Cleo, the gold fish

Cleo, the gold fish


A fish bowl? With a gold fish? In his room? What was it doing here? Rohan hated pets. They were loud, messy, and demanded constant attention and care. But, well, he couldn’t say the same about fish, thank god for the noise bit, and the constant need for attention and petting. He wasn’t sure about the messy bit though as well as the part about taking care. 

Why, he couldn’t even take care of himself, forgetting to brush his teeth, or running a comb through his hair or wearing clean socks to school, and of course rarely remembering to do his homework. How on earth would he take care of another living creature?

“Ma, what’s this fish bowl doing in my room?” he demanded loudly.
“Oh, that!” Said his mother coming in, “That’s Rashmi-aunty’s belated birthday gift.”  
“Couldn’t she think of anything else? The skate-board that I always wanted, the sweatshirt, I’ve been dying for? What will I do with this uuh this…this…uh.”
“Gold fish,” helped his mother.

“Ya, gold fish. I don’t want it,” he said irritated.
“Aha, you should never say ‘no’ to a gift.”
“But I don’t know anything about fish!” he exclaimed.

“Good. Here’s a chance to learn something new!” Said his mother, closing the door.
She sighed. She didn’t know what to do about her son. He was getting quieter and quieter; he kept to himself, avoiding friends, talking back rudely and being selfish and uncaring. She was sorry about not being able to spend more time with him, but she had a job too and looking after a house didn’t come easy.

Rohan looked quizzically at the gold fish for a few more minutes. The fish looked like it had an attitude that said, “I don’t care whether you like me or not; I’ll stay right here and keep swimming in circles.” 

Rohan threw up his hands, “Ok! You win! I’ll keep you for week. Only a week. And then you are out!” 

Did the gold fish just flash a smile and swim a little faster? Rohan couldn’t say.
The next day, Rohan, who had never visited the school library, and didn’t know where it was, managed to find his way there. He was quite ashamed to ask the strict librarian how to search for books.

The irritated librarian showed Rohan how to go through the computerized catalogue. Rohan spent a whole afternoon going through books of fish care. He read up all about gold fish; he learnt about fish food, about the tiny amounts they needed several times a day, that he had to change the water weekly so that the fish could stay healthy.

On his way back from school, he found a pet store and bought some food fish, and a few colorful things to put in the fish bowl. He had never bought anything for anyone before. And was excited about the gift. At home, he sprinkled a little of the fish food, and watched how the goldfish nibbled at the tiny flakes, though the fish didn’t seem the least bit excited about the gift. 

“Cleo, that’s what I am going to call you,” said Rohan.
Over the next few days, strange things began to happen to Rohan. It all began one night, when he couldn’t sleep. He lay tossing and finally switched on the bed lamp and saw Cleo swimming in slow circles in the fishbowl.

“So, you’re awake too. Looks like we are the only ones awake in the world now!” He said. 

He could’ve sworn Cleo smiled and nodded. And then just like that he started talking. And he talked and talked and talked through the entire night! He had never felt like talking to anyone before about his school friends, the fights with them, the patch ups, the crush he had on Shweta and what he day-dreamed when the teacher was lecturing, and most of all what he felt in his heart about his mother, whom he really loved, but thought it too girlie to tell. 

And suddenly here he was sharing his entire life with Cleo, his gold fish!  
His mother noticed the changes, Rohan was becoming more responsible; she wasn’t getting any more notes from his teacher; he didn’t throw his clothes around in a mess, he ate his meals at the table with her and not alone in his room, and many such little changes. She wasn’t sure who was really responsible, though she felt the fish had something to do with it.

So, one day, when she thought Rohan was out, she crept up to the fishbowl and said, “Psst. This is really weird. I can’t believe I’m talking to a goldfish. But I’ve been meaning to tell you something. If you have anything to do with Rohan’s sudden change, thank you! Thank-you!” 

“You’re a fish talker too!” Said Rohan stepping out of the bathroom, laughing. His mother, pointed at him and then the fish and then both fish-talkers collapsed on the bed laughing uncontrollably.

They were of course joined by tiny bubbles of laughter from the fish bowl too!

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