This short story is selected as Story of the Month September’2014 and won INR 1000
This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
Sweat trickled down my cheek, my heart thumped like anytime it may come out, and I was jolted out of my sleep. It was a dream. A great deal of time elapsed since I had experienced the same dream. I curled up on my bed placing my face between my knees. Somehow I didn’t feel to turn the light on. The dense air inside the room forced me to struggle to maintain my breath even. Slowly I opened the door and came out to breathe a fresh air. Most of the hostel rooms were empty. Students were enjoying their summer vacation, except few of them stayed there, and I was also one of the few.
I started to climb the stair to reach the roof and glanced at the far midnight city from atop my school hostel. The city appeared mysterious under the faint glow of street lights which lit the small city where I came one year back to join this boarding school. I again dreamed of my ‘fish with golden fins’. Probably it would have required my best effort to obliterate those memories of my painful days, which I certainly never did. Sometimes to reminisce those pains will inspire you to move on, to fulfill the purpose of your life.
The memories of those days were so vivid. I used to love to sit on the bank of our small pond. It was delved when we shifted to that new place. The plain land was elevated up to the front road level placing the soil collected from the pond. I could clearly remember the first rain after it was dug, which filled half of its height. The wind was blowing making ripples on the fully turbid water. Slowly the rainy season passed, the pond water lost its turbidness and turned into fresh and clean.
I was so excited the day when my father accompanied a fisher man. He poured a bucket of tiny fishes, among those; there was a little bigger one. Father told me to take it home for cooking. I was there holding the fish tight for some time. Its slippery body was battling against my palm to be freed. I glanced at his eyes, round and dark black, staring at me without a blink. His belly was little bigger in comparison with rest of his body. Color was fully white with thin golden tinge which was brighter at the back. Fully golden fins which looked delicate, particularly fins at the back and tail, added an appealing beauty to this creature. How could we be so cruel to kill this naive creature for the sake of our own food? I took an oath of my own, ‘I will not let the fish die’, and stared at his eyes, it blinked, like he realized what I said and showed a silent esteem to my thought.
‘Papa, can I let it go into the water?’
‘No, it may eat other tiny fishes we are pouring’, his tone was rough as like every other day. I could hardly remember last when he talked with me in a tender voice. Probably I was not being able to fulfill his expectation, to study hard, and attain a first place in the class making him proud. When I again placed a helpless glance at the round black eyes of that fish, it blinked again, like he assured me he will not eat others, and inspired me to try again. I gained a little courage to talk over my father.
‘Papa every day I will provide him food so that he does not kill others’, my gaze was down.
‘Shut up you stupid, go and do as I say’, he got busied in a conversation with that fisherman, how to take care of those fishes to grow them fast. With a broken heart when I returned back home, I saw mom getting prepared for the cooking. I silently went to her so as to give an indication of my gloominess and waited for her consoling voice.
“Why are you sad Beta? And where from have you bought the fish?”
“We are pouring fish into the pond. This one papa told me to take home. But I want to make it free.”
“And your father scolded you for what you said. Isn’t it? And that’s why my sweet son got hurt. Beta put the fish in that bowl and washes your hands”, a gentle smile appeared on her face when she looked down and concentrated on her work again.
I would always become astounded to watch mom cutting the vegetables with similar shapes every time. Her fast repeated movement of hands would surprise me, how could she cut vegetables so fast, so perfectly. One day when mom was not nearby, my queer urge compelled me to try with a potato to slice it into thin round shapes. But after one-two slices the knife cut a little of my right thumb, blood spilled out and I almost screamed in pain. I employed my best effort to enshroud the cut throughout the whole day, but at night, when I sat for dinner with father, I got caught under his watchful eyes. He rebuked me in his harsh voice, like all his exasperation was coming out with that mistake, and he accused mom, her too much affection, was responsible behind my every failures.
The fish inside my palm was no more showing any movements. In a hurry, I filled a bowl with water and kept the fish inside. Instantly, it jumped and came out of the bowl, splashing the water on my whole body. I heaved a sigh of relief.
“What are you doing? Leave it”
“Mom, it will die soon if I don’t let it go now”, the voice within me reflected my intense urge with a firm fervor. She kept the knife aside and seemed a bit hesitant. Then she slowly broke up her silence with a tone which was a bit unfamiliar to me, this time her approval was a bit unintentional, an approval lacks of her fondness.
“Go for it, but check if your father is there”.
I had no time for a second thought. I rushed to the pond holding the bowl tight. Water spilled and drenched the lower part of my body entirely when I ran down the slope on my way. I submerged the bowl holding it with both the hands into the pond water. It started to swim bending his tail from both the sides. I could see his thin golden fins moving to and fro. Initially it swum at the top, slowly it disappeared into the depth.
Following day when I returned back from school, directly I went to the pond with my afternoon food, rice with a spice less curry. I threw some rice into the still and bluish water, it was clearly visible when the rice twirled into the clean bright water and slowly vanished inside making small ripples at the top. Again I scattered some, but nothing broke the stillness of the water. I became little disappointed not to see any sign of any fishes. Suddenly I heard a suppressed sound while I finished my food and stood up, sharp and distinct, water stirred at the place where I threw rice and it followed several tiny movements at the surroundings. I screamed in joy, there it was, ‘the fish with golden fins’.
With the passage of time, my friendship grew stronger with him. I used to spend hours, cleaning tree leaves and other litters with a net tied with a bamboo stick which I prepared, and removing weeds and unwanted plants at the banks. Sometimes I threw small pieces of bread one after the other, he would jump his body in the air and dipped to catch it. He grew up a little, a shade of golden color spread all over his body, golden fins became little larger and looked more delicate, more fragile. Sometimes I cupped my palm with the foods inside and immersed it into the water near to the bank, he would come slowly bending his tail from sides and ate one after another pieces. When the food finished, he stroked my palm with his soft little lips demanding more. It would make me smile and a bit uneasy, I started to talk with him.
