Like ants we follow pheromonal trails through the labyrinthine corridors pausing only briefly to wave antennae and forelegs in recognition of fellow hivers.

With our paths predetermined by the timetable, fate is in the ringing of the bell. Dong dong dong. And off we scamper bearing loads many times our body weight. Dong dong dong. We “see” only what is laid down before us by the guiding olfactory sense.

Which is thrown into some confusion in the vicinity of that direful place the stews, the sluices, the netty, the figurative and literal bog. Downtown Calcutta as it is termed in the common room. At such times you are reminded (and you do not wish to be) that an integral element of smell is taste.

Distressingly, you are eating some small particle of what is emanating from within. Those on contract (as opposed to the old timers enjoying tenure in ongoing positions) know what it is like to eat sh-t. Somehow in the heat of the industrial contest which saw us squeak a small victory with our masters, the union neglected to inform contractors that the mooted bounty of the first backdated instalment of the new pay structure was to be denied them.

Since a not insignificant proportion of staff members are on 6-monthly contracts, the union would appear to have been complicit with the Department in an old-fashioned swiftie.

Those contractors who sacrificed a number of days’ pay to augment the heroic reputation of union officials are, to continue the cloacal metaphor, sh-tty. But then it’s a sh-tty sort of victory which has old chalkies galvanised like monsters of Frankenstein at the prospect of the impossible luxury afforded by an extra 100 bucks a week (before tax) which remuneration equates, on rough calculation, to one Sol Trujillo minute.

Such delicious contemplation is cut short by the bell. Dong dong dong. The corridors are sibilant with the shuffle of insect feet only awaiting the formic bard who will decode the poetry of all this activity. Someone to construct our very own Ants’ Story.

Peter Fray

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