Malee pranced across the yard toward her family’s house carrying her precious sloshing package. She bounded up the steps directly into the main living area and immediately searched for an open container at least big enough to display her gilled guest for everyone to enjoy. Before long she found a large cup and began dumping the pouch contents mostly into it.
At long last there was a plop and splosh when the fish entered the glass. Daeng swam in tight circles around the container and darted to its barriers. Malee placed her petite hands softly on the sides of the cup as if to hug the fish and gently leaned in toward it. Daeng instantly began to calm down at the sight of her.
Malee removed her hands and studied the sanguine swimmer wading in the cup. Her parents stopped their preparations for dinner to admire the majestic looking fish. As they stepped closer, Daeng became agitated again, but this time started flaring fins as if slinging daggers at them and making assertive swiping gestures with its tail. The parents backed away and the frenzied fish gradually relaxed.
“Daeng, my parents aren’t going to hurt you!” Malee informed.
“It’s probably just protecting you, dear. After all, you did feed it all day.” Sunee reasoned.
“That’s right.” Prem added. “Now get yourself cleaned up, Malee.”
She nodded, enclosed her hands around the glass and carefully lifted it from the table to avoid spilling.
“Where are you going with that?” Prem inquired.
“We’re going to get ready for Uncle Aroon.” Malee replied matter of factly. Her parents shrugged to each other as she shuffled away.
Upon entering the washroom, she rested the cup on the ledge of the wooden slatted bathtub. The tub was already prepared with fresh water, about two thirds full, such that when she stepped in and sat down, it didn’t overflow. From across the length of the tub it looked to her as though the fish was unhappy. Its fins were droopy and the color drained. She crept closer and peered into the glass detaining Daeng, who turned more lively as she approached. Not hostile, but hopeful.
Malee leaned back and her cheery chum shifted back to its more glum form. After a pensive sigh, she slid forward to reach for the fish, but the glass slipped out of her wet hand into the tub. Almost instantaneously Malee retrieved the cup from the water and placed it back on the bath ledge. However, it was lacking a certain little claret fish.
Shortly thereafter she spotted Daeng in the water, casually scuttering about. She attempted to pet the fish, who reacted by swimming figure eights around her inclined legs, weaving behind her knees and crossing in front of her shins. Malee chuckled at the sight.
“I think you’re clean enough for Uncle now.” She mused and used the glass to deftly recover Daeng.
“Let’s put you somewhere safe.” Malee stepped out of the bath and placed the cup with the fish on a side table on the opposite side of the room, then slunk back into the tub.
She started washing her face and glimpsed between soap bubbles over to the glass with the cramped, crestfallen fish. She pouted to see Daeng so low-spirited.
“Sorry, we can’t play right now.” The fish perked up at her familiar voice and responded with a little flip. Then Daeng launched out of the cup and flopped on the floor, as if endeavoring to make its way to Malee.
“No, no! Stay there!” She vaulted from the tub and they both were slopping around, dripping water everywhere.
“Hold still – you’re more slippery than soap!” Finally she managed to capture the escapee and put it back in the glass. But noticed the finned fox was eager to break free again. So, Malee placed her hand over the top of the cup and sought out a bigger container.
On a nearby shelf she found a bowl full of dried flower petals, which she promptly dumped into a basket on the floor, then emptied the contents of the cup into the bowl. She added some more water to the bowl, filling it about halfway. The fish danced and hopped in the fresh container, but not high enough to leave the bowl. At least Daeng seemed more content and secure in the larger vessel. Satisfied, Malee headed back to the tub to finish bathing.
“Silly fish.” They smiled at each other across the room.
All refreshed and presentable, Malee scuffled back with her arms wrapped around the bowl to keep it stable and placed it on the counter as though nothing were different.
“What happened here?” questioned Prem.
“Daeng felt more comfortable in a bigger dish.” Malee answered earnestly.
“Look who’s here?” Sunee prompted. Malee’s uncle appeared from the open living area, dressed neatly and comfortably. It was more obvious that Aroon and Sunee were siblings now standing side-by-side, though Aroon was clearly the younger of the two. The uncle smiled at his niece and Malee ran full speed into a hug around his waist.
