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Authors: L.S. Matthews

Fish (13 page)

BOOK: Fish
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On a chair next to my bed sat the Guide. He looked clean and fresh and someone must have given him new clothes, because his dusty old khaki shirt and trousers had gone and he was all in white.

“You look like a doctor,” I said sleepily.

“Thank you,” he said, with a big grin. “I am sorry I shouted at you, Tiger.”

“You didn't shout at me,” I said, “when?”

“Well, maybe not shouted. But I had to be stern with you, when we all wanted to carry you the last part really. But we couldn't. All of us were too weak. It was important you got up. It was good you made it on your own two feet.”

“Oh, that's all right,” I said. Nothing seemed to matter from the comfort of that bed. “My Fish …”

I looked around.

I couldn't see the bottle anywhere.

“Don't worry. Come, I will show you.”

And I got out of bed and followed, wheeling the drip along, and we went out of the building and into the moonlight, and into another building. There were hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of bottles, all different shapes and sizes, stacked on shelf after shelf. In each bottle, there was a little fish, some bigger, some smaller than mine.

“Your Fish is here, quite safe.”

“But how will I know which—how do you know which is mine?” I asked, staring at all the bottles.

“Easy. You will always know, I will always know. How could we forget Fish?”

And the Guide reached out in the moonlight of the open door and picked out a bottle, and sure enough, it was the policeman's, and there was my Fish, swimming around, brighter and bigger somehow than before.

“What will I do with him, when I go?” I asked. “I know I was going to let him go, but I am scared. …”

“When you do not see him anymore, you do not know that he is all right, that he is still there, is that it?” asked the Guide.

I nodded.

“Your mother, when she is not around, does she no longer love you?” he asked.

“Of course she does,” I answered.

“This love, can you see it?” he asked.

“No, of course not.”

“But it is there. The same as hope,” he said, gently. I thought for a moment and then nodded, surprised. The Guide made the most complicated things seem simple.

Then I don't remember very well going back to bed, but in the morning I woke up, and this time it was Mum sitting in the chair, instead of the Guide.

Next to my bed was the bottle, and the Fish, looking larger and brighter than ever, turning this way and that, as if impatient.

“Tiger! You're awake. How do you feel?” said Mum.

“Ab-so-lute-ly marvelous,” I said, stretching as I did so. “Can I have this stupid drip thing off now?”

“Yes, I should think so. We just wanted to get some fluids into you, and you weren't in a condition to drink. The car from the embassy is coming any minute, to take us to the airport. The staff here agree with Dad that you should be fit to travel.”

Dad turned up then, poking his head around the corner of the doorway, and coming in when he saw I was awake.

“All fit, Tiger?” he asked.

“Yes, I can't wait,” I said, feeling strength running through me again. My tummy rumbled. “Ooh, I'm hungry!”

“Slap-up breakfast is on its way. When you've eaten it, I want you to hop out of that bed,
mind you.”

To cut a long story short, a nurse came around, shooed my parents away, and took off the drip. Then she called to someone outside, and a man appeared with a tray of food—some kind of porridge, but nicer than before, and bread, and different bits of fruit, and a big glass of water.

I tucked in and finished the lot, and I didn't have to think about Dad's advice to get up gently, because I had to lie there for a while to let it all go down, and when I got up, it had to be slowly, because I felt like I had the weight of the food,
the tray
the glass, in my stomach.

Mum had put strange, clean clothes on the chair by the bed, so I got out of the white gown I seemed to be
dressed in, and put them on saying, “Ouch, ouch,” as the cuts on my hands and feet complained.

There was a pair of slippers, about a size too big, but I put those on as well. I decided I didn't care if people stared on the airplane. I was not going to put on those old sandals ever again.

Then Mum and Dad appeared, and I picked up my bottle and went out to meet the car. The policeman had come to see us off.

Dad, who seemed to be worried and distracted about something, suddenly looked at the bottle as if he had never seen it before.

“Tiger, what were you planning to do with Fish?”

“I don't know,” I said. I had got in the habit of carrying him everywhere.

The grown-ups obviously thought I wanted him as a pet, and looked at each other. Mum said carefully to me, “I don't think he can live in our country, Tiger.”

Dad said, “I don't think Customs will let him through, to be honest.”

At that moment, the policeman stepped forward.

“I will take him, Tiger. I know a beautiful river. It never dries up, and no one even fishes there. He will be safe, I promise.”

To everyone's surprise, I handed over the bottle. The Fish turned this way and that in the light. All the colors of the rainbow shone from his scales, and his underside flashed silver. He seemed almost too big to fit in the bottle, though it was so large.

“Oh, he is beautiful, and so big. How could he fit in your little mouth? How did he get through the neck of this bottle, even? I will cut the top off, to let him go. Well done—I can see why you saved him,” said the policeman, admiring the Fish as he held the bottle up to the light, and everyone agreed, and I could see Mum and Dad looking puzzled, because they, like me, did not remember the Fish looking like that.

Dad still looked left and right, with a worried look, as the driver held the car door open for us.

“What's the matter?” I asked.

“The Guide,” said Mum, “and the donkey. They just seemed to disappear last night. We would have
just liked to say thank you and goodbye. They had to follow on foot, though it was only a short way, because the Guide wouldn't leave the donkey in order to ride with us in the car. No one seems to have seen them here.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised, “don't worry. The Guide was here last night. He was sitting by my bed. He had all new clean clothes on. He was fine.”

Mum and Dad looked very surprised, but relieved.

“Are you sure?” they asked.

“Sure,” I said firmly. “You don't have to see someone to know they're all right and that they are there. He's around here, somewhere.”

And I got in the car, and they got in too, and we headed off toward the airport.

Published by Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children's Books a division of Random House, Inc., New York

Copyright © 2004 by L. S. Matthews

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law. For information address Delacorte Press.

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eISBN: 978-0-307-52377-8


BOOK: Fish
13.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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