“…so, we’ve being doing this for a while…”
“Twelve thousand, four hundred and ten days to be exact.”
“…and I still don’t really know.”
“What flowers you would prefer for Mother’s Day.”
“Ones with roots.”
“For the garden?”
“Or you could have fish…”
…which is why we ended up at the local aquarium place and why, a little while later, we were watching the newly acclimatised fish settle into their new home.
It was fascinating to watch the little corydoras, with their long, trailing fins, as they excitedly explored their environment. Almost straight away, they were joined by another small fish, a phantom tetra who seemed to feel he belonged. Phantoms are shoaling fish and he is the last of his kind in my tank until I can replenish his shoal. Although no more than a tiny fish, he Is beautiful, with velvety black fins and an iridescent ‘eye’ on his flanks. He too has a long, trailing dorsal fin, set at a similar angle to that of the new arrivals. He has apparently decided that he is now a corydora and seldom wanders far from his friends. He is determined to become part of their shoal and ‘fit in’… even though he doesn’t.
While the young corys dash around and rummage through the substrate in a constant hunt for food, the little phantom follows them, yet looks at a loss. Phantoms are shy fish, preferring to hide, where the corys are gregarious and playful extroverts. They are bottom-feeders, while the phantom is not, yet they swim in the open and at all levels, while the phantom prefers to stay close to the bottom and safe hiding places in the plants. Nevertheless, little phantom fish is now doing a very good imitation of a corydora, so desperate is he to fit in with them.
We are often guilty of projecting human behaviours and emotions onto other creatures, but I could not help but be struck by the little phantom’s illustration of something many of us do, or are expected to do, at some point in our lives. The only thing the phantom has in common with the corys… aside from them all being fish… is the shape of one fin. Yet he is prepared to set his own nature aside and conform to an alien model, copying the behaviour of others in order to be accepted. It is unnatural; he seems rather lost and confused, and his own beautiful being is subsumed by the need to belong. The sooner I can provide him with a shoal of his own kind, the better.
Later, I watched the fish in my son’s pond, and finally got a good look at our wonky fish. It happens every so often… some disease or other will twist a fish’s spine, leaving them otherwise quite healthy, but with a curvature that makes swimming more difficult. We have seen it before, and Bent-Tail proved to be a better teacher than his able-bodied counterparts until he flew away.
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