I’m afraid the Ben Fish is slowly killing the Aliyah Fish.
Those aren’t strangely aquatic pet names. They’re the names of our new aquatic pets.
It began when one of the writers I recruited for Caravan sent me a link to an excellent New Yorker story by Adam Gopnik that reflects on the trauma of dealing with the death of a pet—in this case, Gopnik’s 5-year-old daughter’s goldfish Bluie. Aliyah and I soon decided to get fish of our own.
So on a Sunday afternoon trip to Bhogal Market to buy, among other things, pistachio nuts and eggs (I wound up breaking all but one of the eggs when, in my hurry to get inside our air conditioned house, I roughly threw the bag containing the eggs down on the concrete terrace outside our front door), Aliyah spotted a sign for a fish store. Following the arrow on the hand-painted sign, we tiptoed down Fish Alley. Twenty yards in, we were lost. A man in a turban poked his head out of a small shop.
“Fish?” Aliyah asked. With my right hand, I offered a terrible impression of a swimming fish. The man in the turban invited us in.
We walked through the store (where most items looked as though they’d been picked up second hand at a Jaipur garage sale), and entered a dark room in the back. Our guide turned on the lights, revealing a dozen fish tanks, which he quickly began wiping dust from. I’m pretty sure we were the aquarium room’s first customers in months.
Aliyah quickly spotted her fish: a small white one with a big tail and a bright orange splash on its forehead. “Ben Fish!” she cried, directing our guide toward her chosen fish.
Ever chivalrous and compassionate, I knew I must reciprocate. “I’ll name my fish Aliyah,” I said, sweetly taking the real Aliyah’s hand. I turned toward the man in the turban. “Anyone of those fish will be fine,” I said, as he thrust his net into the tank.
The Fish Guy, who, for purposes of humor, I’ll assume is a vegetarian, then took the netted Aliyah Fish out of the tank, let her suffocate for several seconds, then grabbed her with his bare hand and shoved her into a plastic bag of water. Alert PETA.
We began loading up on accessories: a magnified fish bowl, colorful marble-like pebbles, a plastic palm tree, food and a net. I asked about cleaning the tank. The Fish Guy pointed to a small, dark fish sucking the aquarium wall, and explained that such a fish would eat any algae or poo in our fish bowl.
“So we’re getting three fish now?” Aliyah asked.
“No, no,” I said. “This is India. Two fish, one servant.”
So off we went with two named pale fish who were already the subject of much personality projection, and one Servant Fish.
We set up a home for our new fish and started to get them settled. We had a brief scare a few hours in when we thought Servant Fish, immobile on the bowl’s floor, was dead. I jabbed him with a ballpoint pen. Waking up with a start, he did several high-speed laps around the bowl. I jumped two feet in the air and screamed like a soprano (not the cool capitalized crime family Soprano. The girlie singer soprano).
“You’re a girl,” Aliyah said.
Our real problem surfaced the next morning when we fed our fish breakfast. The Fish Guy had instructed us to give them two pellets of food each. Generously, we assumed we should include Servant Fish in this calculation, so Aliyah dropped in six pellets. Ben Fish ate them all in about two seconds.
Aliyah rounded on me.
“Hey!” she said. “Why’d you eat my breakfast?”
We put six more pellets in. Ben Fish ate them all. Aliyah berated me, the real Ben, again.
“It’s not my fault,” I said, grasping at straws. I pointed at Aliyah Fish, who was dully gazing at the side of the bowl. “If Aliyah Fish would stop staring at her reflection for a second, maybe she’d get some food too.”
After discussion of numerous hypotheses (Aliyah Fish is anorexic. She’s a slow digester. She can’t swim up to the surface. She’s blind.), we decided to let the matter rest until dinner.
When it was time to feed our fish that night, Aliyah dropped in a generous dozen pellets. Aliyah Fish didn’t move. Ben Fish gobbled up all the food within five seconds.
“Hey!” Aliyah said. “Stop eating my dinner!”
I sputtered in protest.
“And what about Servant Fish?” Aliyah said. “He hasn’t eaten yet either.”
“Don’t worry about Servant Fish,” I scoffed. “He’s a servant.”
It’s been the same story the last three days. We overfeed the fish, making sure to put pellets directly above Aliyah Fish. We try to distract Ben Fish. Nothing works. Ben Fish eats all the food. Aliyah Fish hasn’t had a pellet since she moved in with us.
I was relating our fish woes to friends at dinner last night. Puja asked what kind of fish Ben Fish was. "American," I said.
I’m worried that Aliyah Fish’s days are numbered. And that Ben Fish will be blamed. I’m already planning a cover-up. I just pray that obstruction of justice as it relates to fishicide isn’t a felony here.