When I was 4, Daddy bought me a plastic pink fish. It cost but a dime and was so tiny it fitted into half my palm. It was terribly pink and I loved it. It had a pink fan tail, pink fins, pink scales and round plastic eyes that looked like glass. I carried it everywhere, stored it in my fussy lacy pocket next to a tangled stowaway ribbon, and showed it to my friends next door when I felt in the mood for a comeuppance boast.
In the evenings, where we lived in the suburbs, we used to play out on the porch and on the street where it was safe. There were a noisy gang of us. Alice Tan, Sushila and then I forget. We played all kinds of games. Hopscotch, Catch, 5 Stones and What-Is-The-Time-Mr. Wolf.
Sometimes, a garden bee came to join in the fun and would sting us merrily. I remember my mother rubbing comforting ointment on the nape of my neck while I howled in pain. The bee lived in our small garden patch, made up of rows and rows of bright zinnias. I enjoyed looking at the flowers but I loved my terribly pink fish.
Once Alice ran along the gravel after sundown, ignoring the summons to dinnertime and slipped and fell with such a violent thud, she spotted blue-black bruises, a strange yellow medicine, indigo and snowy bandages all over her leg.
My mother often pointed her out as a painful example of what would happen to naughty little children who did not listen to their good, clever mums.
I observed all the colors on Alice's knee with morbid fascination. I still loved my terribly pink fish. The whistling balloon man stopped by with his funny assortment of rainbow colored balloons. I observed the balloon man with relish. I still loved my terribly pink fish.
The old toothless tinker man, used to cycle along shouting out his wares made up of brooms and gaudy colored dusters. I watched him pass by, a happy sight for my eyes. I still loved my terribly pink fish.
One day, it rained and puddles came to visit us from the sky. They came in all sorts of shapes and sizes but they were muddy and brown. My pink fish disappeared mysteriously into a puddle. It decided it was time for a swim and escaped from my pocket with a leap and a dare. What a muddle for my confusion. I screamed and cried and searched in vain for my terribly pink fish.
Daddy comforted me with sweets but it was no use. Mum promised me a double helping of shortbread for tea but it was no use. Sushila came to help. Alice came to help. And other friends too, whose names have fled with the wind. All arrived for the rescue mission. But it was no use. No use at all.
Daddy went into the house and brought out a *cangkul to try and whip my fishy friend out. It was no use. Daddy went into the house and brought out a broomstick to try and sweep my fishy friend back to land. It was no use. Daddy went into the house and brought a dipper to clear the puddle of water, with which to view my fishy friend. It was no use. Daddy went into the house and brought out a long stick with which he hoisted about the leftover puddle to see if my fishy friend would feel a poke. It was no use. Daddy went into the house and came out without his shoes to try and splash about the puddle in case my fishy friend jumped out angrily. It was no use. Finally, Daddy got his hands dirty, scraping his fingers in the wet muddy sand to try and find my fishy friend. It was no use.
My terribly pink fish was gone forever.
Sushila hugged me and went away.
Alice got scared when she saw it was sundown and went away.
All my friends whose names I long forgot, patted me on the back and went away.
And then I was left alone for a time to mourn.
Daddy carried me in his arms back into the house.
With his daddy-desire to pacify me, he had forgotten the cangkul, the broomstick, the dipper, the stick and his own shoes. He had forgotten his wet hanky with which he had wiped his hands.
Now, many years later, that crystal-clear memory strikes home as clear as day. Of all the expensive toys I would receive as presents, I remember none with more fondness than my terribly pink fish. And if ever on a cold dark day, I want to remember how much my father may have loved me, I only have to think once more of my long vanished endearment and the little girl comfort of her father's tired arms.
* cangkul: a long instrument with a large flat metal blade at the end of a stick with which to dig soil, normally with the instrument extending out of the body range and being swung in a half-moon circle.