Sky Fish By Lolita Parekh
The sun is warm on his face as he strolls down the beaten path. Little stones fly left and right from where his feet land. He walks briskly, knowing that he is late. Very late.
This morning he woke up screaming and kicking again; his body drenched in a cold sweat as he fought panic. Unable to stay like this even for a minute, he’d jumped out of bed and straight into the bathroom. After a long bath where he scrubbed his skin clean- and raw he adds to himself with a satisfied smirk- it felt much better, like a new beginning for the day.
Now, the sun is high in the sky; beads of sweat run down his temples but he doesn’t mind. Anything is better than the smell of fear after all. Squinting to see better against the bright sun, Billy sighs in relief: she is still here, sitting by the shore, her head tilted towards the sky and a bright smile on her lips. He approaches slowly. From the distance, he takes everything in, including her messy golden hair moving in tandem with the wind. Every time he sees her, he wonders to himself: what would it be like to touch it? Would it be like holding the sun? Or would it feel just as precious as this girl that doesn’t feel scared when she is with him. Refusing to think about what it would do to him if she ever got frightened of him, he shakes his head as he walks much more carefully now. After all, he doesn’t want tiny stones to hit her.
Moving his hands in his trousers pockets, he is just a couple of meters away now, about to call out, when she turns around with a bright smile that shows her teeth. The wind covers her face quickly with her hair, making her spit a few strands out with a laugh. Barely a heartbeat later, and still fighting with the mass of golden strands, she pats the space on her left as she exclaims quickly:
‘Come and sit next to me Billy!’ she taps on the dry soil she is sitting on as she continues: ‘Come and listen!’
He smiles at her kindly. It’s so nice to feel normal for a little while. With a contented sigh, he realises - not for the first time - that he would do anything for her. Obviously, he won’t ever tell her, because, well, it would be embarrassing. He is already weak enough, he adds to himself in disgust: after all, the fact that it hurts so much inside his chest every time she leaves him at the end of every day is a terrible weakness. The pain he feels every time he sees her retreating back is getting harder and harder to cope with. Just thinking about it now has him in a near panic. He always stays alone after and the dark scares him. That’s when his parents decide to visit him. When they are the meanest; when they call him names. Her own parents disappeared a couple of weeks ago. She doesn’t know where they went. She acts as though there’s nothing to worry about, that it’s completely normal, and maybe it is. He wishes his own parents would do the same.
Enough, he admonishes himself. This is all he needs: this amazing girl with beautiful hair and a dazzling smile, who speaks to him with kindness and like she would to a friend. Here, in the sunshine, he is not alone anymore. It’s just the two of them: their own little haven, their corner of the world.
Unaware of his inner thoughts and fears, she giggles to herself and says in an excited voice:
‘The boatman was here again!’
‘Again?’ he says as fear grips him. A part of himself even scowls: if only he’d been on time!
She nods enthusiastically so he replies carefully:
‘Yeah? And what did he say?’
She clasps her hands around her knees:
‘He told me about the dancing sky fish. They want to be beautiful and loved for their dancing skills, but they don’t think that it’s possible. He says they’re losing hope. I think they may be a little bit scared of the unknown, you know? After all, they dance so much that by the time it’s dark, they can’t move. And when they can’t move and can’t see, it can be scary, right? That’s what I told the boatman anyway, but he said they’ll be okay.’ She nods to herself, like it makes perfect sense.
‘Sky fish?’ he asks dubiously, for surely there are no fish in the sky. ‘Are you sure he didn’t say sea fish?’
‘No silly’ she giggles as she clumsily pushes at his arm. ‘He explains rather well. Not as good as you though, but still, it was rather beautiful, this story he told me. Maybe I’ll hear some more next time. Wouldn’t that be something?’ She turns around to him, fully expecting an answer.
‘Huhuh.’ he scoffs, only half listening now. What does this strange man want? Billy wonders. And why does he keep on coming back?
