Only a Fly
I’m outside on a deck chair. The sunlight seems to lethargically drift through the swaying branches above my head and scatters across the lawn. A beautiful breeze moves gently across my face like someone pulling a length of silk cloth over me.
A fruit fly drops from it’s little flight path and alights perfectly on my arm. Turns once, then again, a full one-eighty. Its wings are deep iridescent purples and greens, the colors accentuated and vivid in the sunshine. It seems to be carefully examining one of my many leg hairs that surround it, which make up a veritable forest in relation to the tiny insect.
Almost immediately, Sophie swipes at my arm to squash it, but misses. The tiny winged creature swings around and alights once more on my knee, as if surprised and hurt, but not enough to leave my company.
I throw her a stern look. “Why did you do that?”
She replies brightly, “It’s nasty. I was trying to get it off your arm. Sorry if I hurt you,” and takes a sip of her drink.
“Why try to kill it? It wasn’t hurting you.”
“So? They carry disease.”
“So do you,” I retort. “It’s not like anyone tries to swat you.”
She can see that I’m not kidding. Her expression of helpfulness turns to one of incredulity.
“It’s just a fly, John. There’s millions of them. They sit in shit for a living.”
I look down at the fly. I can just about see the multitudinous facets that make up it’s eye. It seems to be looking at me, if indeed it could even perceive of something so comparatively enormous as myself.
“Doesn’t matter. It’s a living thing. You shouldn’t kill it.” I know this is to be true, although I don’t yet know why.
“What difference does it make? You kill thousands of bugs every time you walk through the garden. You gonna save a fly?” She folds her arms. This short conversation is just about over.
She has a point. Simply by me existing causes harm to other living things. It’s a fact of life. I understand this.
I look down at the fly again.
“Look at it. It’s perfect. You know I read somewhere that this thing can do a ninety-degree turn in 50 milliseconds.”
“Just because you read about flies in a book, now you’re some kind of protector of all things great and small.”
“That’s not the point Sophie. It’s a living thing. Just because it irritates me, doesn’t mean I have the right to simply squash it out of existence.”
She shakes her head. “Animals do it all the time, if you want to go all ‘natural order’ with me. They swat flies, kill them, eat them too.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m human. I know what it is I’m looking at.”
I look down and see the fly, and in it I am immediately and acutely aware of life.
More than the component parts.
More than amino acids that comprised it.
Not just chemicals.
A surge of understanding engulfs me. I see the complexity of the DNA, the structure of cells, the tweaking process of hundreds of millions of years of evolution.
I’m staring at perfection. Utter perfection. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
I could kill it, I know that. I have that power, but it would be as if killing myself. This little fruit fly and I are connected, a bond of life, of existence. I realise that for a conscious being to destroy that life was for no other reason than to assert a sense of power over beings smaller than itself. And that as part of the same system of evolutionary development, imbued with the same life, but with the knowledge of humanity, the act of killing it would make us inherently unnatural. It would make us evil.
I stare out into the garden, and for the first time in my life, my life, I can see movement. Endless, continuous, gorgeous movement. I am not alone. And after I die it will keep going. I am simply a witness.
My minds reels from the knowledge. The revelation is almost too much. I can feel the hair standing on end all over my body.
I don’t even own this body. I’m made up of billions of pieces of life, assorted cells and organisms collected. And as life is comprised of no more than it’s components, so my consciousness, the knowledge of me, is no more than the segments of life that I am comprised of.
For the first time, I no longer feel alone. I feel no great purpose, no more than a microscopic bacteria that lives on my skin. I am a part of something. I understand now.
Her hand whips out and crushes the fly between the palm of her hand and the flesh of my knee. She withdraws it as swiftly as she had struck, and wipes her hand on the underside of the chair.
The fluids from the insect had exploded from its tiny body and had splattered the tip of my knee. The dying creature twitched, a leg spasmodically flicking, it’s wing rattling briefly, as if the signal demanding swift escape was still being transmitted from its mangled nervous system.
I raise my head to look at her. I have no words.
With a look of unmistakable smugness, she says, “I guess that solves the argument then.”
I slap her, my hand grazing her cheek. She falls sideways, clutching at her face, her expression one of absolute shock and surprise.
I walk away. I don’t look back.