Do you know what swordtails are?
When I was a little boy, I remember my father would take the family out to the movies almost every weekend. And after that we'd usually grab a bite to eat at this Chinese restaurant.
My favorite part of this family weekend ritual, however, was neither the movies nor the eating out. It was this short walk we had to take from the movie theater to the restaurant. For along the way was this little pet shop that offered quite a collection of dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs and rabbits -- enough to impress my young impressionable mind. But of all the animals at the store, my personal favorite were the fishes. And to my utter delight, the pet shop had all sorts of fishes in all sorts of shapes and colors. But what really caught my eye was this small orange fish that had a pointy little protrusion on its tail, the sword as it were, hence its name, swordtail.
Secretly, I wanted to have my own swordtail. But even then, I understood that it was going to cost money. Money, I thought, that we could not afford. Though we can go out almost every weekend, it was made very clear to all of us, that was as far as extra expenses would go. A personal fish for me would be too much, I didn't even dare ask.
But for every weekend that passed, every weekend that I had to go home without my swordtail, my secret longing for my very own fish grew even more. Until one day I finally decided, if I was ever going to have my own swordtail, I was going to have to earn it myself. And so for the first time in my young life,I started saving.
It wasn't easy. From my meager allowance, even saving all that I could, meant little progress. It took every ounce of discipline but I was determined. Finally, after about a month or so of self-sacrifice, I had just enough money for one single swordtail.
That very weekend, I could hardly wait to go to the pet shop. And once there, I eagerly poured all my savings onto the counter and just as quickly pointed at my much-desired swordtail.
My father, surely, must have been amused, but said nothing.
The salesclerk, on his part, was only too willing to oblige. And so there I was, two little hands gently cuddling a plastic bag filled with water and one solitary fish.
When we finally got home, I brought out a jar I had been keeping all this time for this special occasion.
I filled the jar to the brim with tap water. But before I could pour in my fish, my father cautioned me to let the chlorine breathe out of the tap water.
After about an hour more of waiting, my fish, finally, was home. And I, finally, was happy.
I was happy, as only a little child is capable of being happy. I could have stared at my fish all night, if only my parents had allowed me to. I tried to give my fish a name, but nothing appropriate came to mind.
My father must have been moved by my passion for that fish. Though he never said anything, one day, to my great surprise, he came home with an aquarium.
My father's aquarium was huge! Nothing like my jar at all. It even had sand, rocks, and a bubble mechanism that was supposed to aerate the aquarium. After letting the chlorine breathe out of the tap water, my father began pouring in fishes from a large shopping bag he had also brought home with him. Fishes, of all sorts of shapes and colors, began to fill my father's huge aquarium. Once my father was done pouring in the fish, he told me to pour in my fish as well. And so I did, water and all, into the aquarium.
I stared at the aquarium for a while. Not really looking at the other fishes, but instead, secretly looking for my one swordtail.
I should have been happy, I know. After all, before, I only had a jar and one fish. And now I had an aquarium of fishes. My father meant well, but you see, before I had a jar and one fish. It was just one fish but it was MY fish. Now fish is just fish to me.
(footnote: I wrote this in my early twenties. It was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday Magazine. It is the one story of mine my mom got to read.)