Sophia found herself walking through a glass tunnel. She felt as if she were at the bottom of the sea, breathing and seeing with no difficulties. A blacktip shark and a school of yellowtail surgeonfish passed over her head. The fish didn’t seem to be a bother to each other; they just swam peacefully side by side. Sophia followed them with her eyes as they disappeared in the blue water. She continued walking along the path, stopping from time to time to check the other sea creatures.
As far as Sophia could remember, she had always felt a special fascination for the ocean and everything that lives in it. She could spend whole afternoons watching clown fish, sharks, sting rays, turtles, corals and other aquatic animals. Being surrounded by them made her feel as if she had been transported to another world. A world that was closer to her than the one outside. It reminded her who she was, and the childhood she once had.
Her family owned a Bed and Breakfast in Kenting at that time. The inn kept Sophia’s parents busy throughout the year. Her father spent most of his time buying things for the inn, remodeling it once in a while, and giving surfing lessons. Her mom received guests, cooked for them, and cleaned the rooms. Though their work consumed most of their time, Sophia’s parents still took her to the beach every weekend, where she would spend whole days swimming under the sun, searching for little fish under rocks, fishing in her father’s boat, and enjoying other things that the Pacific Ocean provided. Unfortunately, her life in the sea came to an end when she reached sixteen. Fish companies started to build their factories in the area, and tourists become fewer and fewer. Finally, her father decided to sell the inn and move to Tainan, where he had found a job in a company that exported fish products to mainland China. Sophia’s life in the city had begun.
Sophia reached a winding staircase that surrounded a cylindrical water tank. She stared at it for a moment, and began to ascend. As she was walking up the steps, she realized that the tank contained thousands of jellyfish. A light on the top of the tank changed from time to time making the jellyfish change their colors along with it. They looked like fluorescent mushrooms dancing in a blue canvas. Sophia loved watching them. Their movements were so beautiful, yet so simple. But the thing she liked best about them was their transparent skin, and how it seemed to merge with the sea water. She stared at them for a bit longer, then continued walking upstairs.
She found herself in a room that had a large water tank. In front of it, were two rows of seats. The only person sitting there was a boy. Not many people had come to the aquarium today. Sophia sat two seats from him, dropped off her school bag, and fixed her eyes on the tank, wondering what kind of sea creature would appear. After a moment, a shark whale showed up. A dotted giant fish of 12 meters. She stared at it, hypnotized, as the shark whale slowly swam from one side of the tank to the other.
“Isn’t curious?” the boy suddenly said, without taking his eyes off tank. “This is the largest fish in the ocean, and at the same time, one of the most gentle and harmless animals on earth.”
Sophia looked at him for a moment, and turned her eyes back to the tank. She was unimpressed by the boy’s attempt to display knowledge of marine fauna. They remained silent for a while, staring into the glass window.
The boy cleared is throat. “You came alone?”
Sophia glanced at him. “Coming to aquariums is something very personal to me.”
“Personal?” the boy said, giving it a thought. “I thought aquariums were meant to be visited by people who want to share a good time with others.”
“Well, I visit them to experience something that I can only experience alone,” Sophia said, with a little smile.
“That sounds a bit lonely,” the boy said.
“I never feel lonely in aquariums.”
The boy looked at her. “Why is that?”
“I don’t know,” Sophia replied. “Maybe I see the sea as being part of myself, and at the same time, I see myself as being part of the sea.”
“Very profound,” he said, a bit sarcastic. “Like the ocean.”
The shark whale was nowhere to be seen. Some blustripe snappers were passing by, accompanied by a sting ray.
“How about you? You came with your girlfriend?” Sophia asked the boy, pointing to the Gucci handbag next him.
“Oh, no,” he said, glancing at the bag. “It’s just someone I’m dating.”
A moment of silence passed.
“You know, it’s been nice talking to you,” the boy said, “Do you want to exchange phone numbers? Maybe we could visit other marine exhibits some day.”
Sophia narrowed her eyes at him. “Do you always pick up girls in aquariums?”
“Not very often,” he replied.
“No, thanks,” Sophia said, looking at the ceiling. “As I told you, I’m not fond of visiting aquariums accompanied by people. And I don’ want to make your date feel jealous.”
The boy let out a sigh, as if saying “Oh well, at least I tried.”
Sophia stood up and stretched her arms. “Well, nice to talk to you. Bye.”
“Bye,” the boy said with guilty smile.
Sophia grabbed her bag, and headed towards an entrance in the corner of the room. She walked in, and found herself inside a dark corridor, with a huge water tank at the back. A blue light was coming from it, partially illuminating the walking path. She couldn’t tell if it was due to the reflection of the water or an aquarium light. As Sophia walked towards the tank, she noticed that there was something floating in the middle it. At first she thought it was a baby Beluga whale that had gotten lost from its mother. But after examining it carefully, she realized that it was baby girl. She was naked and curled in fetal position. Sophia wanted to scream for help but her vocal cords, as well as the rest of her body, were paralyzed. She felt as if time had momentarily frozen, like a river in a harsh cold winter. The baby opened her eyes after a moment, and stared fixedly at Sophia.
They were dark and deep, like small black holes. Sophia felt as if they were looking directly into her soul. The very core of her existence. She was terrified, but for some reason, she found something familiar in those eyes. It was then that the thought struck her: the baby was herself. She was staring at an image of herself, or to put it better, an image that once was herself. Before Sophia had the chance to have any further thought, the shark whale she had seen before appeared from on side of the water tank. It passed in front of her, swimming with the speed of a torpedo, swallowed the baby, and disappeared at the other side of the tank. Sophia watched the whole episode breathlessly, with her lips slightly parted. A deep emptiness and anguish surrounded her. She felt as if something inside her had been pulled out. Something that she would never be able to get back again. She realized at that moment something that she had known all along; the sea no longer belonged to her. What she once called home, was now a distant world. A world that was far away from her reach. She was no longer part of the sea, and the sea was no longer part of her.
“We are almost there,” little Sophia said to her father, holding his hand and making her way across the rocks.
“So it’s a new specie of fish?” Sophia’s father asked. His voice was deep, but gentle.
“I think it’s not a fish,” she replied. “It’s something that no one had never seen before.”
“I can’t wait to see it,” he father said, smiling.
Sophia then stopped, as if something had just pop up in her mind. She turned slowly to the sea, and gazed at it. Her eyes were fixed in the giants waves at the distance.
Sophia’s father also stopped, and stared at the sea. He wanted to ask Sophia what the problem was but he was entranced by the beauty of the scenery.
“Dad?” Sophia finally asked. “Will the ocean dry up someday?”
Her father laughed. “Why do you worry about that Sophia?”
“Sometimes I have this dream where the ocean dries up.”
“Where the ocean dries up?” Her father turned to her.
Sophia nodded. “Sometimes I’m even scared of sleeping, because I’m afraid that when I wake up, the sea will no longer be there.”
Her father turned his eyes back to the sea, and placed his hand on Sophia’s little head. Sophia was still staring at the waves.
“You don’t have to worry Sophia,” her father said. “The sea will always be there, waiting for you to visit it.”