Names and Fish Bowls
“Hey Chang! Let’s go to the tree house!” I roared above the monotonous thud of raindrops bombarding the roof. Slipping into our rain coats and Reebok sneakers, Chang and I burst through the doorway, headed for the tree house with overwhelming jubilance. The soft thud our sneakers made against the wet mud was effortlessly droned out by the torrential sheets of rain descending upon us. The tree house was our favourite hideout whenever it rained. Chang and I would coop inside, playing with our action figurines of superheroes with the storm providing a befitting backdrop for the epic battles unravelling before us. I reached the ladder leading up to the tree house first, and scrambled up the steps with the deft perfunctory movements of an 8-year-old. I expected to hear the sound of clumsy footsteps stumble into the entrance of the tree house, but what I heard was a foreign noise; a heart-rending cry which rooted my feet to the oak planks, and with it pausing the activity of my heart instantaneously.
Mrs Chang wore a grim look as she strode through the doorway of my house with assertive steps. I caught a concerned look on Mummy’s face through a peripheral glance, one I was not accustomed to seeing. Mummy first broke the oppressive silence by trying to provide a recount of the incident, but the words seemed to enter another void, as if they had taken a wrong route in an inextricable maze and never reached the ears of Mrs Chang. The same phenomenon happened when Mrs Chang opened her mouth. I couldn’t remember exactly why but I didn’t grasp a word she said. Mrs Chang soon exited our house the same manner she entered, except I suspected each of her footsteps weighed a little heavier on the coffee-brown rug, with Chang trailing behind her still clutching on to his right arm with his left in obvious agony. My mind was filled loudly with only one question at that time, why didn’t Mrs Chang seem to be concerned about Chang at all? The moment we were alone in the house, Mummy kneeled on one to speak with me at eye level. She told me Chang was leaving for America to study next week and I wouldn’t see him any time soon again. She spoke in such hushed tones I guessed she thought Mrs Chang could still hear us.
Few days had gone by when the reality of the situation began to settle in, like the ink of newly written words drying itself on paper, accustoming itself to its permanent habitat. I felt hollow. A sense of emptiness like never before. Chang was my best friend since forever and missing a companion at such short notice felt heavy. My heart was a deep well, and every second, large boulders were hurled into it. I completely understood what Mummy had said that night, a few days back. But I could still turn away from reality at that moment. Now, I had to stare at the monster in the face, although he wasn’t really there. It was just a very dark blackness. Like many layers of black upon each other. Coupled with the grief of a lost friend, my first pet Goldfish decided to die on that same morning too. I had fished him up recently at my school carnival with a little net, not like the huge ones they use on National Geographic though. Mummy found him upside down in the fish bowl, motionless, and buried him at the back of our garden. In the evening, Mummy came back with a new fish bowl with another goldfish in it. Probably an effort to make me feel better. The fish bowl was roughly the same size, but had a tinge of greenish shade to it. The goldfish was certainly rounder than the one before. This made me forget about Chang momentarily.
“Hey Shaun! Remember Chang? Your childhood buddy! Guess what? He’s coming back from America to visit for a week. Chang changed his name though, to Tyson. It was more convenient having an English name in America I guess.” Mum told me this with such emotion, I could see it in her eyes. The name Chang didn’t register at first. Then it came back floating from the back of my mind, where the earlier memories are stored. It was a fuzzy image at first, like an out-of-focused picture, then greater clarity washed over it wave by wave, till I remembered that day like is was only yesterday. It was 3 years ago since I last met Chang, we were so excited to play in the tree house on a rainy day when he slipped and dislocated his arm. He moved to America and I never saw him after that.
I didn’t recognise the boy standing in the doorway. His hair was spiked in such an absurd way it looked funny. I bit my tongue to control my laughter. He wore a large gold chain around his neck, for what purpose I had no idea, and had clothes way too big for him. He had on a pair of high top Converse sneakers and stood with his arms folded in front of him aggressively. We made eye contact, and I saw his eyes. They were regular black eyes, but something felt weird about them. They were just… eyes. Those eyes contained no emotion whatsoever. I felt a sudden surge of embarrassment and quickly averted my gaze to my toes. I wanted to call out to him but felt a sense of apprehension, the find you would feel when trying new kinds of foods. I processed the words I would first say in my mind over and over again. Rewinding several times to check for errors. I decided to use his old name, Chang, for old time’s sake. As the words were rising through my throat, they were suddenly caught just around my Adam’s apple, like they had caught a patch of dry air. I realised that I was too nervous to say anything, and that the person standing in the doorway was not Chang. He was Chang, but not any more.
At that very instant I wondered, were names just like fish bowls? If someone were to change their name, would the fish living inside change too?