The girl lies back on the grass, closing her eyes with a sigh. He looks at her, drawing her face with his eyes. Maybe tonight he’ll be able to remember her face and not be scared. Maybe he’ll be strong this time, he tells himself again. Her smile seems to go wider as she finally whispers:
‘Tell me what you see.’
He smiles at her before he looks straight ahead, feeling warm inside. This is something they do everyday. He enjoys everything with her, but particularly this. Content deep inside, he begins:
‘The water’s shining wherever I look, the waves waltzing together, pushing at each other from time to time. The trees on the other side of the shore sing in reply to those on this side - a fit company to the water show. Can you hear it? The song?’ she nods, her eyes still closed. He looks up: ‘I see the empty sky, infinite, watchful and at peace, it’s…’
‘It’s sad.’ she frowns with her eyes still closed and a catch in her voice.
Feeling distressed, he looks down at her, feeling a pain that he cannot understand. Her pain.
‘Why?’ he asks finally, talking to himself about his own strange feelings as well as her words.
‘Because there’s no smile. The boatman told me.’ She sits up so quickly. He wonders at her sudden excitement.
‘Maybe I’ll be able to see everything soon!’ Emphasising the word ‘everything’, she spreads her arms wide, giggling quickly.
‘What are you talking about?!? You know you can’t see.’
He gasps, horrified at what he’s just said - he’s never been this blunt before! Truth be told, the blank stare of her eyes doesn’t bother him. The thought that she could one day see what he really looks like… that scares him to his bones, worse than any nightmare he may have.
The softness of her smile catches him off guard. She says timidly:
‘It’s okay Billy. Don’t worry.’
Before he can ask what she means, she stands up, brushing off her yellow dress, front and back, before she walks away slowly, her bare feet barely making a mark on the somewhat green grass and dried soil. After a little while, Billy walks home, feeling like he is missing something. Something important.
The nightmare comes again that night; but he stands firm. He thinks about the girl with golden hair,picturing how her strength and light will fight the darkness, without fear, as his own nightmare backs away, just as his parents left him alone moment before, he falls into a restful sleep. For the first time in years, he rests. When he wakes up, he jumps out of bed happily, a bright smile on his face, from the time his feet touch the floor to the moment he showers, gets dressed and leaves. Where his feet were kicking pebbles yesterday, he seems to float today.
The girl sits by the shore, her hair swiped on her right shoulder, imprisoned in her hands. Billy approaches carefully now, his own happiness dimming, unsure yet worried where the soft repetitive noise might be coming from.
When he arrives next to her, she doesn’t acknowledge him which he finds surprising. He looks down at her, at least expecting her smiling face to greet him. When she still looks ahead, like she hasn’t heard him, he gets worried. Falling to his knees without finesse, his eyes search her face to see tears painting her pink cheeks. Feeling at a loss for the first time today, yet sure it is the biggest loss he’ll ever feel, he asks desperately as he wipes the salty water from her skin.
‘What’s happening? Where’s your smile gone?’
Her usually unresponsive green eyes settle on his face, looking at him fiercely. He holds in a breath as he waits for her shout of disgust, her pity. Something. He’s not sure he’ll be able to bare it. It will simply kill him. He closes his eyes, refusing to look at her while she sees the many marks marring his face.
‘Oh’ she says softly as she gets on her knees, mirroring his position. Slowly, she moves her hand to his cheek, feeling the broken skin there. At her touch, he feels every part of him that’s broken stitch itself back together as he opens his eyes to see the acceptance in her gaze.
‘It’s okay Billy’ she says as she caresses his deformed cheek. ‘I gave it to the boatman.’
‘What?!?’ he asks shakily in a whisper, scared to break this moment.
‘My smile.’ She pauses, her eyes drawing every detail of his face. ‘The sky is happy now: it shines even when it’s dark at night. The sky fish can dance and be happy. They are not scared anymore. They can be stars.’
Even though he sees the reminder of her tears, he can feel her happiness escaping every pore of her skin and as he embraces her for the first time, nothing is missing anymore.