It was slowly getting to evening, a chilly autumn evening with the smell of recent rain that cleared the sky entirely. The cars raced by, strangers drifted past, as I slowly walked, trying to feel the moment and the sensation of being outside in the fresh air for the first time in a long while. Although I had a mask on, I disregarded the discomfort – the necessity of wearing it came first.
I have been living by myself for the last few months, something I had always wanted. At least I thought so. I wondered about that a lot.
Feeling mortally bored, and finally being allowed to get out, I forced myself to do so. It was a long wrestle but in a moment of clarity, sanity prevailed. These past few months felt as though I was slogging, even though I was unable to stick with a single plan or resolution or hobby I had planned to maintain. I felt like all the passion in my impassive heart had run dry.
Finally getting outside, all the phantoms and walls I had built around myself while being inside within my room slowly dissolved, just as the sun warmed my always freezing body. Although I was feeling better by the minute, I couldn’t help but notice how much I have neglected myself in these past months – especially in terms of socialization and interaction with others. When a stranger walked past, I felt somewhat a strange anxiety of worrying about my bad posture and how I walked, something I did not remember feeling before. The unnecessary anxiety which made every ordinary thing harder was a telltale sign I have let my mind and myself drift outside of what was healthy. In all honesty, I felt quite lost on that part, unsure where to even begin.
Either way, that wasn’t the subject right now. I didn’t want to think yet, just walk. Granted, there was lockdown, and there were restrictions, but in all honesty I kind of exaggerated the amount to which I cut myself out. Being stuck in a foreign country not knowing anyone sucks.
I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and so I walked slowly, in my usual manner. Maybe even slower than that since I haven’t walked in such a long time. I passed the park on the open coast, and was now on the narrow alleyways in between the old 5-story buildings. There was a single lane for cars in those streets, and the very thin sidewalk could fit one person only. Because of that, the rushing man behind me, impatient as he was, stumbled into me as he hurried past. He quickly apologized, not lingering for an extra moment. I however, out of shape as I was, was sent tumbling to the hard ground as I involuntarily stuck out my arms to break the fall. Needless to say, they were hurt, and quite injured. “Perfect”, I grumbled. In my mind, I was already cursing and feeling sorry for myself.
I was often taken back to the days before all of this happened. The days when there were people by my side who actually cared for me. If only I had not so rudely and hurtfully pushed them aside.
Damn, if my mother saw me, she would immediately start a tirade on how I am still so young and yet worse that an old grandma. But she would take care of the wound while she would be at it. A sad smile appeared on my face as the memories rushed in of the countless times I had injured myself as a kid, a sloppy one at that. I didn’t even take any disinfectant or anything of the sort with me.
- Well, that was a majestic fall, if ever I saw one, - an older man’s voice came somewhere from above and to my right. Looking in that direction, I saw a man in his fifties, with gray hair and blue eyes, round at the waist, of average height. He stood at the entrance to the small shop I was walking past, likely the vendor. He had a kind face which was rather red. The crow’s feet at the sides of his eyes were very deep, though it was hard to say if that was because there was currently a warm smile on his face, or because he often laughed. Likely both.
- Sure, it was. Do you happen to have any antiseptic?
- Of course, of course. Who doesn’t in these strange times... Come on in. I’ll take a look at those injuries of yours, and you promise me to have a look at my wares.
- That’s a deal, - I smiled.
From the outside, the place was barely noticeable and old, a single line of shabby writing along the top - “Zooshop”. It was a place you have to look for to find, I thought.
Inside, it was rather dim, a narrow corridor stretched to the far wall of the place, from where the only lights in the single room attempted to light the gloom. It didn’t smell of anything at all, likely due to the mask I wore. On either side of the corridor, there were glass boxes and cages in which all sort of animals were enjoying the quiet and the comfort of their respective homes. I saw a pair of white and brown bunnies, who were eagerly munching on something, and hamsters, and parrots among other pets. A lot of the boxes and cages were empty and dark, with nothing inside.
As I looked around and walked slowly to the far wall, the man came up from some stairs on the left at the far side, and began attending to something near the far wall as he beckoned me to come closer. He had a spray and some bandages in his arms, and a cream which I immediately recognized – it was the very same one my mother swore by every time I would get injured as a child. I haven’t seen it in the pharmacies here.
