There’s a sandwich shop near my office where I go to lunch, prizing its speed and simplicity for days when I only have 30 minutes to eat. A creature of habit, I get a sandwich and chips and a Cherry Coca-Cola, even though that drink makes me jittery and cranky as the day wears on. On hot days, I sit outside on the patio, enjoying the solitude and the feeling of warmth of my skin after so many hours in frigid air conditioning.
One day a bee noticed me and my meal, and began zipping around my area to investigate. I feel for the bees, so I left it alone as long as I could. Like many a bee’s quarry, I assumed it was attracted to my shirt, which had watercolored flowers in its print – even though it would take a human’s eye to interpret the color blotches as flowers, and I probably smelled more mammalian than floral. Still, the instant ego of people being what it is, I assumed the bee was interested in me and scooched away from the table.
The bee zeroed in on my Cherry Coke. It alit on the rim, and paraded frantically around the inner lip, sampling condensation drops and performing bee calculus. I was not done with the drink, so when the bee took to the air again to explore further, I pulled the Coke toward me and swatted at it with my chip bag, encouraging it to look elsewhere. Instead, the bee landed on my wrist and somehow, in a magician’s blink, got itself wedged under the band of my FitBit. I watched in silent shock as it instinctively stung me.
I flicked the bee out, and, as it zipped away, pulled the stinger free from my flesh. It didn’t hurt much, to my surprise. I finished my meal.
The next day, my wrist was swollen and hot, and the prick where the stinger had lodged was itchy and oozing. I removed my FitBit. I haven’t worn it since. While applying lotion, I reassured myself with half-remembered grade school trivia: a bee that lost its stinger would surely die soon after. It didn’t feel like justice, exactly, but that’s still where my thoughts traveled during this week of swollen skin.
I’m a creature of habit, I said. I returned to the same spot the following week, ordering the same meal, sitting outside at the same table. Once again, a bee careened into my orbit. This time, the memory of the sting so recent, I reacted more fearfully, pulling back with stiff readiness and making plans to escape. Once again, the bee was primarily interested in my Cherry Coke. During an interlude in the bee’s courtship with my soda cup, I gathered my meal and swiftly moved to a table 20 feet away.
The bee, of course, rediscovered me, in that rapid haphazard way that bees have of traveling, like blind men moving with ill-advised haste. It circled my cup like an electron. Without swatting, I snatched my meal away and moved again to the farthest table, this time one in sheer punishing sunlight, just to finish my meal.
When I went back to the second table to retrieve my purse, the bee made its dart to the new table. I came back to find it writhing in the Coke, legs up, trying to escape the sticky liquid despite the fatal error of wetting its wings. I finished my meal and threw the drink away, the bee in it now quite still, either from death or meditative rue.
I went back today. I ordered iced tea. I could justify this by saying the bee had taught me to eschew the fattening sweet beverage in a way my FitBit had never convinced me, to trim calories and drink healthily and beware the dangers of temptation, lest they cause me to lash out in caffeinated anger and lose a piece of myself in the process, or pull me under the ennui of obesity and drown me. But the truth is, I just wanted to be left alone.