June 5, 2012
by Jude Ellery
Anthony had everything an ant could want. His wife, Anthea, was the most beautiful specimen of Apocrita this side of the garden path. Their two little antlings, Anton and Antoinette, were each top of their class and well on their way to following in their father’s impressive footsteps. Anthony had worked hard all his life and was now head of the Major Workers Union. He even acted as adviser to Queen Titanomyrma on occasion, resolving disputes relating to workers’ pay, smoothing over delicate political issues when there was talk of strikes, and generally acting as a go-between for the people and the royalty. Needless to say, he was the envy of all his friends.
Due to his position of power, most of the heavy lifting was left to the other ants, but Anthony still made a point of working out every morning. Physically, he’d never been in better shape. His waist was as slim as when he’d turned one, each of his abdominal segments was toned to perfection, his mandibles were sharp, and his tarsal claws neatly trimmed. Unlike most of his kind, Anthony had excellent eyesight, too. “Anthony the Eye”, he’d been nicknamed during his time guarding Pond Edge.
Yet, despite this perfect life, Anthony was unhappy. He felt hollow, incomplete. What he really yearned for, more than anything, was to play football.
It had started as a harmless hobby, just some light entertainment to pass time on a warm summer’s evening. However, the more he’d watched, the more his passion had grown, and soon it had morphed into an obsession. When the other ants finished a hard day’s shift transporting chunks of leaves from Big Berry Bush to Queen T’s Headquarters, they’d all march off to sun themselves on the metal drain at Lawn’s North Edge. Not Anthony, though. Every day he’d make the hour-long trek along Uneven Path, past the woodlice and the slugs, the carrot patch and rows of strawberries, until finally he reached Foreign Lawn.
Foreign Lawn was a dangerous place, but Anthony, a savvy ant indeed, had protection. Ever the politician, he’d made acquaintances with nearly all the other races he’d come across in the garden, and one of his oldest, dearest friends was Jackdaw Jack. He would circle the sky above Foreign Lawn, keeping watch over his little ant friend and swooping on any unfriendly creatures that sought to make a meal of him. Anthony could sit in peace, safe in the knowledge that his back – as well as the rest of his tiny, perfectly proportioned body – was being watched. All Anthony had to concentrate on was the action before his compound eyes.
And oh, what action! Hour upon hour of brilliant football skills: leaping headers, acrobatic volleys, gravity-defying saves! The Giant Two-Legs hurled their bodies into the sport, putting on such a show that at times Anthony felt sure they must know he was watching. There were three regulars, but at the weekends this number grew to ten, even twelve. These large-scale games took up the entire lawn, and Anthony missed a lot of the action at the other end, but he found a good vantage point at the top of an enormous sunflower where he could get a great view of the nearest goalmouth. He witnessed such spectacular goals, and the games went on so late into the night, that most evenings he’d be late for supper. Anthea would scowl and tell him off for setting a bad example. Like any good addict, though, Anthony promised his wife he’d do better tomorrow.
This routine had gone on for several months before Anthony realised another shared his passion. On the way to Foreign Lawn this particular day, Anthony hitched a ride with another friend, Wild Dog. Soon the topic of football came up in conversation. The canine happened to mention how he’d got involved at the local park at the weekend, and had nodded in the winning goal before being chased off with a stick that the Two Legs — Boys, he’d heard them called — had been using as a goalpost. He described in great detail the feel of the leather smacking off his wet little nose; the smell of the glistening, pristine white ball as he claimed his moment of glory; the cries of laughter (and annoyance) from the Boys as he scampered away to safety.
That was it, Anthony’s mind was made up. He, too, was going to be a professional footballer.
Wild Dog wasn’t sure it was the best idea. “I dunno, Ant. I’m just not sure it’s…”
“What, it’s not for me? Why not? Why can you go and have a kick about, but I’m forever restricted to merely watching? It’s torture, I tell you, it’s not fair. I will play, and that’s that.”
And that was, indeed, that. Anthony marched away, deaf to his friend’s attempts to explain himself. With a worried bark, Wild Dog bounded off to find a certain bird.
Later that day, as Anthony was marching back from the evening’s match alone, again late for supper, Jack floated down from the sky. He perched on Compost Heap and shouted down to his miniscule friend.
“Alright, Ant. Listen, I spoke to Wild Dog earlier. I know you’re not going to like this, but…”
Once again, Anthony was having none of it. “Oh great, another friend turning against me. Look, if you don’t want to watch over me for my debut, I’ll find another bird. I’ve plenty of sway around these parts, I can find a new bodyguard just like that, you know?”
Try as he might, Jack couldn’t get in another word. He knew Anthony was right, he could find protection at the drop of a twig. Jack flittered off at top speed to find Anthea, to see if she could talk some sense into her husband when he returned home.
Anthea had even less luck than the other two, though. Anthony walked in the door, saw the expression on his wife’s face, and walked straight back out again. So, even his beloved had turned against him. Fine. He’d sleep under the mint leaves tonight and then, first thing tomorrow, a Saturday, he’d march to Foreign Lawn double quick and defy them all. He would be a professional footballer. He’d show them alright.
That night, Anthony couldn’t sleep. It was plenty comfortable under the mint leaf, and the season’s warmest night to boot, but try as he might he couldn’t take his mind off the big match tomorrow. This must be what Anton and Antoinette felt like last Christmas, he thought, when they knew they each had a brand new carrot top waiting for them in the morning, imported all the way from Next Door.
Morning did come, finallly. Anthony had managed about an hour’s sleep in all, but he was sprightly as ever on the march to Foreign Lawn; in fact, he made record time. He got there before the Boys had started the match proper. They were casually stroking the ball between themselves, slow enough for Anthony to see it was a brand new Official Euro 2012 match ball. “Tango 12,” it read. It rolled on to unveil more wording. “Size 5.” A little further. “Adidas.” This was the real deal, alright.
The match began, but Anthony had neglected his usual vantage point atop the sunflower, instead opting for a position underneath one of the makeshift posts; it was a beige baseball cap, today, and the peak curved perfectly to shelter little Anthony until his time would come.
Unbeknown to him, Anthony’s friends were also in attendance. Anthea, Jack and Wild Dog peered down from the top of the large wooden shed, but try as they might they couldn’t locate the persistent fellow. Eventually they gave up looking and began to chat about the ant they all held so dear in their hearts.
“Little creature syndrome, that’s what he’s got,” said Wild Dog.
“Agreed,” agreed Jack.
“I’m afraid you’re right, guys,” Anthea sighed. “He’ll just have to learn the hard way. But wherever is he?”
Seconds later, she was answered. Anthony’s moment was upon him. An overhit through ball was trundling out of play — or so they thought! Anthony marched out from his hiding spot, timing his movement perfectly to cut off the Tango 12 before it rolled harmlessly for a goal kick. As he did so, he thought he heard some familiar voices shouting to him, from far in the distance. No time to wonder about that! He took six last little steps toward the spinning ball, reared up on his hind legs, used his front legs for balance, and, with all his might, kicked forward with his tensed, toned, middle pair of legs, aiming high into the–
Jack put a consolidatory wing around Anthea as she turned away in horror.
Wild Dog shook his head sadly. “I tried to tell him, Anthea, dear. We all did. Ants are just too small to play football.”
Anthony Tangos With The Big Boys by Jude Ellery is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License