Aquarium 13B safely sits in the balcony of our half house in Sunnette Villas. I say “half house” because its not quite a full house, with strangers just moving in the other duplex door. But its a comfortable haven for Aquarium 13B.
Its tenant with the longest tenure, Goldie Ho, has seen a couple of fireworks when the year turns into new one. He moved in with three dabarkads in the summer of 2011, and has seen all three go up into “The Happy Place” one by one – Geena just gave up after a long bout with depression, George thought the other side of the glass wall was a better place so he jumped out of their cool, spacious abode into nothingness and Gino, my love, was driven by so much ambition, he could not handle the limited routine and he burst right in front of Goldie’s googly eyes. He’s a chronic eater when he’s tense, you know.
And so it goes, that for the next two years, Goldie will swim through Aquarium 13B on her own, monopolizing the space and the food. “At least, there’s more for me,” her bubbly thought bubble said – optimistic lass that she is, she looked at the situation with the aquarium half filled rather than empty.
Until the night of June 1st...
She knew The Owners arrived home. Lukaz was crazily barking and bags upon bags of goodies for the week was being shuttled from the car into the Half House. “Im hoping there’s fresh grub included in one of these bags as I’m tasting my regular fare is nearing expiration,” Goldie thought.
When the commotion moved from downstairs to our floor, Goldie swam frantically as The Owners are bound to pay her and Lukaz a visit before they retire. Much to her surprise, the Little Owner made a beeline for Aquarium 13B and plopped two new swimmers into her tank – both of them dark and sinister, but smaller than Goldie. One was Boo, a black hammerhead sharkie (a fitting breed term for someone as flat-headed as him) and the other one was Othello, a sinister looking Black Moor Goldfish, whom Goldie did not trust right away.
She kept her distance from the new roomies, just gliding near the surface, while the newbies take over the bottom half of the tank. The Owners gave more than enough food at still about the same time she takes her naps, but the two uncouth tenants seem to gobble down their ration before Goldie wakes up and they end up sharing even hers.
Pretty soon, Goldie was trimmed down to her size before she moved in as the neighbours kept on eating her share of the aquarium food. Exactly a week after they moved in, she has had enough.
“Boo, Othello, are you boys really this uncivilized? If you want more food, all you need to do is just ask from the Little Owner and he will gladly give you more. That’s how things are run in this side of town, she declared.
Rather than take it kindly, Boo and Othello just snickered away without even acknowledging her attempted friendly chat, making more snide remarks about Goldie’s fat size, lack of exercise and sagging fins.
This irked Goldie a lot more than usual. So she swam quickly after the two, knocking them off their path as she did.
“Oooh, like you look so great, Boo! You look like a horse rather than a fish!” was Goldie’s outburst. Othello was snickering on her left, which earned her attention.
“And you, dear Othello, look like a little donkey beside your horse friend!” And she scoffed away.
Boo and Othello did not like it one bit. So the swam after Goldie and squeezed her between them, hitting her with their tail fins as they circled the aquarium with a screaming, crying Goldie in between them.
Goldie received scratches and wounds from the beating of the two, and the aquarium water turned murky from the blood she lost. That night, she did not eat. Too hurt from the beating and from crying, she slept with the resolve to tell the Big Owner tomorrow.
But alas! The Owners decided to start their weekend early and stayed out on Friday night.
As the food came and went quickly, the bullying intensified, and by the time The Caretaker came to clean up the blood-filled tank, Goldie was severely injured – her left eye was about to pop out and her right side was bruised beyond imagination.
The good Caretaker decided to put Boo in a separate tub because she saw him attack Goldie as she approached. And as she was cleaning up the tank, she cried mid way, causing shivers down Goldie’s spine.
Boo expired in the other tub. And a blanket of sadness covered Aquarium 13B.
# # #
It was night time of Sunday by the time The Owners came back from the weekend. The same commotion happened below, but as the Little Owner stomped his way upstairs to check on them, the usual excitement is not in the air. The Little Owner, warned by The Caretaker, slowly opened the door that led to the patio and with moved to Aquarium 13B. With a wail, he called for help from his Mom and The Big Owner. Goldie was still profusely bleeding and the tank was still tainted with her blood. The Big Owner immediately set her apart from Othello and cleaned up the tank again.
Before retiring for bed, the Big Owner murmured soothing words to Goldie, telling her everything will be alright in the morning.
