By Swagato Chakraborty
I knew about Mr. Roy’s obsession, ever since that day on the beach. We were out to attend a meeting, and at the end of the day we decided to unwind at the beach. In the dying light of the day when the horizons of sky and the land unite in the distance, I saw Mr. Roy suddenly rushing into the sea. He lowered himself in the water and stopped for a moment, before thrusting his hands in it. After a second or two, he pulled out his hand holding a fish.
The whole thing happened so swiftly that it left me flabbergasted.
“Mr. Roy,” I said. “What are you doing?!”
He looked at me with a riant smile on his face and said “Look!”
I looked at the fish. It was wriggling in his hands, struggling, grasping for breath.
“What about it?”
Mr. Roy pointed me to stop. He ran his finger along the spine of the fish. Then, not giving me any time to prepare, started to dig out the flesh with his bare hands. I saw the fish wriggle out once and then fall limp, but it did not stop Roy. Soon, he had finished his work and triumphantly held the fish bone in front of me.
“What is going on?” I asked, bewildered.
“Well,” he explained demurely, tucking the bone in his pocket. “This is my hobby.”
On the train back the same day, I came to know more about Mr Roy’s ‘hobby’. It seems some time ago, at lunch, he had been served a preparation of hilsa fish. While savouring it, a bone stuck in his throat. Rather than trying to get it out or be frustrated, Mr Roy was enamoured of the situation. Since then, he had started collecting fish bones.
“So, you are interested in ichthyology?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “This is just a hobby.”
However, by the way in which he described the incident, it seemed to me more like an obsession than a hobby.
Some days passed and I forgot all about the incident. One evening, while preparing to leave work for the day, Mr. Roy asked if he could walk with me to the station. He wanted to head to the general store, and it was on the way. I agreed.
It had begun to drizzle by the time we were on the street.
“What do you make of the weather?” I asked looking above.
“Fine!” He said, “Good for fishes.”
“Yeah, I too like –” He did not let me finish. Mr. Roy ran to the nearby bin. A cat was trying to look inside but Roy gave such a squeal, that the feline ran for its life. Roy put his head inside the bin and then stretching his hand inside, retrieved a fish bone.
“A pomfret bone,” he said. “The cat was about to run away with it.”
“Mr. Roy what–”
“I am sorry,” he declared, “I need to store the bone safely in my home now.” And he left me dumbfounded on the street.
A month later on a busy day at work, a parcel bearing the name of Mr. Roy arrived in the office. It was a large box and piqued the interest of more than one of us colleagues. We kept guessing what could it possibly contain – books, computer parts, perhaps a new juicer-mixer? When Roy arrived, we surrounded him with questions about the parcel.
Pleased, Mr. Roy gathered us around his table and unsealed the box with a paper-cutter.
Immediately, a putrid smell engulfed the room.
Inside the box, wrapped in a plastic bag, were dead fish. A few of them were in skeletal form, but most of them were in a state of rot.
Mr. Roy seemed happy and remarked “Just as I wanted them.”
Mr. Roy’s obsession with fish bones had another aspect. When one day he called in sick, I was given the task to deliver some important files to him.
Roy thanked me for my help and invited me in.
“You know,” he said. “I am not sick…it is just an excuse.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed, intrigued. “Do tell what the real reason is.”
He told me to wait and retreated into his kitchen. It was then that I got a chance to look properly at the walls. On each wall, in a series, were framed fish bones of all shapes and sizes.
“Hey!” Mr. Roy called me from behind “I see you have discovered my collection.”
“What is all this?” I asked.
“Well,” He said demurely “Just my hobby. Anyways, here is why I called in sick.”
He placed a large tray on the table. In it was a large, half skeletal fish. Beside it were several tools – scalpel, forceps, knife, a fork, and a small motor drill. Then, with great enthusiasm, Mr. Roy explained to me why he needed them. Apparently, just any fish bone was not sufficient for him. He needed to replicate the same bone that stuck in his throat on that fateful afternoon. Equipped with these tools, he first retrieved and then shaped the fish skeleton, to make it into a skeleton of the fish that held his desired bone. Any fish bones that failed to achieve this form would be thrown out without consideration. “They are vile and useless,” he explained.
“I have a lot of dealers,” he said. “Who give me a steady supply of fish-bones.”
“Why do it at all?” I asked.
He fell silent for a moment and then said “I don’t know. Perhaps because that primal bone was the best of all.”
“That bone” He whispered “Was superior bone. All others are inferior.”
How can there be a ‘superior’ and an ‘inferior’ fish bone I could not figure out. I did not know what he meant and neither did I wanted to know.
Shortly after this bewildering visit, Roy left town to attend a meeting. It was on a hot afternoon that we received the word that Mr. Roy was dead. Apparently, he had died from choking.
The official report was that they found him dead in his hotel room. He had swallowed a fish bone, which the authorities thought was intentional, given that no trace of any other fish or food material was found in the room. In his belongings was found some medical equipment – scalpel, forceps, knife – strange things to be discovered in an office worker’s suitcase.
Mr. Roy had found his perfect fish bone. The same ‘superior’ fish bone from the afternoon. However, it cost him his life, much like all those fish. At the end, Mr. Roy, the fishes, and the ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ fish bones, were all equated the as same at the sunset of their lives.
Swagato Chakraborty is an undergraduate student from Kolkata, India. He is currently pursuing a BA degree in English Literature and has had a nag for writing since childhood. His work has been published in Aphelion Webzine.
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