In our living room, we had an aquarium where the two beautiful Koi fish – one orange and the other gray – swam around leisurely. They never seemed bored. They swam around back and forth, back and forth – looking at us now and then with their big round eyes that never blinked. They didn’t seem tired. I never saw them lying down sideways on the bottom to take a nap with their eyes closed – liked the old people.
Father loved those fish. One of the first things he did after coming home, looking exhausted, was to go to see the fish. Seeing the fish swim effortlessly in the water, his tired look turned into a smile. He sprinkled the fish food over the water saying, You kids must be hungry. Here is your dinner. Then the fish rushed up toward the surface, swallowing the food particles with their round mouths. Father relaxed for a few minutes watching them eat and swim, and I stood beside him, wondering what was inside their bodies to make them swim. I wondered, Do they have some kinds of propellers inside them? Like airplanes? I was curious.
One day when Father was at work, and my brothers and sisters were at school, and Mother was outside cleaning the yard, I took a chair and an empty metal can to the aquarium. I stood on the chair, put the can in the water, and sloshed the can around to catch them. After minutes of sloshing, the orange fish got into the can. Excited, I stepped down the chair and rushed to the bathtub – leaving streaks of water drops along the way. I lay the fish in the bath tub and saw it jumping. O, the fish jumps when there’s no water? How interesting? I thought. I opened the bathroom cabinet and grabbed the old fashioned razor blade with a handle that Father used for shaving, and walked back to the fish. The fish did not jump up and down any more but laid sideways looking tired. I knelt down, held the fish by its tail with my left hand. The fish wiggled a bit but did not resist. I carefully brought the razor’s sharp blade and cut open the fish along its tummy. The first thing I saw was blood streaming out, wetting my hands and spreading out on the white tub. I saw bones and small pockets of flesh, some red and some dark red, connected together, but I did not find a propeller that I had seen in airplanes. Strange? What makes it move without a propeller? I wondered.
As I was deeply immersed, trying to figure things out, I heard Mother calling, “Hi-Dong, where are you?”
“Here in the bathroom,” I answered.
“Are you peeing?”
“No,” I replied. “I’m trying to figure something out?”
“In the bathroom?”
“Yes,” I said. “Come and see.”
Shortly she opened the door saying, “The floor is all wet.”
She walked closer, and when she saw what was in the bathtub, she froze. Her eyes were round. Her mouth wide open.
“What are you doing, Hi-Dong?” she stammered, her voice tense.
“I’m trying to figure out what makes the fish swim,” I said. “Do you know?”
“Don’t you know Father loves this fish?” Mother said. “I am afraid to think what he will do when he comes home and finds out what you did to his fish.”
I knew Father had a quick temper. When he punished my brothers, I could hear his loud voice echoing through the whole house. His angry voice used to scare me, and I ran to Mother for protection. Now I realized that I killed Father’s favorite fish. I saw the orange fish with its belly cut open. I saw the blood all around the white tub. Fear crept in my heart. What is Father going to do? Is he going to whip me with his leather belt like he does to my brothers? I could feel my calves burning with pain. I saw Father’s razor blade shake in my hand.
“Mother,” I said. “I’m scared.”
“I’m scared too,” Mother said. “I am trying to figure out what to do when Father comes home.”
The bathroom was quiet. I looked at Mother and found her deep in thought. I was thinking too – thinking of how to avoid being whipped by Father with his leather belt. Ask Mother to tell Father that I found the fish dead in the aquarium this morning? But this is a lie, and the liar goes to Hell. God will know for sure if I lie, and He will throw me into Hell when I die. Do I want to go to Hell where I will walk on a round track laid with red hot charcoal in bare feet forever? No way. It’s much better to be whipped by Father once. But I am still scared. What else can I do?
Then an idea came to me. I felt good because the idea did not involve lying.
“Why are you smiling?” Mother asked.
“Mother, why don’t we go out and buy a fish that looks just like this one?”
Mother looked at me for a while. Then her face brightened.
“What a bright idea,” Mother said nodding her head. “Let’s go to the store right away and get the fish before Father comes home. Let’s hurry.”
We hurried to a nearby store, and to our delight they had the same type of fish that we were looking for. Without the usual haggling, Mother paid the asking price, rushed home, and put it in the aquarium. I was afraid that the grey fish might not like the new one and fight. But it didn’t. He swam with the new fish just like before, and we felt greatly relieved. But I was still afraid that Father might find out somehow. Sensing my mood Mother told me to go out and play until dinner time so that Father would not see the uneasy expression on my face.
While I was playing with my neighborhood friends, Mother came and called me for dinner.
“Did Father find out what I had done?” I asked Mother, feeling scared.
“No,” she said patted my back saying, “We made it! You know what Father said after looking at the fish?’
He said, “The red fish seemed to have grown a bit. Isn’t it beautiful?”