Worms ate household waste. Worm castings made good fertiliser. But these were insignificant reasons, small change in his pocket. He did not need a worm farm.
He bought a plastic worm box, and assembled it in the shade of his veranda. The box had four levels, the first three for varying strata of soil, and the final level for liquid released by the worms. There was a tap, so he could drain out the effluent from the worm castings.
He filled up the box with dirt, shredded paper, powdered eggshells, and water. Then he got out a plastic bag filled with red wrigglers. It seemed to pulse with life, like a beating heart. He upended the bag over the bedding, watching a thousand worms sprawl and tumble out. Then, he covered the worms with more kitchen scraps and more dirt.
He dusted off his hands and put the lid back on. He was suzerain of a thousand little lives.
The phone rang, and he went inside and answered it.
Three days later, he lifted the lid on the worm farm, and his nostrils flared at the smell – a heady organic stench, paradoxically dirty and clean.
He looked down at the mix of shredded newspaper, coffee grains and potato peelings.
Where were the worms?
Thirty seconds later, he still couldn’t see any movement. He must have done something wrong. His worms were dead.
Then, he noticed the end of a gelatinous tail slip into the vermicompost.
It was as if this set off a reaction across the worm farm. Suddenly he could see lots of movement, lots of twitching segmented bodies. There were worms everywhere – why hadn’t he seen them?
Maybe the human brain codes worms as unimportant, and his eyes just filtered them out.
He sat for a long period of time, watching the worms – seeing the invisible, exalting the tiny, worshipping the small. But were they truly small?
He thought of Einstein, and of relativity, and how one reference point is as valid as any other reference point. From a man’s perspective, a worm is small. But there are other perspectives – an infinity of them. And they are all equal.
Staring down into the farm filled with lives little yet big, he rubbed a patch of skin on his ring finger.
His house was lonely. There was so much empty space now that the furniture was removed.
He spent long hours outdoors, with the worm farm.
He tried not to keep the lid off for too many hours – the worms would dehydrate. He collected the worm castings and used them to fertilise his garden. Sometimes it rained, and he dragged the worm farm into the downpour. He wondered if worms understood rain.
He found the worms themselves fascinating. He’d started off with a thousand, and knew that soon there would be far more – he’d read about the little cocoons, with still more pink tubes of meat spewing out in a cycle that would encompass hundreds of generations.
One day, he saw a wriggler leave the soil until it’s entire body was exposed. He realised something – they were beautiful.
A smooth shiny body, unmarred by Paleozoic disasters like limbs or a face, sensual and voluptuous. One section of it shrank, another section expanded, the worm pushing itself along with pulses of contractile fibre. Was any animal as thrilling when it moved?
He reached down, and picked up the worm between his thumb and index finger. The little thing was about six centimetres long. Caught in his grip, it twisted and contorted itself into all sorts of shapes – helices and curlicues and loops of almost iridescent ochre. He smiled as it accidentally touched its head to its tail, like the Ouroborus.
Such a small thing between his fingers. But at the same time, colossal, unimaginably huge, a destroyer of words.
A man is bigger than a worm. But there is nothing intrinsically big about a man, and nothing intrinsically small about a worm.
He imagined himself as a being one micrometer tall, standing astride a single grain of dirt, watching as a worm burst from the ground.
A gargantuan red serpent, segment upon segment upon segment, thrusting itself skyward, blindly seeking heaven.
He imagined himself watching it thrash and flail, an incredible limbless god. Watching its mouth open and shut, columns of scintillating teeth gnashing.
He turned the worm over and over in his fingers. It twisted and turned at both ends, like an glistening parabola of flesh.
He brought it up to his face, and understood the true reason he had gotten a worm farm.