Othello, on the other hand, got jealous with the attention Goldie received. And as she was sleeping, he resolved to “finish the job,” which he did.
# # #
When Kai came to me that night, he was distressed and at a loss for words. He could not understand how his “pets” could not live in harmony, thinking that they’re all living under “one roof.”
“How can they hate Goldie, Mommy?” he sobbed. “She’s too hurt, I don’t think I want to see her until she’s well again.”
In my mind I was thinking perhaps he could not bear to see something he cherished be in so much pain.
I, on the other hand, pounced at the opportunity to remember another precious one I have not visited in quite a while.
Now that he understands more, I explained to Kai how excruciatingly painful it was to visit his brother in the hospital many moons ago.
It has just been two weeks when I went home sans my newborn. I was torn between leaving one boy behind – as I stayed in the hospital to be with Zak, I was depriving Kai of the maternal attention he needed at age 4. If I went home to shower Kai with love, I reduced the bonding time with bunso to two measly hours a day. Without a way of knowing his reaction, I didn’t know if he was in pain or agreeable to my leaving. Mommy was downright torn.
Three weeks of falling into the routine of visiting Zak during the middle of the day, I father chanced upon a day in the week that he went home – I picked him up from the port area, and brought him straight to UERM. Tired from a week’s worth of travelling Philippine seas, I sought approval for Lolo to see Zak up close. So as soon as he was sanitized, I brought him inside NICU – some three incubators from the door. Without even being two feet away, he wept suddenly. I had medics on standby just in case his blood pressure shoots up.
In my lifetime, I rarely saw my Dad cry – when my baby brother died, he wept at his wake; when mi sister got married, he wept at her civil wedding; when his Nanay died, I heard he wept at her funeral too. So when he cried at my son’s corner in the hospital, I felt a hand invade my chest and tear off my hearty.
“Mabubuhay pa kaya si Zak, Ging?” he asked in between sobs.
While optimism is not my strong virtue, I stayed positive for Zak’s sake.
“Of course Papa! Kaya nyan kahit maliit yan. Lalaban yan!”
Days after, I wasn’t so certain.
He endured way too many needle pricks for IV insertions. I see relieved veins left black and blue only to be replaced by new ones elsewhere. Arms, legs, heels, wrists, it was all musical chairs for me. The IV was never in the same place for a long time.
His weight dipped...to dangerous levels at some point. He reached half a kilo at Christmas 2008. When the pedia asked me to buy corn oil (or is it canola?) I was thrilled. It was the same advise my sister’s pedia gave her for her daughter the year before. And after that it was smooth sailing until we brought her home.
January came, and Zak continued to deteriorate. I still could not hear his wails, his cries. His progress was a roller coaster ride. And through it all, the Lord’s Prayer never had any greater significance to me than that particular difficult time in our life. I would half trust I had the Lord guiding the best doctors for Zak, and half wish that the torture would end. Coming into the hospital, I’d be forlorn – scared even to find Zak in a stage worse than when I left him the day before. Going out, I’d fall into a bit of a calm resolve – that God is in control and He sees all things and will do things that will still make me feel loved and favoured. I groped with blind faith...but then, that was the only thing I could hold on to.
It was painful to watch Zak’s chest recede and his ribs peek through...oh so slowly. It was painful not to be able to share his pain and know for sure that he was ailing.
Much like your fish, Malakai. It might be painful to watch a gory fish slowly die. And its that pain multiplied (yes, he knows multiplication now) a million times to watch someone you love die little by little everyday.
But Mommy watched. And Mommy died with him, only to come back for Kuya.
# # #
As the night deepened, the darkness around Goldie intensified. She was being hit left and right and she did not have the power to avoid whatever it was that was poking her, hitting her, slicing her. The water was once again murky and reeks of blood – her blood. Soon, half of her body was warm from the air above, and the other half was wet from the water she was resting on. And then Goldie slept soundly.
# # #
The next day, it was Little Owner that brought the news that Goldie had gone. With tears in his eyes, he asked Big Owner to come and get Goldie. Big Owner did and he was about to flush Goldie down the toilet – a fate her predecessors suffered as well – but Little Owner said he wanted to give Goldie a proper place to stay and rest.
So they both dug a hole in the garden for Goldie to stay in forever.
# # #
And that’s how murder happened on Aquarium 13B.