Wet Market Freedom
Elizabeth Hunt, Grade 9
A pane of foggy glass barricades me from the world, from freedom. It herds myself and ten or so others into a small four by four prison. A half-soaked thin square of neon yellow paper taped hastily to the translucent walls prices us at 70 yuan each. Scaly bodies twist and shove their way around as we search desperately for our own space to swim, to breathe, to ask the same old question; where am I?
The bustling commotion forces me to the edge and my monocular eyes jerk in alarm when I finally spy the occupants of the tank neighbouring us. The brownish hued shell and twitching antennae could belong to no other. Five lobsters, recognised as fearless predators of the sea, had been rendered immobile by blood red string bindings.
One spots me staring and its beady eyes snap to mine. A spasm of an antennule doesn’t suggest what it usually would - that being the lobster had found its next meal - but instead reveals a plead for help. It begs me for rescue, as if I, with four measly fins and dorsal, can save it. Self-reflections of worthlessness are cut short by a plunging hand reaching into the shallow waters and quickly plucking up the lobster.
Through the scratched glass I glimpse the crustacean being manhandled onto a chopping board, guts and flesh burdening the corners from previous massacres. A glinting knife is raised, poised over the lobster like a sea serpent waiting to strike. It only takes a second, for the blade to be brought down against thick skin, for it to slice so easily through a once thought impenetrable barrier. It only takes a single second for a life to be lost, stolen, and nobody bats an eye. I need to get out of here.
The urgency overtakes me, and I swim to the front with newfound prowess. If I can get past the glass, I can get to freedom. But a pudgy finger unmistakably pointing at me freezes me in my tracks. The foreign conversations above are distorted by the water, but I don’t need to hear them to get the picture. I’ve been chosen, I’m up next on the execution board.
I dodge quickly to the side as a gloved hand dives into the depth, searching for its next victim. The hand jerks in surprise, and I use the momentum from the sloshing water to swim up, evading another hand, and breach the surface. I don’t stop, kicking my caudal fin to propel me out of the tank and onto the dirty cement below.
I watch in content as people stare down at me in shock, mouths forming an ‘O’ shape. My gills begin flapping for oxygen, vision starting to fade in and out. This was not the endless blue oceans I was used to, not the sparkly pristine water of faraway tropical lands. But I was out of that crowded tank and I considered that enough. This was freedom.