“Oof! Good to see you, too.” Aroon uttered after he regained his breath. “And I brought you something.” He turned to fetch and hand over a large flat package to Malee.
“Wow – thanks!” she exclaimed while she opened the wrappings to find a delicate diamond-shaped kite, which stood about as tall as her.
“How did you come by that?” Sunee queried.
“Got it for a steal. Can you believe someone was going to toss this out, just because it had a few tears? Nothing that a little glue and silk can’t fix, right?” Aroon remarked.
“Sure.” Malee determined after a little inspection.
Her uncle explained, “You see, this type of kite is called a queen kite. It’s graceful and unassuming, but also very nimble. A kite like this is used to lure away and take down the king kites. Something like removing pests from the sky!”
“Are you talking about competing?” Presumed Prem.
Aroon expounded on his plan, “Well, the best kite flying season is coming up and I thought we could form a little team of 4-5 to perfect our technique and maybe win some local competitions.”
“You can’t be serious.” Sunee challenged.
Her brother countered, “Why not? It’s a noble tradition going back many centuries, with honor, glory, and possible fame and fortune!”
“We’ll discuss this later.” Sunee admonished.
“Thanks for the gift Uncle. I want to show you something, too.” Malee led Aroon to the bowl holding her pest removal partner. “This is Daeng.”
Aroon gushed, “Whoa! That is one handsome fish!”
Malee continued, “Daeng,…this is Uncle Aroon.” The fish began flaring its fiery fins as Aroon advanced. Her uncle stopped immediately in his tracks at the menacing display. Aroon stepped back a moment and Daeng appeared less belligerent. Then he moved forward again and in a flash the fish became frenetic once more.
Suddenly her uncle had an epiphany. “This is amazing! This is much better than the kite competition thing.”
“What do you mean?” Sunee worried.
Excitedly Aroon declared, “Fish fighting!”
Allaying his niece’s concerns, “No, it’s not exactly like it sounds. Two fish are put into a tank and the fish with the best demonstration scares off the less aggressive fish. Whichever one backs down is the loser!”
“What happens if neither one backs down?” Probed Malee.
Without much hesitation Aroon asserted, “I suppose they call it a draw. I’ve heard of a place in the city where they have fish fights every day. We don’t have to do any training or wait for optimal weather. We could start making a killing right away!”
“NO!” Everyone else opposed.
The uncle continued to plead his case, “Come on, do you want to be farmers for the rest of your life?”
“Why not? It’s a noble tradition going back many centuries, with honor, glory, and possible fame!” Sunee responded coolly.
“But no fortune…” Muttered Aroon.
“Enough for a fulfilling life.” Prem affirmed.
“Well, not for me. It’s not what I want. I need something more, something…better.” Lamented Aroon.
Malee chimed in, “I’m sorry it’s not enough Uncle. But maybe we can still have fun flying kites together. Even if we don’t compete.”
“Okay, sure.” Her uncle paused to see his doe-eyed niece gazing up at him. “We can do that together. That would be enough for me to have you there.” Aroon hugged his niece warmly.
After a moment, Sunee announced, “Why don’t we eat?”
They gathered together at the modestly appointed dinner table with a half a dozen or so various dishes centrally arranged. Aroon opened the bottle of rice whiskey that he had brought, and passed around glasses as he filled them. Malee politely opted for coconut water. They jointly raised their cups and conducted a simple “crash the glass” toast before eating.
Following dinner, Malee’s parents started clearing dishes from the table.
Aroon patted his belly saying, “Thank you for the meal!” Sunee nodded kindly in response.
Prem collected an empty cup and gestured, “Thank you for the drink, Aroon.” His brother-in-law responded with a respectful nod.
Aroon admired the ruby rascal from afar, “Your fish is spectacular.”
“Yes, Daeng is special.” Agreed Malee.
Aroon prodded, “Are you going to keep it in the bowl here in the kitchen?”
“Just when guests are here. But I’d keep Daeng in my bedroom most of the time.” Proposed Malee.
Prem interjected, “I think it would be best to put the fish back.”
“Why?” asked Uncle and Malee together.