“Oh!! Let me take out, keep patience. You are too impulsive Goldie.”
Goldie, the pet name I had given to my ‘fish with golden fins’, signifying his golden fins. Whenever I used to call by his name, Goldie’s appearance was inevitable. My happiness had no bounds while Goldie would appear in the water following my voice, and it would make me feel alive in my solitary world. When the sun would reach at the horizon, evening sky poured the colors in the water and I was there immersed in my readings with another fairy tale sitting leisurely on the bank of the pond. I myself imagined there instead of prince with a sword held high on the back of my Goldie, ‘the fish with golden fins’. There falls a sea on the way to reach to the monster, whose life was confined into a bird inside a cage in a dense forest with similar islands, making the voyage to reach to the monster more difficult. On the way, we together overcame all the distractions, all the tricks, which were employed to deviate us and emerged as victorious. When I was just another step away to reach to that bird, I could hear the thunderous sound of the monster drifted from far away. The ground beneath my feet shook. Meanwhile I could hear mom calling me.
“Beta it will be dark soon, come back and sit for study”
I had to leave the story unfinished, for the next day, may be with a new one, with new monsters. My days were filled with happiness and my world was confined from my school to the pond, which certainly was the best place to find my happiness. But it didn’t last long. It was a summer afternoon. I was in a little hurry to hear the ring of the school bell which will announce the end of the school for the day. The dark black cloud slowly covered the bright sky. As soon as the bell rang, I started to run with my school bag and stopped till I reached at the junction where the three roads meet, the landmark of my home. I started panting heavily while I stooped to take a little rest and ran again to reach the bank of the pond. In a hurry, I took out few biscuits that I saved from my school Tiffin, smashed it, and spread over the water. Surprisingly I didn’t see any sign of Goldie. Other fishes gathered at the surroundings but Goldie nowhere to be seen.
I screamed ‘Goldie’; the booming noise of the far thunder drowned my voice. My restless and anxious mind repeated the name several times while dense cloud covered the whole sky and the darkness came down early. Suddenly my mother’s voice reminded me of the coming storm and I was forced to come back home. As the night progressed, the intensity of the storm increased along with the intermittent thunder.
The next day, after getting up early, I hurried to the pond and throughout the whole day I searched for him, but could not find any trace and the probable reasons of his disappearance. Few weeks passed after that. I hardly spoke with anyone, even with mom, who already tried to console me inventing a new story of another possible reason of his disappearance each time. It was inconsolable for me, I sat on the bank of the pond but no more read my unfinished fairy tale, I carried my afternoon food to share it with Goldie but it left untouched, weeds and shrubs started to grow at the banks but I hardly felt to uproot them. I used to roam around the bank hoping to see Goldie again, but I never saw Goldie anymore. One night I woke up with a nightmare. It was middle of the night, and I heard a conversation, which was little suppressed and seemed a bit argumentative. I came out of my room and eavesdropped the conversation which changed the course of my life completely. I could hear mom saying
‘I will never forgive you if anything bad happens to my son’
‘I did it for the sake of his goodness. Haven’t you seen how he was ruining his future?’ It was my father. His voice seemed a bit furious and determined.
‘And he would never agree to go a boarding school if I would not have planned to catch that bloody fish.’
Was that him who conspired to catch Goldie just to send me a boarding school, for the sake of a bright future? And mom, who was also involved in the conspiracy never revealed the actual truth. I was the one who was responsible for Goldie’s death. If I would have studied hard, probably father never thought of sending me in the boarding school, and Goldie had never been killed. ‘I have to study hard’, I muttered while I returned back to my room and that was what father also wanted me to do. Somehow I didn’t feel to rebel, probably I could not gather enough courage; I will wait for the day when father himself will realize his mistake and divulge the actual truth. I settled down on my bed facing the roof and closed my eyes. Tears rolled down my face, I cried for the first time probably after Goldie got disappeared.
Next morning when I woke up I saw father was taking a sip of his morning tea. Without delaying much I announced
‘I am ready to go that boarding school you talked about’.
I saw a baffled look on his face. Probably it was too early for him to expect it from me. Somehow I wanted to leave the place where I no more found any reason to be attached with. The day when I got prepared to leave home wearing my new shirt with a blue jeans and a pair of snow white boots, which father bought for the occasion, I hurriedly ran down the slope on the way to the pond. The burning summer soaked up the water in the pond and reduced the water level a little. I just folded my hands and closed my eyes to utter a silent prayer.
‘I am sorry Goldie, you were my only best friend, whom I celebrated my delight with, shared my griefs, and a dutiful associate in my all notional expeditions. Probably I am the reason why they killed you. I was ignorant about their conspiracy; please forgive me’. Suddenly I felt a soft squeeze on my right shoulder. It was mom who stood beside me silently. But I didn’t feel to look at her, no more waited to listen her consoling voice, rather I ran again, ran to reach the junction where three road meets, a bus was waiting there to take me in. I just tried to imagine Goldie’s black round eyes to get a nod of his acceptance of my apology while I sat down at the empty seat next to my father.
The cool breeze made me feel little revived, and I decided to complete the rest of my sleep. Slowly I returned back to my desolate hostel room and glanced at the trophy placed on the shelf of the wall. It was dark inside, still I could read those words written in aureate color- ‘Student of the year’, it was a tribute to my dear friend Goldie. My eyes brimmed with tears, ‘I kept my words Goldie but I know it is too late’. A faint glow of light was becoming visible at the horizon when I looked through the window. Probably sun was going to rise soon as like every others day, I could only think it was better some truth remain unexplored.
– Narayan Roy