- Come, child, do you always walk so slow? Let’s treat those wounds before they get infected.
- Coming, - I hastened, - where did you find that cream? I haven’t been able to find it in any pharmacy.
- Oh, you won’t be able to. They don’t sell this kind here. A shame, that. I brought it with me the last time I came from my homeland.
Instantly feeling a lot more trust towards this man, I came quickly to the well-lit wall, stretching my arms in front of me as I turned to the wall. To my surprise, the wall was in constant motion, displaying all manner of colors. What I thought to be a painted wall turned out to be rows upon rows of aquariums with numerous fish in them. There were fast and slow fish, small and big, bright and dark, round and otherwise. Some even had whiskers. I have never seen such a big variety, and for a minute or two I was completely engrossed with the fish tanks and everything that was within them. There were numerous plants as well, giving the aquariums a sense of coziness and shelter, and adding a lot of green the palette.
I was impartial to fishkeeping, and no people I knew kept fish, but having the time to observe them I found myself enthralled. There were bright orange ones with beautiful tails, which were together with fish of many other colors, all smaller than a pinky. There were jet black fish, with tails like that of a comet, swimming together with spotted fish and bigger purple fish. There were also ruby fish with tails that resembled small colored swords, and bright pink and yellow ones who were swimming rapidly, chasing after each other. There were many more, of every shape and color, each resembling a precious stone as they glistened in the shining lights.
At first glance they looked similar, but once you looked just a little closer, all looked different from each other, and with a personality of their own. Some were feisty, looking to test their strength with their neighbors, others were impassive, swimming along not bothering anyone, some were chasing each other, others were shy, hiding in the canopy of lush plants and decorations of sunken ships and treasure chests. Everything moved and flowed and all was vibrant. I found myself entirely lost in that little world of these fish. Looking at the exterior, I never would have imagined that I would stumble upon this submerged wonderland.
When I looked down at my arms, they were already all bandaged up.
- I take it you didn’t get to keep fish before, - the shop keeper was trying to hide a smile but wasn’t very successful at it.
- Yeah, I never have. Could you tell me a little bit about the fish?
- Come, let me show you something.
He was leaning over a white bucket he placed on a table.
In the bucket there were black fry swimming in all and every direction all at once, poking curiously at every corner.
- They are wonderful. Is it hard to look after the fish?
- No, no, not at all. It is quite enjoyable. In fact, I’ve been keeping fish for, what is it, 40 years now? Doesn’t sound right, but right it is.
- One molly fish just had babies, take a look, - he was very excited so I could not deny the offer, - This one is still young, so there’s only nine of the little rascals. There is many varieties, and since you are knew to all this “fishy” business, let me show you some small guys, - he turned to the wall as he chuckled at his amusing joke, which he likely made very often, pointing at this fish and that, as he told me all about guppy fish and molly fish, danio fish and swordtails. He showed me many more, but these stuck out to me. Wherever he pointed, every fish flocked to his finger, which looked fascinating.
I went outside today with no plans to buy anything, and did not think of bringing any pets home, so I was surprised at how eager I suddenly was to learn more about these little guys. If I looked for it, I could probably discover a secret idea blooming in my mind which made me already very excited.
I’ve never had pets before, and I suddenly found myself wondering why. Maybe that was exactly what I needed, since I was learning now that living all alone is not at all quite as glorious as I thought it to be.
I found myself finding questions, and as I got extensive and exciting answers, I got many more. All of a sudden, I wanted to know all there was to know about the fish, and to be a part of their little curious worlds.
Although the man did no convincing, his actions really translated the love he had for the fish and the passion he had for looking after them. It made me curious and it stirred my cold heart with wonder. Honestly, it was his excitement that did all the swaying, for I had resolved, before he even finished, that I will take a chance today, and do my best to look after at least a few of them. Maybe that was exactly what I needed to free myself of some of the gloom that has been hanging over me.
Even if it was just fish, I felt I had a lot to learn from this unassuming man, and the way he treated those little creatures.
Although I was reluctant to fully accept it, after those long months by myself, I was finally ready to try something else. Shouldering that thought felt ironic to me – the regular advocate for independent and solitary life. I guess I was taught a lesson.
Maybe taking on a few little buddies was the very first step I needed to take towards redeeming myself and accepting that I have been wrong.