One fine day as I was strolling through the local, suburban shopping mall, I happened to come upon a small pet shop with a fish tank in a corner just outside the entrance. The interesting thing about it, was that people could feed the fish by placing a quarter in a dispensing machine. So since I like to feed animals, I decided to give it a try. However, before I did, I couldn't help but notice that all the tropical fish were tiny except for one with horizontal, black and white stripes.
That one was ridiculously huge in comparison to the others, maybe ten times their size. I wondered how they had avoided winding up in its jaws and cringed each time a small fish swam close to it. But after a watching them for a while, I figured that all was OK. So I decided to go ahead and feed them. In went the coin and down poured the granules of fish food.That’s when all hell broke lose.
As soon as the bits hit the water, the bigger fish was transformed into a frantic food-eating juggernaut ravenously devouring each morsel before the others had a chance to move in. After it had gobbled up most of it, I figured it would retire. After all, how much could it eat? But no way Jose! It started preventing the other smaller fish from getting the scraps by threatening to attack. Not the slightest movement toward the smallest particle of food went unnoticed. Incredible how swiftly it managed to zoom in just before the smaller fish could manage even a small nibble. It was all his and he had to devour it.
I figured that maybe he was just still hungry. After putting in several more coins and seeing him gorge himself, I assumed that he would allow the others to feed. But he remained as furiously ravenous as before and again stopped smaller fish from getting a single bite.
Frustrated by this constant abuse, I went inside the pet shop to report it to anyone in charge. Well, there he was, this tall, balding, middle-aged, muscular fellow restocking the lower shelves with pet food. I assumed he had some authority and walked up to where he was kneeling. Strangely, he seemed totally unaware that I was there. So I decided to speak up.
“Sir! I was trying to feed the fish using the machine that drops food into the tank and--" I began to say in the calmest voice I could muster.
"Oh the machine? Cool isn't it?" he interrupted in a cheerful tone of voice after briefly glancing up at me while his hands went on restocking shelves as if they had a mind of their own..
"True! Great idea. But there is a problem--"
"Problem with the machine?" he said frowning up at me.
"It was working alright this morning. What did you do to it? "
"I did nothing and it's working just fine."
"Then what's the problem?"
"The problem isn't the machine sir, it's the fish--"
"The fish?" He finally stopped his mechanical restocking, slowly stood up and spoke to me face to face. He was considerably taller than me and I had to look up to make eye contact.
"Which fish?" he frowned down at me quizzically as if totally unaware of the mayhem occurring just a few feet away in that infernal tank.
"Yes, the fish." I responded, "that white black-striped fish to be specific. You know, that enormous one you folks placed in the tank with the tiny ones.”
“Oh, heh! heh! You mean Bill.” His facial expression was one of deep relief and he casually knelt and resumed re-stocking his shelves with birdseed. Thinking that he didn't understand the seriousness of the situation, I decided to describe it in detail.
"He doesn't let the smaller fish feed!" I said expecting a reaction of deep concern.
“Oh that’s just the way Bill is sometimes. He! He,” he chuckled as he opened another big cardboard box of bird seed. After watching him in silence for a few moments and wandering how he could be so dense, I continued:
“Why did you put such a huge fish in with such little ones?”
“Oh! Bill wasn’t the biggest fish in the tank when I put him in there. He was the smallest one.” He seemed to take an enormous pride in being privy to that fine detail related to Bill's life.
“So why did you put such a big species in with smaller species?” I was struggling might and main not to call him a moron but it was becoming increasingly difficult to refrain. Maybe his brutish appearance was keeping me from expressing myself freely? I mean, if an example of a Neanderthal was ever needed for a Hollywood film, he would have been the perfect candidate. All that was missing were the expected supposed grunts and hunched posture. But apart from that, the receding forehead and jutting jaw were enough. His seeming inability to reason properly didn't help dispel the notion.
“Oh! Bill isn’t a different species.” he responded calmly. ‘As if that mattered’ I thought.
“He’s not? OK. Ummm, so seeing that he’s savagely harassing the other fish, why don't you just put him in a tank by himself?"
After prolonged silence, during which I felt increasingly uncomfortable, he finally answered:
"Sir, this is a business. Are you here to purchase something or to tell me how to run it?” he stared up at me from a kneeling position with the huge bushy black eyebrowed-frown topped by a receding hairline that almost went halfway up his his shiny, pale skull.
“Do you know how much money it would take to have one fish to a tank?" The stupidity of his idea made me feel like calling him an idiot but considering how strongly Neanderthal he looked, I controlled myself. Instead I continued appealing to his sense of justice or compassion in hopes that he actually had any.
“You misunderstood me sir. I’m not suggesting that you put each fish in its own tank!”
“Then what exactly are you suggesting bud?” he uttered coming slowly to his feet again but this time like a lion that's about to pounce..
“Why not not just put Bill in with fish his own size?” I said nervously while taking a cautious step away from him in the direction of the exit.
“Why not, you ask? Simple, because Bill’s the biggest fish here. Are you blind?” He made a slow sweeping gesture at the other fish-tanks. He was right. All other fish tanks were filled with fish as small as the ones that Bill had been abusing. But maybe, just maybe there was another way to help those poor harassed little fish.
“Is he for sale?” I blurted out before I had really thought about what I would do with Bill once I had purchased him. My suggestion seemed to strike the fellow as if an electrical shock. He suddenly glared at me with his dark brown, beady eyes! It was a look that I had seen previously on National Geographic programs on TV where lions are shown to have been stealthily stalking Zebra, wildebeest or antelope. I realized at that moment that the conversation was over, and that it was best I let the little fishies fend for themselves.
“Why do you ask?” he finally uttered after a prolonged silence during which he clenched and unclenched his hairy, ham-like fists.
“Just wondering if he is or not. That’s all!”
“No he’s not for sale!” he bellowed.
“Bill is a display fish. His exotic stripes bring in customers. In fact, the show he puts on every day for the people in the mall keeps them coming back. Kids love it. Most adults find it funny except for you!” He glared at me as if he wanted to grab me by the back of my neck and force my face into the fish tank to let Bill nibble on my nose at his leisure. Once having quickly walked back to the store entrance, I figured I could dare risk a last quick opinion:
“Well excuse me Count De Sade!” I shouted before beating a hasty retreat through the crowded mall towards my Volkswagen. But just before I did, I caught a glimpse of Bill swimming around with one of the smaller fish in its jaws and several kids giggling about it.