I saw him standing before the university aquarium when I went to the library to return Huber’s Marine Biology. His head was almost triangular, with bulging eyes, snubbed nose, and thin lips frozen in a perpetual pout. For a moment I thought he was wearing a mask, so striking was the piscine resemblance. He also seemed to adore fishes. The adoration was mutual, for when he lifted his hand and tapped the glass wall thrice, the fishes rushed towards him as though they were summoned.
Curious, I approached him.
“Hi! You love fish!” I said.
“I do,” he said without looking at me, adjusting the scarf around his neck.
“Well, I like them too!” I paused. “Especially, on a plate!” I said, laughing, trying to be witty.
“It’s no laughing matter,” he hissed. His eyes fell on the book I was carrying. “Especially when it comes from an educated man like you.”
I blushed and stopped laughing.
“I see they’re the subject of your studies.”
I cleared my throat and nodded.
“Then you must be aware of their similarities with humans.”
I fell silent. The idea had never occurred to my mind.
A group of teenagers arrived. They made some quick remarks about the fishes. One goldfish was circling an artificial coral and they jeered at it.
“It’s puzzling how someone’s suffering is another’s happiness,” he said.
There was truth in his statement. I got so lost in thought I didn’t notice he had left and was nowhere to be seen.
That night I didn’t touch the roasted salmon my mother had prepared for dinner. The man’s last words kept ringing in my ears.
The following morning, I found myself heading towards the aquarium and was surprised to see it empty and being cleaned.
“What happened to the fish?” I asked.
“Oh, the’ol died, sir! Last night.”
“I dunno. I’m just a janitor, sir!”
“But where’re they now?”
“The dead fish? You want to study them, sir?”
“Yes! No!” I yelped.
He grinned. “Marino took’em for disposal, sir.”
“Yea. The uni hired him to oversee the fish.” He looked around. “That man, sir!” He pointed at the very person who had given me a sleepless night. He was taking the back door towards the beach. His hands looked like they were carrying an invisible box.
I ran towards him. He was already by the seaside when I caught up.
“What’re you doing?”
“I’m taking them home!”
“What? They’re dead!”
“No, they’re not. Look!”
To my astonishment, the fish were alive. One by one, Marino placed them on the blue waters, like a mother laying down her baby in a cradle.
“That’s impossible! Who’re you?”
“I’m them!” Marino removed the scarf around his neck. Below his Adam’s Apple was a pair of gills on both sides. He handed the scarf to me and said, “You’re a scholar. You study our kind. Our fate is in your hands. Whatever you do with your new-found knowledge, please be kind enough to remember this morning by the sea.”
So saying, he plunged into the waves and merged with the azure expanse of the ocean spread wide open before me.
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