This evening, as part of the compensation for the mild inconvenience of being in the wrong room for the first night, we were offered a complimentary seat on the boat going sunset fishing. This is not something we would have chosen to do - I haven't been fishing in my adult life (aside from trying to catch fish in my hand in Grenada four years ago - though in that case the one I finally managed to grab was immediately released) . I thought it might be fun to take a boat trip at sunset and assumed that we might be able to drink a couple of beers and not have to get involved. And even if we did I will now eat fish (after being vegetarian throughout my twenties) and maybe it was hypocritical to consume animals without being prepared to actively kill them. At least the fish had a sporting chance.
And I was quite pleased to be getting something for free that should have cost us a hundred US dollars!
We were taken out to sea on a traditional Maldivian boat (supposedly - it had an outboard motor so I am not sure how traditional it was) and the sun was setting behind our island. Fifteen minutes out we stopped and were given reels with a long fishing line and weights and a hook. A large blob of fish was put on the end as bait (it takes a fish to catch a fish?) Seemed a bit weird and cannabalistic. Maybe the fish deserved to die if they would eat their brothers.
My wife was more reluctant to fish then me. She had been brought up by a vegetarian and there are militant animal rights activists in her family and it made her uncomfortable from the start, but she was given a reel like the rest of us and cast it over the side.
I was a bit torn. There was a competitive part of me that would quite liked to have landed a massive fish at this stage, especially when fifteen minutes had passed and no one had caught one, but it also felt a bit strange. As my line dangled deep in the water I could feel another living being nibbling at the bait. It was quite cool to be having this interaction with a creature from another world. It felt like we were communicating with each other via a primitive phone line (and was very like the old tin can and string affairs that kids used to try to talk to each other over, which never really worked). I had made a connection with some unknown creature of the deep, I could feel its movements, we would otherwise never have met. It seemed rather cruel that hidden in this gift that it was so innocently accepting there was a huge hook designed to capture and kill it. Like some kind of hidden camera show dreamt up by a coked up 23 year old producer at channel 4 - the fish thinks your its friend and that you're having a moment together, reconnecting with a family relationship from millions of years gone by, but really you're trying to hook it, kill it and eat it, the stupid fucker! I would have been happier to just have the string and the bait, but no hook. We'd have been communing, making contact and I'd be giving the fish a little fishy treat and then we could both get on with our days (though admittedly my day would probably involve eating another fish that I had no personal contact with).
Finally an excited German man landed a fish. It flopped into the boat, flapping around a little (though its spirit already broken by the fight and the hook in its mouth), it was still alive, drowning in air and just left to flap a bit. I thought maybe someone would hit it over the head to put it out of its misery, but no one did. The German man held it up and his wife took a photo, so the last moments for this creature were pain, confusion, gasping for water and a bright light being flashed in its face. My desire to catch a fish was more or less extinguished and I was glad that every time I brought my line up my bait had been eaten but nothing had been snared.
My wife was more uncomfortable about this than me and rather than get her eaten off bait replaced, she left her line dangling with nothing on the end, already keen to get away and escape this unasked for free gift which was feeling like more of a punishment. We could have been sitting in a bar drinking cocktails, but we were sitting on a boat, now in darkness, starting to feel a bit sick because of the rocking of the boat and the death and the glee, with no beer. The tiredness that we had seemingly avoided last night was now hitting us.
I had given fishing a try, but after an hour I had had enough and was finding it pretty boring. Two of three people had landed a fish now, but I was finding it hard to see where the enjoyment in this all lay. If you didn't catch anything you were just a person dangling a line into the sea for no reason and if you did you had to cope with the guilt of murder.
My wife pulled up her line, deciding to stop "fishing" (even though she hadn't been) hoping we'd soon go ashore, but one of the crew saw her baitless hook and even though she said she was finished he put another bit of fish on the hook and she felt obliged to dangle it over the side. And even though I was still half-heartedly trying to fish (some part of me annoyed that other people had succeeded where I had failed - still conflicted) the fish weren't even using my line as a telephone any more.
Perhaps inevitably my wife let out a little yelp. Something had attached itself to her line. One of the crew rushed over and swiftly pulled up the wire and without wanting to or trying to my wife had caught the biggest fish of the day.She looked horrified and pale and refused my entreaties to have her photo taken with her catch. I held it up instead, though it was really heavy and still flapping around angrily and I thought it would have been justice if it had finally ripped itself off its line and bit me in the face. I tried to joke with my wife, putting on a quiet voice and saying "Why did you kill me? Why?" But she was properly upset at her part in this (even though she hadn't actually done anything and had made this catch in spite of all efforts not to do so), so I quickly stopped and didn't follow up by pretending to be the fish's children saying, "Where did mummy go? I want my mummy."
By now we'd really had enough, either through boredom or guilt, as had the majority of the people on the boat. I was nearly nodding off and a ten year old boy had actually done so. But four or five people were enthusiastically carrying on, including the wife of the German man, who was relentless and annoying. Every five minutes of so she would excitedly scream, "I have a fish, I have a fish" and people would rush over to help her and it would turn out that she didn't have a fish at all. She was the woman who cried "I have a fish", but no one learned the lesson. Another hour had passed and I was exhausted and nauseous and was married to a murderer, but still the German lady fished on, wilfully ignoring those around her, not even thinking about stopping so we could all go back to the island where our food murders were conveniently carried out by others. I started to quietly mock her whispering, "I have a fish, I have a fish" to my wife.
Finally the boat of death turned to go back. I felt it would be justice if it overturned in the waves and the lot of us were eaten by sharks. I didn't feel compensated by this trip. I hadn't actually minded about not having our room for the first night. But now I wanted compensation for the emotional and psychological scars of this evening.
I didn't have fish for dinner. My trip had taught me a lesson. I had chicken. And unless our next compensation is to have to go to a battery farm and wring the necks of birds that have stopped laying eggs then I suspect I will remain happy about that.