The Tao of Odds and Ends

Excerpt: The Minister of the Waves (intro)

© Barry Kavanagh 2003

Tao    Butterfly

In my real life I am nothing.

I'm nobody. I know I… exist… when the wind blows, against my skin, my skin exposed by my torn trousers… and when the rain lashes, against my face… but I am nothing.

I've been asleep. I've been dreaming… and now the rain has brought me back…

Me… nothing.

There's a man across the road, looking at me… and it's like I was dreaming I was him… and it was daylight, it wasn't raining… There was a whole story… I was him, middle-aged, grey haired, travelling round the place, with some girl, trying to find someone… Why was I dreaming that? Does it make any sense?

It seems I dreamed I was another person too… a woman… or not…

It doesn't matter. I'm the same person in my dreams as when I'm awake. No matter how different I seem to be. It's all continuous: dreaming, waking, the line between them is unclear… Y'know, there were clues in the dream, giving away it was really me. Even in my dreams there was something lost about me… In my real life, I seem to have lost all… I am nothing.

It's night. It's raining. I'm sitting outside. The lintel over a doorway is my shelter. The man who was across the road has gone away, with his girl, or whoever. Did he give me some money? Dunno, I can't remember. I'm watching the rain. How did I even manage to fall asleep just then?

Agh, the rain is getting heavier… I hear… thunder from the sky… and now it's bucketing down… it's violent… I'd call it violent rain.

A splash!

Something has landed in the gutter by the pavement. Wait a second - look at that! It's something living, something writhing, tossing up and down in the water…


A voice. A high-pitched, whispery, trilling voice! What? I step out onto the pavement. The rain hits me, hard, but I walk over to the gutter. I look down.

It's a fish. Its tail is moving from side to side. It seems to be alive, in the water in the gutter. But its head is out of the water! And it's looking up at me! The eye on this side is blinking!

Its chin moves. "Hrrr. Grrreetings!" it utters. The high-pitched, whispery trill!

Oh, what? A talking fish?

"Hrrr. Not going to answerr me, then?" it asks.

"…Oh, eh, yes, sorry. I just didn't know what to say to an, er, talking, eh, fish, y'know."

"No, I rreallly don't know!" it snaps, its pitch raising a couple of notches.

I stand here with rain running down my face, looking at this fat, cyan-blue, scaly prodigy, keeping its position in the gutter with its strong, kinetic tail, as the water rushes past, all around it.

Wh-kh! A flash of lightning illuminates everything. The skies of rain, the pavement slabs, my wet trainers, the water running in the gutter, and the elongated, basslike fish, its big, glassy left eye looking up at me.

"How did you get here?" is all I can say.

"Hrrr! Callamity! It is a disgrrace! My big moment… llost! Therre I was, apprrroaching the podium, about to give the finest speech of my carreerr to the Generrall Assemblly of the United Oceans, when, suddenlly, therre was a ghastlly grreat thunderring and whirrlling and - pchow! - I was taken up, vaccumed up, into the fllickerring llight of the sky, in some drreadfull wave-eating hurrricane! Hrrr, the hideousness of it alll!

"Airrborrne, I rrode thrrough the night, an imprrisoned passengerr, on massive turrning, twirrlling wheells of waterr, alll the time wailling, crrying out in utterr despairr, because my grreatest moment was so crruellly stollen frrom me! And finallly, to add insullt to injurry - and it was a terrriblle, woefull injurry - I am uncerremoniouslly drropped herre. That miserrablle gust of wind did not even have the decency to deposit me somewherre civillized! Even a smalll, forrgettablle, minorr, llandllocked sea woulld have been somewherre. But this pllace! It's awfull. Reallly! Llook at it!"

Somehow that peculiar voice is what you'd expect a talking fish to sound like. It's appropriately… y'know… fishy. But it's certainly strange seeing its narrow little mouth opening, and hearing the words come out. Especially in such hysterical monologue.

I say "Hi," waving down at my visitor. I'll be friendly.

"Hrrr," says the fish, and now it seems to be brooding sullenly.

Should I retreat to the vague kind of shelter I had a minute ago?
But now the fish is talking again. "Alllow me to intrrroduce mysellf, sirr. I am the Ministerr of the Waves in the Westerrn Ocean."

I introduce myself, and all the time, I know how strange this is. I never knew there was such things in the world as talking fish. Or talking fish Ministers. Or the General Assembly of the United Oceans.

"I, er, didn't know the Oceans had an, er, underwater Government," I say, to make conversation.

"What! Don't you know anything about pollitics? Orr geogrraphy? I suppose the Seas and the Oceans arre merre havens of anarrchy! I suppose the underrwaterr worrlld is willd unrrully chaos with no sociall strructurre! Of courrse therre is a Goverrnment! The most imporrtant goverrning body on this pllanet! Therre is morre waterr than lland, you ignorramus! Anyone with genuine, deep, drrowning polliticall ambition wants to operrate within the pllankton-thick hallls and the corrall-llined corrridorrs of the Generrall Assemblly! And that's wherre I shoulld be rright now! It's so unfairr, how I've come to this pitifull rruin! Callamity!"

Having "drrowning ambition" must be a bit like having 'burning ambition' here on land. I was clever in school, I can work these things out. They said I had brains, then, y'know.

But he - I think it's a he - is off again. He's "llamenting" his "lloss of prrestige." The minutes go by. The rain soaks me to the skin. My woolly hat makes me wetter with it on than with it off, as it's now just a repository of water.

Now the Minister of the Waves seems to have gone quiet. He maintains his position in the gutter below me, despite the rapid waterflow. I kneel down on the pavement. Why not? I can't get any wetter. And I'm in the habit of kneeling. I stare into his eye and he stares back. Can he see that I too am lost?

"Allrright, what's yourr storry then?" he asks.

I breathe deeply, closing my eyes. How should I tell my story? I'll be articulate. I shouldn't disregard my ability to speak, and clearly, although people who talk to me on the street, they act like they can't work out what I'm saying. But I know I speak clearly. Unless my throat is sore. Yeah, my throat is sore, from being out in the cold.

I'll tell this Minister of the Waves exactly how it happened. But I have to watch out for trouble. Trouble from my head. I'll have to try to avoid it, if I can catch myself in time.

Now I open my eyes, and begin to orate.

"I was shambling along, yesterday, just looking at my feet - "

"Feet, ha!" says the Minister of the Waves, with a mocking, squelchy laugh.

"Don't be like that!" I snap. "There's nothing wrong with having feet."

"Hrrr. Okay, sorrry, Misterr I've-neverr-hearrd-of-the-United-Oceans."

Evidently, all of us land creatures are footed abominations, and ignorant barbarians, to him.

I accept his quarter-hearted apology and I continue my tale.


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