Each of the small fish bowls had a handful of gravel and ten colored pebbles. Ten packets of goldfish food lay neatly arranged next to the bowls.
‘That big one in mine’ squealed Peggy pointing at the biggest fish out of the lot.
‘I call that one’, Baljeet screamed, pointing to the next biggest one.
‘No that one is mine’, Rishi shouted over the din.
‘But it is your birthday’, Baljeet protested ‘ Birthday boys don’t get goody bags – they get all the gifts’
It was our son Rishi’s birthday party. Anita stood beside the excited children with an amused smile on her face. ‘Goody bags with candies and board games are so boring’, she had said yesterday evening as we scanned the toys aisle in Wal*Mart. Her eyes had lit up as she saw the small pet store just across the road from the mall. ‘How about we gift the kids goldfish?’ , she had suggested excitedly.
The gold fish “goody bags” had been the center of attraction in the party. They were more popular than the pool or even the Pokémon cake. Anita and I had to take turns to send the small, wet partygoers out of the dining room where the fishbowls lay neatly arranged on the dining table, back into the backyard swimming pool.
Finally it was time to go home with the new pets. The kids had not only managed to agreeably allocate the goldfishes among themselves , but each of them had a name as well. Rishi provided a small demonstration on how to feed the fish and cleanup the bowl and the guests were on their way, carefully holding their fish tanks even as they were strapped to their car seats.
‘I am glad that you guys did not pick up pups for party favor’, Rohit joked as his wife tried to convince their seven year old daughter Kavita to hand over her new pet - Maya. ‘Just for the car ride darling – you will spill the water and hurt Maya’
‘The kids surely liked their goody bags’, I joked as Anita and I sat in the backyard after the partygoers had left.
Rishi had also managed to get a goody bag for himself and was apparently more interested in Mr. Anderson, his new pet, than any of his birthday gifts.
‘Mr. Anderson is dead’, Rishi’s voice rang across the hallway. It was six am in the morning and I had to literally force myself to open my eyes. A teary Rishi stood next to the bed looking at me.’ The goldfish is dead’, he sobbed. Both Anita and I were still a bit disoriented, probably due to the physical exertion of yesterday’s birthday party.
Anita and I pulled ourselves out of the bed and followed him to his room where the golden fish floated in the fish bowl. The goldfish stirred slightly, as our hearts skipped a beat. It then went quiet and floated lifelessly in the water.
‘Don’t worry, we will get you another one’, I said reflexively, hoping to comfort my sobbing son. Anita looked serious. ‘What happened?’ I asked her.
‘What if other goldfish die as well ?’, she had a scared expression in her face ‘ All of them were from the same aquarium …’, she stared at me blankly. ‘We need to alert others’, she said grabbing the phone and walking down the stairway. ‘ But it is six o clock … on a Sunday morning…’, I protested weakly and followed her.
We called Rohit first and were greeted with the wail of crying Kavita. ‘Maya was dead’ she sobbed into the telephone. It was a goldfish apocalypse. They were dying, left right and center. ‘Don’t worry Sweety, we will get you another one’, Anita tried to comfort Kavita.
In the next two hours, several calls were made to the birthday party invitees. We were relieved that besides one more casualty, all the other goldfishes were alive. We had already Googled for all the different reasons goldfishes could die and had asked the pet owners to take out the colored pebbles and change the water – in case the pebbles had some contamination.
‘ Hey sorry for the trouble’ , I giggled sheepishly as I gave instructions to a half sleepy Rohit. ‘Dude , I am going to gift you folks a kitten AND a puppy as a party favor in Kavita’s next birthday’ , Rohit said yawning loudly as I narrated the instructions on how to take out the colored pebbles and change the water in the fish tank once we got them a replacement pet.
We were glad that the pet store opened on Sundays.We reached the store a little before 10 AM, when it was supposed to open. The owner was surprised to see the waiting customers as she opened the store. ‘It happens sometimes’, she tied to explain. ‘Goldfishes are sensitive to the quality of water – that is why we recommend proper aquariums for them – I can give you some recommendations….’ She continued as Anita jotted down notes. We were out of the store armed with three replacement goldfishes and a small aquarium for Rishi.
We drove to the two houses which had suffered the loss of their newly acquired pets and nervously offered the replacement pets much to the delight of the mourning pet owners. ‘You may consider buying this small aquarium. This store sells water filters cheaper than any other place in Massachusetts …’, Anita summarized her notes for the parents.
‘Well, I am happy that it is over … finally .., Anita yawned as we drove back towards home. Rishi was busy tapping the plastic water filled bag that held the replacement Mr. Anderson.
‘I will call all the others and tell them to get a proper aquarium …’ she said almost dozing off.
We were wrapping up our dinner when the phone rang. Usually we don’t pick up calls during dinner, but today was different. It could be another goldfish emergency. The caller ID showed that it was Rohit. I lifted the phone with trembling hands and put the call on the speaker phone.
It was Kavita. She was crying. My worst fears had come alive. I could almost imagine Rohit standing on our driveway with six pups and six kittens, ‘ I got them specially for you from the shelter …’, I could imagine him saying with a mischievous grin, almost in slow motion ‘ have fun dude !’
‘Raj Uncle, I have a bad news’, Kavita sobbed, ‘Maya got stuck in the filter pump of the new aquarium ... she is dead again…’, her voice boomed loudly across the kitchen into the dining room.
‘There is a reason why the birthday goody bags have board games and candies’, I thought silently as I looked at Anita.
'I have to call the pet store ! ', to my horror, Anita was up on her feet dialing her cell phone!