I came home and found my goldfish missing.
Before looking into the fish tank, I looked around to see if anything else was missing. Everything seemed as it was before I left for work in the morning; cereal floating in a bowl and flowers dying in a vase. I sat on the couch trying to make sense of this peculiar incident. I picked up the phone. No message. Everything was as perfect as it should be. In fact it was absolutely flawless as if computer-generated. It was only that my goldfish was missing.
I decided to make myself a cup of tea. I then burnt my tongue and adjusted a painting hanging crooked on the wall. Normally, I would have come up with some kind of explanation or forgotten the matter completely. Today, however, all I could think of was the nose of Gogol. The image of a human-sized nose banging on my door.
I finally looked into the fish tank, checking carefully under the bridge and behind the plant. Nothing. No sign of any message. Of course I did not expect my goldfish to leave a good-bye note or a forwarding address. Besides, my goldfish had been very happy here. I bought the bridge and the plant and kept the tank clean, as the man at the pet shop had instructed. The only possible regret was that I did not give it a name. Still, I didn’t expect a goldfish to disappear into thin air like this. Unexplained phenomena is usually auto-corrected overnight. But I knew that such optimism itself is illogical and baseless.
The following morning when I woke up I immediately knew that nothing had brought my goldfish back. Even before I could feel the weight of my head, the alarm clock went off. I glanced at the fish tank in which the little electric pump was spitting bubbles into the empty water. I decided to drop in some fish food in case the fish reappeared hungry. It was sad to see the colorful flakes floating in the water. I could not care less about the fish being hungry. But I did not want to see the soggy orange flakes sucked into the water filter.
“Where is my damn fish?” I didn’t like this little disturbance in my life. Outside my house, everything appeared to be perfectly normal. A typical English winter morning, gray clouds, fallen branches, leaves and cats. I hate cats. All this normality reminded me that this strange event took place only in my fish tank. I was getting irritated, not with the fact that my goldfish was missing, but by the fact that the missing goldfish now occupied all my thoughts. I could not think of other important things like what to make for supper or when to send Christmas cards this year. After all, I’m a respectable citizen. I had things to do. Things to think. How could a disappearance of a goldfish interfere with a human life? My life. The more I thought of the fish, the more angry I became.
At work my anger continued to grow. By lunchtime my mind was full of frustration, anger and disgust. By the time I finished work, I had developed a spot on my nose. It had to end. The fish needed to return. I hurried home to discover some dissolved fish food floating in the water. No post. No message. Nothing. Everything was lifeless and frozen as if my room had escaped from the indefinite flow of existence. I turned the computer on and started typing;
“A MISSING GOLDFISH”
“Description - Orange…”
Then, I paused for a few moments and continued,
“Two Inches Long… Reward of £3 offered for the Successful Return.”
According to my calculation, that’s how much the fish was worth. Eight months ago I bought the fish for £1.50. The fish food was £3. It is now half empty. £3, a small price to pay to get my life back. But now that I knew exactly how much was at stake, I felt cheap and ashamed.
I waited until the sky had darkened. I first walked to the end of the street, counting the trees. Only six. I had ten posters. I turned around and walked to the first tree. A poplar I think. I looked around to make sure no one saw me and quickly stuck a poster on it. I almost smiled. This was something I’d never done in my whole life. Putting up a poster. I found it guiltily pleasing like a bite of the forbidden apple. I quickly put a poster on each tree and went home.
I sat by the window, hoping someone would come out and notice the poster. But it was getting dark and I could hardly see outside. The reflection of myself on the window assured me that I was alone.
The first thing I saw when I woke up was the remaining four posters on the table. I needed to get rid of them. I put one up in my living room, one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom, and decided to put one in my office. Arriving at the empty office was always pleasant. Today it also meant I could put up a poster without being seen. I put a poster up next to the emergency exit sign by the main door. No one could enter the office without noticing the poster. Satisfied with myself, I scratched my nose. The spot seemed smaller. Perhaps this was the end of the affair whether the goldfish returned or not. If no goldfish reappeared, I would get rid of the tank and forget about the fish. The normality would resume in my life. I would have time to think of other civil things and join a pub quiz. The day went quickly at work, but I didn’t hear anyone talking about the poster. It did not matter anymore. The spot on my nose was now visibly smaller.
My jubilation, however, was short-lived. When I got to my street, seeing the poster on a tree, the dark memory of loneliness and forbidden pleasure from last night struck me hard. Within seconds I was back home alone. I was chained to the past. As if I was stuck in the eternal circle of reincarnation, the past became the future and the future became the past. Like a silver token of a board game, I had no control over my life. I was living in someone’s past. The posters were still haunting me. The disappearance of nameless goldfish was strangling me to death like the tentacles of a giant squid.
The whole room got darker when I turned the light on. The sound of air bubbles from the fish tank reminded me of a life support machine in a hospital, like the day my grandfather died. But the air pump was not supporting my goldfish. It was supporting me, my life. It was my heartbeat. I knew if it was turned off, it would be all over. No more goldfish. And no more of me.