“It needs to go back where it belongs. A fish needs more space and the right water conditions, with the right food, and to rejoin its family.” Sunee explained.
“Oh, I didn’t think Daeng might have a family.” Admitted Malee.
“Everyone has a family,” Prem assured her.
“It wouldn’t be fair to keep them separated.” Malee sadly realized what would be best for the fish.
Her uncle advocated, “Well, how about just one more day together, then return it to its family. That shouldn’t cause any harm, right?”
“Yes, please!” Pleaded Malee.
Aroon added, “Afterall, we may never see Daeng again once she releases it back into the wild.”
“Alright, one more day.” Sunee and Prem agreed after some consideration.
“Okay, well it’s getting late and I should get going. Lots to do tomorrow.” Aroon confessed.
“Thank you for the kite, Uncle.” Repeated Malee gratefully.
Uncle and niece embraced farewell, “You’re welcome. And thank you for introducing me to your fish friend.”
Aroon continued, “Goodnight, Daeng. Maybe we’ll play again some other time.” The inflamed fish flexed its spine and flicked its tail. Aroon smirked and waved goodbye to the family then departed for the evening.
After a short time, Prem proclaimed, “It’s time for bed, Malee.”
“Okay, father.” His daughter answered. She hugged her dad, then grabbed Daeng’s bowl and transported the fish to her bedroom. The rolling motion of the water in the bowl seemed to lull both Daeng and Malee into a particularly drowsy state.
Sunee settled Malee into bed and kissed her tenderly on the forehead, brushing some stray hairs away from her daughter’s darling face.
“Sweet dreams,” wished her mother in a whisper. Malee beamed momentarily and drifted off easily to sleep…
Malee imagines herself floating effortlessly on the lazy current of a stream. Branches of trees above scroll by casually. She lifts her fingers to touch the closest ones and notices her fingers are webbed. She marvels at the light shining through them. And at her wrists and ankles she is now aware that they are connected by webbing to her body, too. As she rolls over to examine them better, her limbs turn into distinctive fins and gills grow at the side of her neck. She paddles her tail with a flitter of exhilaration.
Suddenly, Daeng appears beneath and as large as Malee, they smile and wave fins to each other. Daeng nudges her, challenging her to a race. The stream turns to a fast moving river and they are chasing other fish, overtaking and passing them easily. Soon the river spills into the ocean where Daeng and Malee weave and dart past the swaying stipes of seaweed. They swim to the surface and pause for a moment to survey the vastness of water surrounding them. A pod of dolphins catches them by surprise as they start jumping in cascading waves nearby. Malee and Daeng join in with the fun – leaping with them. They test their new skill by springing higher and higher out of the water.
Before long they notice that they are aloft and skyward bound in flight. Together they join the clouds, twisting and twirling about. Daeng dives toward the earth and Malee follows in gleeful pursuit. The earth approaches quickly and the two flatten and extend their fins like parachutes, slowing them from a free fall, into a full stop midair. For a moment they are suspended there like kites, but a passing breeze pushes them along, swirling them around as if they are leaves. The two laughing leaves crash softly onto a pile of splashy foliage. The heap almost instantly explodes and expands into an arching rainbow staircase that they now decide to climb together.
Situated at the peak of the prismatic bridge is a tremendous door, which they push open after some difficulty. On the other side they see an endless, bountiful table of food spread before them. Like pelicans with mouths wide open, they leap and joyfully skim over the table to scoop up more food than they could ever eat in a lifetime. Unexpectedly they look at each other, point and chuckle at the sight of each other’s overstuffed tummies. Rolling over, bloated bellies up, they start into a backstroke across the table. Items fall off at the edges, which transform into coins and jewels now spilling over a waterfall.
The treasure pieces pour into a placid golden pool where Malee and Daeng are frolicking with a raft of black ducks. They submerge and tickle the feet of the ducks swimming overhead. The ducks speed off in different directions. Malee and Daeng imitate the fluttering tails of the ducks and perform a synchronized dance underwater. A drake that resembles Uncle Aroon, returns with Malee’s parents, all of whom applaud and join in an embrace and collapse together in merriment on the bed of the stream….