Ibrahim Waheed “Ogaru”

A small fish slapped her in the face.

“Ouch!” She said. She said it more on behalf of the fish than for herself.

The little fish fell down at her feet and began to thrash around. She told the fish, “You don’t have to fall at my feet and say sorry. It was not your fault, my friend.”

“Maybe someone told you that falling down at someone’s feet was how a fish apologized for having committed the heinous act of slapping someone in the face? But fish like you are not really well-equipped to speak fluently in a language that people like me readily understand, are you? And, by the way, do you have an invisible spring in you somewhere?”

The girl laughed at her own words. Gently, she picked up the wretched little creature and tossed it back into the waves it had perhaps underestimated. As the fish sailed through the air and into the sea, she said to it, “I hope that you live, meet a fellow little orange fish of the opposite sex, produce more little orange fish, and live happily thereafter. Be happy, my little friend!”

The fish did not reply or even look back. It just disappeared into the water.

Somewhere on the island behind her, the little girl hoped, there had to be someone who wished the same for her. Perhaps her simple act of kindness, that of tossing the little fish back into the sea, would result in enough good karma to make her wish come true. Then again, she thought, that might just be simple wishful thinking on her part.

Sitting on the wharf, soaked with the salty spray blowing in on the wind, gazing at the storm-lashed sea that heaved in such a terrifying manner just outside the white maelstrom raging over the concrete tetrapods of the outer breakwater, she thought about her own future. She thought about the threat her aunt had delivered to her about an hour ago, “If you don’t agree to get married to that nice young man, you will have to go back to your island! I will send you back home!”

That nice young man had delivered his wonderful marriage proposal vicariously, through expression of interest to her aunt. The girl had found it mildly annoying. However, the man had her aunt’s ear. He had a couple of shops to his name and drove a neat little sports car. On a happening island like Male, that obviously meant a lot, especially to people like her aunt.

In contrast to Male, the island she had come from was a sleepy little fishing village which lay three days away by passenger boat. A sports car would just dig into the soft while sand of the walkways around the inhabited half of the island and refuse to budge. The only retail establishment on the island, housed in a room of the island chief’s residence, usually carried more goods than the couple of hundred souls that lived there needed.

The girl tried to visualize the island she had left twenty years ago. She tried to remember the faces of its inhabitants and the houses they had lived in. She tried to remember the face of her dear mother who had died when she was barely four years old. She failed on all counts. “Oh dear!” She told herself, “My memory is as ungrateful as my aunt says I am. How can I not remember my own mother’s face? The face of the woman who had given me life. She who had fed me, bathed me, cared for me when I was most vulnerable!”

There was worse to come. The more she tried to remember, the more she realized she had forgotten. She realized that not only did she not know what her grandparents looked like, but that she did not even know their names! She did not have the faintest idea of what her grandparents did for a living, whether they actually ever lived on the island or were from somewhere else, or even if they were still alive! “Oh dear and OMG twice over!” The girl said to herself. Full of remorse, she thought, “What an ungrateful and unappreciative creature am I!”

Suddenly, the girl felt as if someone had slapped her gently on the face. She looked around herself, half hoping that a friend had sneaked up on her as she sat lost in thought. There was no one there. She even looked down at her feet, telling herself that she was really not looking for a little orange fish. Mildly amused, she told herself, “What are the odds of that happening again today!”

And then it hit her!

“Hang on, girl!” The girl told herself, “These things happen with a reason. That little orange fish had a little message for me and I was not listening. And now I know!”

For she was just like that little fish! The storm and turmoil surrounding her mother’s untimely death had cast her out of her island. Her relatives hand her over to her aunt. The aunt had taken her out of the sleepy little island and brought her to Male, the busy capital of the Maldives, one of the most densely populated pieces of land on earth. Male was where the ownership of a couple of shops and a sports car mattered to almost everyone. Male was where a little orange fish would thrash around fighting for its very life on the wharf, entirely out of its element.

“I am that little orange fish!” The girl said to herself. “And I shall throw myself back, back where I truly belong. Where I shall be free, independent and happy. It is time.”

And she would not need to answer to anyone or even look back. She would just disappear into her own element and be like that little orange fish.

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