Barefoot

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Goldfish



Yanbing Wu
1st December 2022





I can’t remember how many goldfishes I had as a child, they died one after the other. They lived in a round tank with a blue small starfish-shaped glass.


I never really liked the goldfishes, I only desperately wanted to have these creatures swimming in the water. I wanted to feel that I could own one. Perhaps, because of this, I never cared for them carefully, and even if one fish died, I could soon replace it with another.


Whenever I found a goldfish dead, its body would be upside-down, floating with its belly on the surface of the water. I would use a small net to pick it up from the tank, later I would take the dead fish body to my cousin’s apartment. In the building, there was a small green field at the front, I would pick the best spot to dig a hole the size of the fish's body and put it inside the hole. The fish skin was still soft and flawless, only the two bulging eyes had lost their light. After I buried the goldfish, I slowly walked home. My cousin’s house was not that far from mine at that time. My family lived in a house with a front courtyard, which would have been the best choice for a goldfish graveyard, so why did I choose her place? I don’t know, perhaps I knew the death of the goldfish was caused by me. My cousin and I have been close since childhood, if she finds out one day, she would forgive me, I think.

The next time I returned to the fish graveyard, the dead goldfish disappeared. I don’t know if the body had dissolved and melted into the soil or if someone, or a dog, passing by, had found it and thrown it away somewhere else. I don’t know. But I also did not care, I just buried a new dead fish in the same spot. I repeated this until one day I was bored with all the goldfish in my life.


A Few years ago, on a journey from one island to another island, I sat on a boat and looked outside the window. The sea was covered in a sticky pale green color from the gloomy weather. Suddenly, I thought of the dead goldfishes and imagined their vermillion bulbous bodies swimming along the surface of the sea, under the boat.

After I came back from the trip, I met Aff at a café on the coast. It wasn’t in the busy tourist area of the beach but on the part of the coastline that extended further. The café owner looked very happy to see us. We were seated in the corner beside the window. We could see the branches of the trees swaying gently outside, the sand and sea were at a close distance. Aff told me that she often came here by herself and liked the window seat with this view. Now that I have been living in the Netherlands for a few years already, I sometimes wonder if the sea in Xiamen reminded her of the sea in the Netherlands, although they look so different. I told her about my journey from island to island, then I shared the story of the dead goldfish. After I buried them at my cousin’s place I didn’t know where they would go, just as I didn’t know where I was going I said.


        After I returned from my holiday, I met Aff in Amsterdam for the first and last time in the Netherlands. We met at the central station and went to the Eye Film Museum for breakfast, watching the sparkling canals outside the restaurant window. Aff said it was her favorite place to come to lately and I remember her telling the waitress that she likes to drink hot water in the morning now, a habit she learned in China. After breakfast, we went to the city center. She told me about the galleries, the church, and the library, then we went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. Aff knew I still missed the food from home, it felt like being there but my stomach was still in the same old place. We went to her house and met her neighbours who lived in a boat. They were a strange couple with paintings of their cat hanging all over the boat and a huge bathtub in the bathroom. These are the only images I remember. We said goodbye to her neighbours. She told me next time we can have dinner at her place, she was learning how to cook pork organs recently, then she drove me to the metro station. I remember the way she stood on the platform to see me off, it was the last time we saw each other. It wasn’t long after that she told me she was sick. I heard from my teacher, who was her student, that for the last three months Aff has been lying in a coma on a hospital bed and slowly dying like a sick plant.


I will return to that café in my mind from time to time. During the rainy season in the city, when the water flows everywhere, the canal inside me is drying out, and is never able to merge with the sea; when summer finally arrives, the sun evaporates all the wet air from the darkest corners. In that café by the sea, I find the canal inside me flowing again and the sun is bright outside the window.


Now I work part-time as a guide and a guard in a private museum. Every time I stand there I see a lot of people that look like Aff, they have a similar age, similar face, similar hair, similar cloth, similar gesture, similar to goldfishes, waving their tails, swimming slowly and elegantly past me, as if I can see the bubbles coming out of their mouths, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, floating in the air.