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The Worm

by Richard Rupnarain

Guyana Journal, January 2008

Earthworms should neither be seen nor heard. They do not have anti-Robin guns in their armory, their skin is not tough enough to withstand the heat of the sun, their setae (the bristles that help them move and hang on for dear life when an enemy tries to pull them out of the soil) fail more often than not, and the juice called coelomic that they eject through the anus, while a turn off for their enemies in quite a few stressful situations, is like scud missiles compared to thermo-nuclear devices – innocuous and obsolete. Besides, worms do not possess teeth and, while some of them like the South African model can grow up to twenty-two feet, though I believe that is stretching it, and may pretend to be snakes, they are not, for they have no backbone. And, no bones about it, that is one skeleton they would like to keep in the closet. Furthermore, earthworms have no hard protective exoskeleton like that of an insect and no shell like that of a turtle into which they can withdraw if danger lurks. Rather, they are flexible, elongated bundles of muscle, efficiently designed for life underground. And that is where they should be found – underground, in their wormholes.

So what was this four-inch long wriggly creature doing outside the box that surrounded the root of my apple tree? Was he (I assume it was a he since it was brave and stupid) not aware that leaving his domain would render him vulnerable to his enemies? Could it be then that he was trying to think outside the box? Was he determined to prove that worms had the right and could in fact walk the terrain like any other creature? Was he trying to dismantle the stereotype that said worms should come out only at night in order to avoid the Robins and the sun? Was he trying to instill in his comrades an openness of mind to look at and do things differently, to focus on the value of finding new ideas and acting on them, and be willing to explore new ways of seeing the world? Perhaps, but doubtful, after all he has no brain and so cannot even ponder his lowly lot in life or plan a strategy for his next meal, or consider how to safely cross the sidewalk. Much less venture into Einsteinian physics?

But even if he wanted to think outside the box, like a relativity theorist or quantum physicist, he should have experimented with something familiar to him, like wormholes. And then he would have been able to impress worm scientists with the answers to mysteries that have intrigued humans for decades. Questions such as: Do wormholes connect two black holes? Is a wormhole really a kind of space-time tunnel, a shortcut through space, a method of instantaneous travel between places that are spatially distant, without contradicting the theory of relativity? Can wormholes be constructed without breaking other laws of physics?

Perhaps he assumed that because he is almost transparent that he was invisible to enemy forces. Or, maybe he took consolation in the fact that in the event of danger of bodily harm he could regenerate himself and grow even longer and stronger than before. Maybe he was so enamored with impressing the girl worms with his chivalry that he forgot there are no girl worms. With his type it was not a matter of boy meets girl, but rather a simpler matter of worm meets worm since all worms carried both sets of sexual organs.

Whatever the reason for his machismo behavior one thing was certain: he would pay dearly for leaving his real estate. The creature, unable to tell his head from his tail and therefore unsure if he was moving forward or reversing, lost sight of the winged enemy that perched upon the electric wire a mere twenty feet above and before I could finish my thought he was gone, just as I predicted, in the same manner as I envisaged – in a Robin’s beak. But what could I do? The poor fool could not hear my warnings even if I waved like a castaway or used a bullhorn to get his attention. He has no eyes and no ears. Agreed, the case could be made that he has lots of heart, five to be precise, but without eyes, ears and a brain, he was just a lovable feast.

In less than a second the dark brown bird zoomed down from the clear blue skies like a missile, its coordinates locked on its target, and in one fell swoop plucked the fool out of the box and took him airborne, wriggling and screaming for mercy while threatening to launch a class action suit for sub-standard setae. And just as abruptly as the Robin picked him up she deposited him on top of the nearest four-inch square fence post and returned to the side of her companions on the wire. I was bewildered.

“What is she going to do to the worm?” I asked myself. I expected the bird to make quick work of its catch but to my surprise she just jettisoned her cargo on top of a fencing post and returned to the electric cable as though she made a mistake. Was the worm unpleasant to the taste? Was it the wrong brand? Or was the coelomic actually effective in dispelling its attacker?

I guess it was none of those for I could almost detect laughter in the birds’ animated chirping as they fluttered their wings and hopped on their high and lofty perch. For the next ten minutes I watched them, both parties, alternately, with intrigue, still mystified at the actions of the bird. Even more strange I found myself empathizing with the creepy crawler. Still, I expected that at any moment one of the birds would swoop down to execute judgment on the creature for breaking the laws of the land. Instead, they just watched him wriggle, like sadistic captors toying with a P.O.W. before terminating his existence.

Minutes passed and the birds held their positions. The worm, perhaps thinking that he was wrongfully evicted and that his case had been dropped after a round-Robin vote, wriggled closer to the edge of the post, then recoiled to the center as if a spirit of fear had overcome him. He must have sensed the precipitous six-foot fall that awaited him if he ventured an inch further and even without a brain he knew that with a drop of more than eighteen times his length it was suicidal to try and escape from his fenceless prison without a bungee cord. And so he backed up to the safety of the middle of the post, tucked his head under his tail, or vice-versa, and tried to shield himself from the combined forces of heat from the blazing midday sun and the blustery breeze coming in from the north.

A few minutes later it was clear that he was beginning to suffer from dehydration as he was visibly being reduced in size and I thought, now there is the skinny on fat loss. I imagined him wishing that he was terminated on the spot but such fortune was not to be his. He was destined to be humiliated, to live moment by moment in fear for his life, to be allowed sufficient time to ponder his mistake, to serve as a reminder to the others who might be tempted to wander outside the bounds of their laws into forbidden territory and engage themselves in unearthwormly activities. He and the others must learn that not all thinking inside the box is bad. Like the man in the cartoon who talks to his cat and points to the kitty litter box and says, "Never ever think outside the box!" he must respect the laws of the land that were meant to protect his rights and preserve his life.

Just then one of my friends came by and leaned up against the railing on the deck next to me. “Hey, I have a question to ask you,” he said.

“What is it?” I replied.

“Have you ever thought about the issue of capital punishment?”

“Why, what about it?”

“Which do you think is worse: capital punishment or life imprisonment without parole?”

“You mean as a means of retributive punishment? Hmmm! I have to think about it. What do you think?”

“I think life imprisonment without hope of parole is worse than capital punishment. Don’t you agree?”

Just then my eyes returned to the top of the post, to the poor miserable creature, now almost emaciated, a dead worm crawling, afraid to live, afraid to die, for how long he does not know. It would have been easier for him to die the instant the bird had plucked him from the ground. Then I answered, “Come to think about it, I have to think that life imprisonment without parole might be the harsher judgment.”

Richard Rupnarain

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