Belle held on to her mother’s skirt as she stared at the fish pile. They all seem to be looking back at her. Her head reached only up to her mom’s waist, enough for her to be above level with the fish vendor’s stall.
They were looking at her, the fishes, with heads piled up in the same direction, all looking back at her. Irises dilated, mouths slightly open. Her mother was tweaking the tail of the fish she meant to buy. She said if it didn’t crack easily it was still fresh, besides the bright eyes of course.
Flies, attracted by the stench of fish, was buzzing about as the vendors shooed them futilely with a fly shooer, a sort of stick with strips of plastic or colorful straws at the end, looking like long-stemmed dirty pathetic pompoms. The fish vendor was pouring water over the fish, and bits of ice shavings spread on top but not preventing the view of the fish piles.
The attempt at display management wanted to make their wares look fresh and at the same time trying to clean up the drain of blood coming from the fish that was cut and cleansed after a sale.
Cold water from the ice chest, blood, bits of fish meat and stench were continuously flowing on top of the tiled stall. To prevent the flow of dirty water falling to the floor an inch and a half u shaped catch mound was distinctively designed to be part of the table end, and there was a downspout on the rightmost corner that fed to the floor drains.
If the vendor carelessly poured over too much water, the catch and the downspout would overflow and out came the bloodwater, mucking the wet market’s already muddy floor.
This time the splash on floor back ended on Belle’s legs up to her knees, making her look even more sloppy than she already was. She was already soiled with midmorning play. She didn’t mind, she just watched, fascinated with the obnoxious flies landing randomly at the fish piles.
In the din of the market place where everyone was speaking all at the same time, vendors and buyers haggling, voices shouting for attention, the market air was hot and humid. The vents in the shape of arabic dome onions on top of the roof whose main purpose was to ventilate the market inside was apparently failing.
From the heat and stench Belle was breathing in, she felt like she was smelling other people’s breath already. The air inside was stifling, but the mass of busy humanity didn’t seem to mind. They were all bent on buying, selling and haggling. It was a typical market day.
She heard the flies talking to the fish as they continuously buzzed about, deftly avoiding the fly shooer at the same time,
“How could you be so stupid being caught like that?!” the big fly was buzzing up and down, his rear end glistened like a ripe ooze.
“I’m not stupid. I just joined the club. These guys here said swim this way, then that, then next thing I knew I was flipping out in the air.”
The fish on top referred to his friends below him, “Man! This is hard. Can’t you see I can’t move here you twerp!” the fish had forgotten that he was out of the water. He twisted his fins and tails, thought he could jump and catch the buzzing fly with his mouth. He so wanted to eat the fly, thinking it would be a protein delight. The problem was, he was so stuck and really feeling weak.
“Joining the club without knowing why is still stupid,“ the big butt ooze fly answered.
“What are you looking at?” the red fish at the right pile shouted at Belle. Two flies seemed to have stopped then twisted around and contemplated Belle , both were flying steadily.
“Ummm… nothing, I was just wondering why you two guys look different,” Belle answered. Her hands motioned to emphasize her point. The fish pile on the right was bright red and medium-sized, on the left were glistening gray, a bit bigger with red meat. They also had more sharper fins and pointed mouths.
“That’s because they’ve got different parents,” big ooze butt fly volunteered, and the other two sentinels besides him still hovered, curiously contemplating Belle.
“Ahhh… so fish have Mom and Dads too.”
“Of course, they’ve got to come from somewhere,” Big ooze butt fly, still countered.
“If they had parents, where are they now? Did they also get caught?” Belle asked. How does one distinguish a parent fish? Do they look older? They wouldn’t have gray hairs of course, more whiter scales perhaps?
“I think that would be them.” Ooze butt fly, then turned around making his body as a pointer to the fish vendor’s chopping block. There were fishes on the block, half of them were red and half of them were glistening grey.
The vendor systematically cleaned out the fish, wrapped them in a plastic bag and handed it over to the buyer. The money in exchange became wet with fish stench and bloodwater.
Belle suddenly felt sad. It was one thing to be separated from your parents, but it was another thing to be separated from them with such finality. Trying to spare the fish the agony of seeing their parents gone, she reached out and covered a fish head.
“Hey! Are you going to buy that?!” the vendor shouted at Belle while her hands were on the fish head. She mutely shook her head, no, lifted her hands leaving the fish where it was.
Suddenly there was a whack! This time the vendor was not shooing the flies with the stupid pompoms, she just slapped them with a fly swatter. Ooze butt fly was squirming then suddenly stopped. From his glistening end came out his treasured ooze. the vendor poured water over the dead fly and let the water flow direct it toward the table end’s catch.
There ooze butt fly flowed with the dirty water up to the corner of the table stall and fell in the downspout.
Belle looked at the fish, she couldn’t hear them anymore. Suddenly, her ears broke in pain and she nearly shouted.
“Where have you been you stupid girl! I have been looking all over for you!” her mother twisted her ears almost lifting her from the ground. “C’mon we are going home… stupid girl!” she kept blabbering but Belle had already blocked her mother’s voice out.
In her hands were shoved a basket for her to carry. Inside were the fish that looked like the parents of the ones she was talking to. She looked back at the stall as her mother pushed her forward and towards the exit.
She mumbled “I’m sorry..” to the fish that all seemed to be still staring back at her, with heads piled up in the same direction looking at her, irises dilated and mouths slightly open.