Sink or Swim


“Go,” they said.  “It will be a great experience.”

They threw me out into the ocean.  The boat sailed right on past me.  I thought it would slow down, return, pick me up from the water.  I yelled again and again.  When the boat finally disappeared, I cried a like baby.  The reality I found myself in was simple: Sink or swim.  I didn’t know at the time that it was so simple.  I had the feeling there was a gap between sink and swim, with humanity, morals, justice, love, customs, and so many other things in this gap.  Swim was the temporary alternative; certainly sink was the ultimate destruction.

Now that I had accepted that I was in the water, I realized I knew how to swim enough to keep my head above the water.  One small fish appeared, encouraging me.

“What kind of fish are you?”  it asked me.

“I am not a fish.”

“Well, then, what are you doing here?”

I had no answer.  Only then I realized that my place was neither earth nor water.

“How is the life here? “ I asked my new friend.

“The big fish eat the small fish,” it answered.

“All over.”  I said.  “Divine recycling.”

My new friend pointed out the distant silhouette of a fisherman. “Your people may not be able to find you.  Yell and scream, get their attention, swim that way.”

“Come with me,” I begged. “Small or big, a fish is a fish.”

“I don’t want to land in their net,” he said.

The fisherman who pulled me out of the water thought I was crossing the ocean.  When he learned the real story, he wanted to be rewarded one way of the other.  I told him that I had no money.  My parents were mean, old, and poor.

He got angry.  “If you don’t want to see the bottom of the boat, work here,” he said.

I asked, “Like a slave?”

“Like a slave,” he confirmed.

He kept his promise:  He kept me working day and night.  Finally, when I got old, he let me inside, let me stay on land.

Winter came, and everywhere was ice and snow.  I have found this Chinese place.  I spent most evenings there.  Inside it was warm.  The air smelled of all kinds of spices.  There were green vegetables at the entrance. Dry goods in small packages were stored along shelves in the labyrinth of aisles.

I walked endlessly through the labyrinth, picking up every item one-by-one, scouring the labels.  Even though I did this many, many times, every day, each time, they appeared to me like new.

At the back of store, there were fish swimming in a large tank, frozen in packages big and small.  The ocean had a good representation there.  I found my old friend, the small fish, in the frozen section.  He hadn’t avoided becoming another catch.

At store closing time, I acted like I was a late shopper; but actually, I was looking for a place to sleep.  The old man who cleaned the store and closed the door after the last customer used to follow me every night.  I had to be careful not to use the same place. He told me that he could always catch my smell.  He was a sweet, old man, like sleep, not threatening, but comforting.

On this particular day it snowed.  Outside it was cold.  I stayed in the store and watched snowflakes under the street lights.  The old man had left earlier without even mopping the floor.  I lay down in my favorite place.  I was so happy.  It was the first time I felt at home.  I experienced every small package in my body.  I talked to my small fish about the old days.  I fell into a sleep like heaven.

The next day, the old man entered.  He sniffed for me all around the store.  He couldn’t find me in the labyrinth.