Uncharted Waters

In an obscure corner of a prominent house, precariously kept near the edge of an ornate wooden display cabinet, lay the small glass bowl. It had a nice healthy curvature at the bottom and was filled with little green plants that stood erect on a bed of small white stones. The water inside the bowl hadn’t been cleaned for over a week now and had hence acquired a rather murky appearance. One could even say that the nature of the water well represented the mood of the bowl’s two occupants. Well, at least one occupant in particular.

“This doesn’t look good,” said the young fish.

“I admit it has turned a little yellow,” replied the old fish.

“I wasn’t talking about the water.”

The young fish pressed against the edge of the bowl and, with wide unblinking eyes, peered through the glass towards the main door diagonally across the room. There was no movement. It then turned towards the old fish and shook its tail with impatience and anxiety.

“He seemed too excited today.”

“He is a young boy,” the old fish explained. “They are very alike young fish like yourself. Overzealous and impulsive.”

“I am afraid.”

“I know you are.”

“Then don’t be so calm. It doesn’t help me.”

“I doubt if anything could help you right now.”

The door bell rang and their heads instinctively fixed themselves in that direction. Their little mouths opened and closed with monotonous regularity as they waited for the maid to approach. She did and opened the door. It was the mother. They both let out an inaudible sigh. Tiny bubbles escaped their mouths and broke at the surface. The mother didn’t concern them. They were waiting for the son and the father.

“You are wrong,” began the young fish. “If they come without it, I will be alright again.”

“But that won’t happen.”

“So then you are sure,” cried the young fish. “Please don’t be so certain.”

“You have noticed the signs, haven’t you?”

“The neglect…?”

“That and more,” said the old fish and slowly swam towards the young fish and then floated nearby.

“The fireplace towards our right,” it pointed with its fin.

“Yes?”

“The mantelpiece has been swept clear of all the little display trinkets. The lady took them all away yesterday and cleaned the top thoroughly.”

“So that’s the new place?”

“I suppose.”

“For the new bowl….”

The old fish shook its head. “There is a lot of room on that mantelpiece. It could be an aquarium.”

“We cannot compete with an aquarium!” cried the young fish in dismay.

“No we cannot.”

“Then we are surely doomed. How can you be so calm?”

“I am not calm,” replied the old fish. “I am bitter. And resigned.”

The young fish quailed and its head drooped.

“So what will happen?”

“I am afraid you are still too young for this,” sighed the old fish. “My parents readied me for this moment when I was quite young. I might as well ready you. Do you know about The Swirl?”

“The Swirl?”

“Yes. The Swirl is where the humans put the unwanted fish.”

“Tell me more about it,” the young fish asked in earnest.

“It was never deemed wise to talk about The Swirl,” it continued. “It was considered a bad omen. But I must for you need to know and be ready.”

At this point the old fish stopped and tried to recall all the little figments of knowledge it had, over the years, acquired about The Swirl. The young fish flapped its fins with impatience.

“The Swirl is a deep bowl of water with a dark and cavernous recess at one end. But not ordinary water. The water in The Swirl is alive.”

“Alive?” asked the young fish with fear and incredulity.

“Yes. Alive and aware. From what I have heard, at first it appears calm and silent from the outside, but once a fish breaks its surface, it devours it.”

“How could water devour one of us?”

“It does. It gushes from all sides and pushes the fish into that dark recess from where there is no return.”

The door bell rang once more and interrupted their conversation. This time, instead of the maid, it was the mother who unlocked it. Two strange men, holding a large rectangular object that was shielded from view by a grey cloth, entered, followed by the son and the father. The son hugged his mother and pointed excitedly at the object that the two men carried over to the mantelpiece, placed on top and removed the cloth covering it. It was an aquarium.

The two fish observed the entire scene in silence. They looked at each other and then at the aquarium and nodded in acknowledgment of their perceived destiny.

“What happens in that dark recess?” asked the young fish.

“I don’t know. Nobody knows.”

They, not knowing what to do or say, continued to gaze at the humans nearby. The two men left while the family of three moved closer to the aquarium and spent some time looking at the various new fish that swam in it. In a little while, the mother and the father walked away and only the boy was left.

“The boy likes us,” began the young fish.

“Young boys like new things. We are not new anymore.”

“What do we do now?”

“We wouldn’t have to wait too long.”

That very instant, the young boy came bounding towards them and lifted the bowl. The young fish, alarmed at the prospect of their impending doom, lost its reserve and began to swim frantically from side to side. The old fish simply closed its eyes and swam near the bottom.

Some moments later, they could feel the bowl tip over. They fell through the air, surrounded by that murky water, gasping for breath until they plunged into water once again. The young fish was quivering while the old fish was still. Their eyes were closed. They were waiting for The Swirl.

“Hello.”

The young fish opened its eyes and saw four to five other fish floating by. The water around them was still. It wasn’t alive. It wasn’t aware.

“We are in the aquarium,” it exclaimed and startled the other fish. The young fish didn’t pay them much heed and started looking for its older companion. It soon spotted the old fish. But it was still and sinking towards the bottom.

“This isn’t The Swirl,” the young fish swam near it and tried to explain. “There is no dark recess.”

But the old fish wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t open its eyes. It simply kept descending at a constant and slow pace until it reached the bottom. A few other fish approached them.

“I think it has died,” one of them said.

The boy too had noticed the descent and quickly ran away. He returned with his father who gave the old fish one quick look before lifting it from inside using a cup. The young fish watched in dismay as he held the old fish from its tail and examined it. The father, with his one hand holding the cup and the other across his son’s shoulder, led them inside as the boy began to cry.

“Where will they take it?” asked one of the other fish.

“The Swirl,” answered the young fish.

On hearing the proclamation, some of the fish looked at each other with unknowing glances while the others shuddered and shook their heads in disapproval.

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