The Secret Goldfish
The Secret GoldfishI watch his orange, transparent tail whip around the green plastic plant and shimmer in the light that shines down into his bowl. I crack a smile as he turns around and looks right at me. He can always make me giggle with his chubby cheeks and beady little black eyes. Outside, I hear shouts and more police sirens blare up and down the street. With an exasperated sigh, I turn off the lamp shining into the glass bowl and put the bowl back in its hiding spot. With the dark green cloth over it, no one
As if on cue, two bumbling police officers burst through my door and stagger into my apartment. They are fat, revolting and clearly intoxicated. One has red hair and freckles, and his hat is tilting to the side of his head. He looks rather dazed, as if he just forgot where he is. The other has black, greasy hair and a grown out goatee on his double chin. His face is covered with crusted ketchup and mustard, and it was difficult to tell what food was recently consumed and what he ate weeks ago. The two men (in the loosest definition of the term “men”) are a revolting sight. Everyone else is expected to live within strict oppressing rules determined by our dictator, but police officers can often get away with being drunk and different. That unfairness is merely the essence of what defines the area I live in.
I smile at them sarcastically and say, “Can I help you two gentlemen?”
The one with red hair hiccups violently, and then stammers, “We gotta do a… scan. You know, for stuff.”
“Yeah yeah… apparently this here apartment has been givin’ off some weird signals and stuff.” The other one says this so loudly and boldly, I have to actually take a minute to process what he said.
“Okay, if you must. I’m not hiding anything, you know.” I lean back in my chair and watch them blunder to set up their scanner. When they finally get it set up about ten minutes later, they are so proud of themselves. I sigh and rolled my eyes.
“Let’s just get this over with,” I huff out, and they press the Start Scan button on the screen. A line of blue pops out from the scanner and moves around the room. The scanner keeps repeating the word “analyzing” in a typical computer voice. At this point, it is such standard procedure for me; I don’t even bat an eye.
“Scan completed. Apartment status: Clean. No other form of life besides human detected. Thank you for your time.” The scanner spouts out these words, then goes dead again. The two police officers look at each other and simultaneously shrug.
“Whelp, guess that’s that.” The one with the goatee starts to put the scanner away and the red haired one faces me, trying to explain what just happened while fixing his hat. It is clearly too much for him, because he has to stop, fix his hat, then talk to me.
“Sorry to bother you sir. We thought you might have been hosting an animal or something. You know that’s illegal. It conflicts with the many rules and regulations of… of…”
“Yes, yes, I’m aware.” I’m dying of laughter on the inside. You should have seen their faces! If only they knew, if only they were as smart as me. They pack up their things and start to leave.
As they fumble out the door, I roll my eyes again and remove the cloth from the goldfish bowl. This cloth is a genius piece of material. It can block off most signals from scanners, and it will always register the thing behind it as a dormant life form. That’s why I’ve always been able to hide my goldfish from the likes of cops like that. I move the bowl back to my desk and put the light on it. My goldfish is still swimming in circles, like he always does. I reflect how happy it makes me that he will always swim in circles, looking for food. My goldfish is the only thing in the world that will never fail to make me smile at its simplicity and continuity. I dig for his food that I make myself in the back of my desk drawer, because that has to be hidden too. I shake a few flakes into the bowl, and he eagerly swims to the top to devour him. I recollect how he came to be in my possession, as I do every time he swims so fast to gobble up his food.
I was thirteen years old. I am twenty now, so my goldfish has lived for seven years. I was walking down the street, back to the apartment I lived in with my parents from school. I absolutely hated school. They taught us the rules of the city we lived in and how important it was to follow them. All our history lessons were learning about the mistakes that humans before us made, and explanations of why we live the way we do. No freedom, no expression, and everyone has to be exactly the same nowadays. That way, no more wars will be caused. Apparently, people in the past fought and killed each other over differences like skin color and sexual orientation. That means if everyone is the same and lives the same, there will be no discrimination or deaths. This always made no sense to me. Why should people have to repress their natural habits instead of come to terms with them? I always thought as a kid that the reason everyone killed each other over their physical differences was because they didn’t understand each other, not because they actually felt hate over the differences.
As I was walking home, I passed all the miserable looking people on the street. They all looked sad, depressed and dead on the inside. I will never forget the expression on everyone’s face I saw when I was a child – so lifeless and hopeless. That’s what this society does to the people, and it hurts me to see them turned into that.
I passed a dark alley way. I would normally have walked right by it and thought nothing of it, but I heard some voices arguing in harsh whispers. I poked my head in the alley. A beam of light was peeking through the wooden roof over the alley, so I could see the people who were there. There was an older woman with her back to me arguing with a man. The man had a kind face and soft eyes, but it was clear stress had worn him down. He had many wrinkles on his face and he looked like he was in unbearable pain. Still, he held himself upright as he conversed with the older woman. As I moved closer to them, I could hear their conversation.
“Mother, I am not getting rid of the fish. You know what they mean to me. I refuse to let them out of my sight!” The man clenched his teeth, and clenched a bundle he had in his hands covered with a dark green cloth.
“The cops are onto us! They will find us any day now, any minute actually! If they find us with any sort of fish, they will take us away! Please, for the good of all of us, for the good of your daughter, just through them in that sewer there.” The older woman pointed to the crate opening of a sewer.
Suddenly, a girl about my age stepped out from behind her father. He was obviously trying to hide her, but because of the heated argument with his mother, he did not notice. She was small, weak looking and fragile. She had blonde hair that hadn’t been combed in a while, and her dress was a ragged, dirty mess. She made eye contact with me, then put her finger on her lips to indicate to me to remain quiet and still. Her eyes begged me to stay where I was, but to remain very quiet.
