The bees were getting restless. They had been waiting for over an hour for the humans to arrive, and they began eyeing the pretty yellow meadow flowers.
“Couldn’t we …” began Fluzz, “… I mean it seems stupid to sit around doing nothing … couldn’t we collect some nectar while we wait?”
Guzz had been pacing but stopped to consider. After a moment she shook her antennae from side to side. “No no no … please don’t. Then you’ll want to return to the hive and that’s when they’ll come.”
“Why can’t they meet us at the hive? They could be welcomed by the queen.”
“They don’t care about the queen. Anyway, the hive makes them nervous, I think. The meadow is neutral territory.”
Why they wanted to meet at all was the real mystery. They said they had a great gift for the bees. It felt ominous to Guzz. The bees had gotten many “gifts” from the humans over the years. A new pesticide. A parking lot. It was nothing like that, the humans had said, it was something the bees would like. Guzz just hoped she hadn’t led her fellow workers into a trap.
A great cacophony at the northern edge of the meadow announced the arrival of the humans. One thing they couldn’t do was sneak up on the bees, bringing with them as they did such an abundance of careless noise.
“Over here!” cried one, as its head poked through the trees.
The highway was no more than 100 yards away, but the humans perspired and leaned back their heads to pour water from plastic bottles down their throats. They took dainty steps among the rocks and thigh-high grass in the meadow. “I’ll bet there are snakes in here,” said one. “If I get stung it’s your fault,” muttered another.
The boulder on which Guzz paced was the largest in the meadow, and the humans headed towards it. At the front of the procession were a short, fat man wearing a baseball cap and a tall, sharp-featured woman who waved her hand in front of her face to ward off flies. Guzz’s fellow workers joined her on the boulder to watch the humans approach. Dark patches spread under the man’s armpits as he struggled with his balance on the uneven terrain and cursed under his breath. Finally the humans arrived at the boulder and looked up from their feet to regard the bees.
“Ah, the bees!” cried the woman almost hysterically. “Hello, bees!”
“Which one of you is the leader?” asked the man.
After a pause, Guzz spoke up. “I’m the one that alerted the others to the meeting, if that’s what you mean.”
“Right, right,” said the man, glancing at another man to his left who crossed his arms and nodded knowingly. “No one leader. That’s the way the bees do it.”
“Get on with it!” shouted Shuzz. “We’d like to get back to work!” Guzz and the others murmured their agreement.
“Pushy little fellows,” muttered the woman.
“Okay, fine,” said the man, raising his right arm to wipe his forehead on the sleeve of his t-shirt. He made an effort to straighten his posture and clapped his hands together. “As I said to … one of you … the other day, we represent the human race, and we have a great gift for the bees.” He unclasped his hands and spread his arms wide. He and the other humans wore beatific expressions, as if they were privileged to be present at this great moment in history. The bees said nothing and paced impatiently.
“We give you,” announced the man, “the Earth!”
For a while, the bees continued to pace as before. The breeze continued to rustle the grass. A pair of clouds continued to move across the sky. Beads of perspiration continued to drip. Flies continued to be attracted by the scent. The beatific expressions on the people began to grow stale and the man’s outstretched arms began to droop.
“Did you say ‘the Earth’?” asked Guzz.
“Yes!” cried the man, happy to have finally received some reply, any reply.
“Is this a joke?” shouted Shuzz.
“No, no!” the man said. “You see, we’re leaving. Most of us have left already, actually. We’ve found another planet we like better. We’re making a fresh start…”
“What about your stuff?” asked Guzz. “Your cities, your roads …”
The man smiled sweetly. “That’s all yours now, to do with as you wish.”
“Why would we want it? Aren’t you going to take it with you?”
The man looked at the sharp-faced woman uncertainly. “That wouldn’t be practical,” she explained.
“So you’re leaving it to us?”
“Not just that! The whole planet!”
Guzz thought for a moment. “What makes you think the Earth is yours to give?”
“Ah!” said the man, turning to the side and beckoning to a small bespectacled woman. She produced a book from a tote bag and handed it to the man. “I thought you might ask about that. You see,” he said, opening the book, “In the beginning…“
“What’s he doing now?”
“Is he reading us a story?”
“We don’t have time for this!”
“Okay, fine,” said Guzz, “let’s just assume you can give us the Earth. Why us? Why not the dolphins, say, or the dogs? You’ve always been tight with them.”
The man lowered the book reluctantly. “I told you this was a stupid idea,” muttered a woman the bees hadn’t noticed before. She was squatting and inspecting a flower, her face shaded by a ragged straw hat.
“We’re taking the dogs with us,” said the man to the bees.
“And the dolphins?”
His shoulders slumped. “They … turned us down.”
“Uh huh,” said Guzz. “Cats?”
“Look, you are the right guys for the job!” He slapped the book shut and handed it back to the woman with the tote bag. “I’m sure of it! You’re so … industrious. You know how to cooperate and get things done.”
“But why do you even care? If you’re leaving, I mean.”
The sharp-featured woman spoke up. “We want to know that the Earth is in good hands. We feel responsible for it.”
“And,” said the man, “maybe someday we will want to return. You never know.”
The woman in the straw hat stood up. “In other words, we want you to clean up our mess for us.”
“That’s not,” the man shook his head at the woman, “that’s not at all what…”
“No, that makes sense,” said Guzz. “I get it.”
“But that’s not at all what we’re saying! It’s not a mess, the Earth! We’ve taken good care of it, I think.”
“Yeah, just look at this meadow,” the sharp-featured woman said. “It’s beautiful! Lovely! It’s …”
“It’s one of the last nice places left on the continent,” said the woman in the straw hat, pushing the woman with the tote bag out of the way to approach the boulder. “It’s a mess alright. Why else would we be leaving? And when we screw up the other planet, maybe we’ll find a third, or maybe we’ll come back here to screw this one up again.”
“Don’t listen to her!” cried the man.
But Guzz nodded grimly and said, “I see. But how do we clean it all up? It’s too big a job.”
“Just keep doing what you’re doing,” said the woman in the straw hat. “That’s all we can really ask.” Then she turned and walked away from the boulder without another word.
“I’m really sorry, we shouldn’t have invited her to come along,” said the man.
“So rude,” said the sharp-featured woman.
But the bees just paced and buzzed and said nothing more. One by one, they left the boulder, dispersing into the field to collect pollen and nectar from the little yellow flowers.
The man sighed and threw up his hands, and the people turned around and trudged out of the meadow, their plastic water bottles crinkling as they shook the last drops into their mouths.
“I’m really going to need a shower,” said the sharp-featured woman as she ducked into the trees.
The breeze continued to rustle the grass, and by mid-afternoon the memory of the people had already started to fade.
Fluzz landed on a flower next to Guzz. “What was that all about anyway?” she asked.
“We have work to do,” said Guzz.