time.’

‘Mother, please!’ Tears gushed out of my eyes. ‘Please, mother.’

‘You must lead them just as I have led them,’ Mother said, reaching to touch my cheek. She smiled then. ‘You will make a wonderful queen, I have always known that.’ She closed her eyes in the death.

‘No! Mother no!’

The matrons arrived to meet her corpse.

The queen is dead and it is the time of the harvest. The whole hive went dead with silence, imbued with mourning and the terror of the imminent attack.

Now Mr. Ewi and his sons were close. The soldiers under Koje’s command took their formation.

As soon as Mr. Ewi lifted the hive cover, Koje and his men slammed into them, stinging at any exposed body part. Mr Ewi and his sons screamed and took to their heels.

The soldiers followed them till they were out of sight.

Because our hive has always been surprisingly friendly, the farmer and his sons hadn’t come prepared.

They didn’t wear the funny-looking white overall they wore when visiting other hives. They didn’t carry the odd-shaped can of enervating smoke either.

The harvest men defeated, the winning soldiers returned back to the hive to celebrate their victory.

But it was a victory short-lived, so much so that all eyes flew open in shock, and confusion, at what came next.

One after another, the soldiers fell to the hive floor, till their still, dead bodies littered the entire hive like fallen leaves from a desiccated tree.

They had all lost their stingers, trapped into the enemies’ skins with some bit of their flesh. Bad air flowed freely in and out of them.

That was what Mother had tried to avoid. For once a honey bee stings, he has sacrificed his life.

And so we learned.

I learned.

That evening we relocated to a new hive. My reign was never anything like Mother’s, but we made sure to keep her chief rule.

We never used our stingers!

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