She bent down behind her father, and picked up a bundle covered by another dark green cloth. She checked all around her to make sure no one was watching, and she carefully stepped to me. When she was close enough to me, she shoved the bundle in my arms. The exterior felt smooth and cold, and as it was moved into my hands I realized that there was water in the bowl. Why was she giving me a bowl of water covered in a cloth?
She moved closer to me and whispered in my ear, “Please, take him far away from here. He will die if you don’t. I need him to live, please.”
Him? What did she mean by “Him”? I lifted the cloth enough to peer through the top, and saw there was a tiny goldfish swimming in circles in the bowl. I glanced back up at the girl, realizing what she was asking me to do. If I got caught carrying a goldfish, they would take me away too, just like they would take her father away when they found him.
“Please take care of him. He’s all I have. I need to know he will be safe. He’s so young, only a few days old. Please?” She looked like she was about to cry.
“I… I… I will. I promise I will.” I couldn’t believe I just said that. I possibly risked my life for a girl who I didn’t even know. I didn’t know it at the time, but I accepted her request because we were so similar. We both needed to break away from the horrible rules and traditions of this city. We both needed liberation and we needed to express ourselves, but we didn’t have any way to do so. So we both would harbor a goldfish secretly. It was a reminder to her and it’s a reminder to me now that in all the misery that this society forces on us, our goldfish will be a pocket of happiness and stability that they can’t take away if they don’t know.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out 5 units of money. I shoved them into her hands, insisting it as a payment for the goldfish. She began to violently shake her head, but I cut her off.
“Please, it’s a payment for the fish. I can’t just take it from you. You’re starving, I can’t just leave.” She really was starving. Now that I was close to her, I could see the hollowing of her face that years of hunger had done to her. Her eyes, though still young and kind, were empty from lack of nourishment. Her frail fingers quivered to a close around the money I had just shoved in her hands and she bowed her head in gratitude.
“Thank you, thank you so much.” A single tear slid down her cheek. “Now leave! Go! Now!” Her voice didn’t rise above a whisper, but the urgency in her tone told me to get away from there as soon as possible. I turned on my heal and regretfully stepped out of the alley way.
I ran home as fast as I could without letting the water spill from the bowl covered in the cloth. When I got into my room, I hid the goldfishes bowl in a place where no one could find him, not even my annoying parents or nosy police officers. I have taken extreme precautions to care for him and hide him from the world, and that is why he has lived for so long. I found out eventually that the cloth put a dampening on his existence, and that’s why the little girl and her family could hide those fish for so long from the scanners and the police. Only I know he exists, and only I get to appreciate his beauty and wonder. That’s how it should be, because no one else understands the burden they are trapped under that is this society.
A rapid knock on my door takes me out from my day dreaming. I exhale sharply, because I have to hide his bowl again and I don’t like to move him so much in one day. He doesn’t like it when his world shifts to quickly, and I don’t blame him. I carefully move the bowl back into its hiding place and cover it with the green cloth. The soft but frantic and impatient knocking continues, so I walk over to my front door to answer it.
I open the door, and my heart skips a beat. I see a girl my age with blonde, dirty tangled hair with pleading and weary eyes. She is wearing a ragged dress, and her body is still so skinny and frail. It’s her, the girl who gave me my goldfish.
“Hello again.” She smiles at me, but I can hardly believe she escaped the police that day seven years ago, and is still alive. I’m trying to figure out how she could have possibly escaped, and then I realized she is talking to me.
I manage to stutter, “How… how… how are you alive? How did you escape? How did you find me?”
She smiles sweetly and looks into my eyes. “I can’t tell you how I escaped them. It’s for your own protection. I came to see my goldfish! I gave him to you all those years ago.”
“Uhhh… yes! Yes, of course, please, do come in.” I had so many questions for her. Did she use the money I gave her? Is that was saved her? Did the rest of her fish survive? How was her father doing? Was her grandmother still alive? I can’t bring myself to organize these thoughts into words, so I just bring her over to the corner where my goldfish is covered and hidden.
I grab the cloth and look at her. I can’t wait to see her face when she sees that I kept him alive and well all these years. I dramatically unveil the cloth, and anticipate seeing my goldfish swimming around in circles, like he normally does. Only this time, he’s not. He’s floating motionless in one position. His usual happy expression and presence about him is gone. Instead, he is looking straight at the girl in a frozen position, with a look and presence of horror about him.
“That’s strange! Why is he doing that…” I begin to ask, but then I hear shouts and loud bangs outside my door. I turn to look at my door, and a barge of completely capable and terrifying police officers burst in to my apartment. They all point their guns at me, and they are shouting nonsense phrases. I can’t even listen.
I turn to the girl and ask, “What’s going on? How could they have found me?”
She looks right at me, and suddenly her expression goes from innocent to malicious. She cracks a wicked smile and whispers,
“Do you remember when you asked how I escaped, and I said I couldn’t tell you? Well, the truth is, I didn’t escape. When they found me, they cured me and made me a better person than the scum I was before. I am them one of them now.” She leans back from me and starts smirking. The reality of the situation hits me, and I understand what was happening. They knew I had the goldfish. They sent in the bumbling cops, and now HER to make my guard go down. I turn frantically and attempt to reach for the bowl. The last thing I see is my goldfish frozen in disbelief looking at me. A sharp blow hits the back of my head, and I am knocked out.