A change of heart

This was a large one for sure. I looked down into the water and tried to make out what it looked like, but all I could see was the roiling spray as it thrashed about desperately.

Perhaps I should let it alone. Anyway, the more the monster thrashed, the better our chances of getting rich tonight. Soon it would lose its strength and give up, and then we would have plenty of time to haul it up and get a good look at our catch.

But just as I turned away, the fish returned to its struggle with renewed vigour. I frowned. He should have been tired by now.

“Cut it off, will you?” Raghav screamed from the bow. He was right. If that stupid creature went on this way, he’d soon bore a hole in the net – or, at the very least, scrape it against something and damage it. With the season close to ending, neither of us could afford to buy a new net or waste time repairing this one.

I started up the winch. “The knife!” I snapped and the ‘boy’ went running to fetch it. Inch by inch, the net came up, and with it, its struggling silver occupant. Yes! He was huge! I just prayed he was edible but I still couldn’t get a good look at him. Newly out of the water, the rest of our catch danced up and down around him, sunlight glinting off their backs.

Between me and the boy, it took us 10 minutes to get him out on the deck. In the process, we must have lost about half our remaining catch. At this point, it didn’t matter. This giant catfish – if that’s what it was – was going to cover for all of it, and more. Shorn of the water, he was even more magnificent. I’d give it a Perfect 10 for size, symmetry and just sheer beauty.

Hands in the air, I braced the machete above my head. The boy jumped out of my way and stood against the railing. I glanced sideways at him. His eyes were round as saucers. First time out to sea and he was about to see some real action. I smiled and felt the crow’s feet stretch around my eyes.

Twice I swung the knife and twice he jumped away. I cursed aloud. The thrashing devil was going to take his time. Stupid fish. But at least there was some blood on the deck. I knew I had injured him.

The third time I came at him, I got him on the back. But that only seemed to increase his crazed frenzy. I wondered if this was a good idea. Ideally, we’d just have him lose his breath and then cut off the head in peace. No point damaging the skin when we could sell the smooth, untarnished body as a whole – and probably at a better price.

I turned to Raghav. “Leave it?” I asked. My partner just shrugged. This was between me and the fish alone.

I suppose I should have left it then, but I decided to take a fourth swing. In the moment that I attacked, I saw the boy run off behind the fish, to the far edge of the boat. I knew what he was up to but I couldn’t stop him now.

My blow glanced off the deck as the fish jumped further away from me. Aft, the gateway to its freedom had suddenly swung open. Like everything that loves life, the fish somehow knew when an escape hatch had become available. In a heartbeat, he swung his body in the air, slammed itself hard on the deck one last time and disappeared back into the ocean.

Later, the boy was apologetic. But I didn’t have the heart to berate him – Raghav had taken care of that.

The boy would live. It is not such a bad thing to be jobless at 16. Hadn’t I been there myself, fired from my first job at the butcher’s?

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