Children Non-Fiction posted May 12, 2021

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Lessons of Life

Lessons From Stolen Fishes

by Kitbok Nongkhlaw

Short story writing Contest Winner 

My father was a schoolteacher in an isolated village. Classes only occurred in the mornings, as the students worked later in the day. As my father's salary was meager, the village allotted him a piece of land on the outskirts of the village that he converted into a small farm. After school, he used to work on this farm to augment his income to support and feed his family.

Every winter holidays, I used to go with my father to help him on this farm. As the village is very remote, we lived a life of freedom and adventure. We lived a life completely in tune with nature. There were many wonderful stories about our stay in this village, and this is another one.

My father used to wake up very early in the morning. He used to go and worked on his farm very early, as it was difficult to work during the daytime because of the humidity and heat.

This morning also he woke up early before the sun rose. We prayed together an early morning prayer, had our light breakfast with tea, and then my father left to his field while I was told to do the cooking and other household chores.

Our hut was on top of one small hill surrounded by beautiful scenery. Downwards from our hut, there is a small river we used to swim, wash our clothes, and fish.

After my father left the house, I cooked, then clean the house and its surrounding areas. When I finished everything, the sun has risen above the hills to the east of the village. I felt hungry, but I had to wait until my father came back from his work.

Being tired of sitting alone in the hut, I went to where my father was working on the field. I took the machete along with me. Father had taught us it is always safe to walk in the jungles in the village with something in your hands to defend yourself. You never know what animals or snakes you might encounter on the way.

While I was about to cross the river, I saw a small dam upstream that somebody had made. As a young boy, I was curious to know why somebody would make a small dam with twigs, boulders, and leaves. That somebody had made this temporary dam in the shape of a large V.

On careful examination of this temporary dam, I saw a local traditional fish trap made of bamboo and put it carefully at the lower tip of the V shape dam. The fish trap was exquisite, made with great craftsmanship. In addition, the most wonderful thing was that inside the fish trap were about ten or twelve fishes, each about six to seven inches long. These fish were trying to free themselves from the fish trap. They were exquisite to look at.

At that moment, it mesmerized me with these beautiful fishes. Looking at the fishes moving and trying to free themselves from the fish trap was beyond description. Without thinking and hesitation, with the machete, I pried the twigs to take out the fish trap, took away six fishes, and put them in the bag I was carrying with me. Then, I put back the fish trap along with the remaining fishes in the same place exactly as it was before. I did this so that the owner of the fish trap would not know the difference.

With the fishes in my bag, I went to the field where my father was working. With pride, I showed my father the fishes I got from the river. I was proud to have so many fishes.

"Father, look, I got so many fishes."

"From where did you get them, son?"

"From the river, father," I answered, but from the face of my father, I knew he was unhappy about it.

"Look here, son, those fishes are not yours." Father had seen the temporary dam and the fish trap. "You should not take those fishes as they are not yours."

However, for me, in my boyish adventure and without thinking, as the fishes were in the river, I took them. My father, in his wisdom and understanding, admonished me and told me that the person who put the fish trap had worked hard to make the temporary dam and the fish trap. You should never take what was not yours. If you take a small thing that was not yours, you will graduate to take bigger things.

In my foolishness, I told my father that the fishes�?� were small and nobody saw it.

However, my father told me that big or small, and they were not yours. Then, even if no one saw, God sees everything. In addition, the most important thing was that you yourself knew the fishes were not yours.

After my father had admonished me, he left his work and told me to accompany him back to the river. Once there, he told me to put back the fishes inside the fish trap. I looked with envy at the fishes, but I had to do what my father told me. From there, we went back to our hut for lunch.

While eating our lunch, we had dried fish with rice. Father looked at me and understood that I missed the fishes that we put back in the fish trap. As usual, we took the afternoon siesta and nap.

In the afternoon, my father sensed my disappointment, he took the bneij (a local traditional fishing net attached to a pole) and took me to the river. We went downstream from where the temporary-fishing trap was. There he taught me how to catch fishes, which place there were more fishes and how to use the bneij. There father and son thoroughly enjoyed the evening. This was an extremely wonderful day for me.

Before sunset, after we had caught enough fishes, we returned to our hut we call our home. That evening, my�?� father taught me how to clean and roast the bigger fishes so that we can use them in the next few days.

Then, he taught me how to make fish chutney from smaller fishes. We mixed the leftover fresh fishes with onion, ginger, pepper, turmeric, and salt in the banana leaves. Then, we folded the banana leaves and put it inside the traditional clay oven we had burned with firewood earlier. Father knew exactly when to take out the mixture.

The dinner we had that night was tastier than any food I have ever tasted. However, what was more important to me than the food we ate were the many lessons I learned that day.

First, like those fishes, and the fish traps of this world trap many of us. Somebody put the trap in the rivers of life we were swimming. Once caught in the trap, it was difficult to free oneself.

Second, never take that, which was not yours. If you take them, return them.

Third, my father knew exactly how I felt. He did not leave me just like that with my disappointment, but he took the time to make me happy, have joy, and be more experienced in life. The bond that we had as father and son was very important to me.

And fourth, I have been fortunate to get the opportunities to have eaten in some of the best restaurants in and outside the country, but the food we had that night was the best. The atmosphere of a kerosene lamp-lit dinner in a small hut, clean water and environment, fresh fishes, and the love, joy, and happiness to be with my Father.

Short story writing
Contest Winner

These might be small lessons to some, but to me, I learned huge lessons that day. I was probably ten years old but the memory is still fresh in my mind. That is why I call them, Lessons of Life.
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