americans, mudcrabs and blessed endings.
March 17th, 1997.
Bhazow read his watch. He had three hours to buy enough seafood to feed the family today, all seven of them, and have it back to the house before dusk. So with a heavy air he got out of the car and followed his two grandsons into the slow moving pedestrian murk of the fish market’s main hall.
He found the boys on higher ground, both listening intently to a pleasant rendition of an unfamiliar tune being sung by a youth with a ukelele. The eldest grandson, Joel, solemnly reached into his pocket and withdrew a small copper size 3.0 longshaft fish hook which he deposited it into the busker’s upturned cap.
Commendable act thought Bhazow, watching from the near distance.
The youngest boy, Tobias, registered the same inclination and without hesitation reached into the same cap and removed his cousin’s offering. He then placed the misappropriated hook into the small tackle bag he was carrying on his waist.
The busker, a champion to his craft, cracked a wintry smile and winked at Bhazow, who slowly followed his grandson’s path into the deeper recesses of the market, where ..
The large white plastic tub that protruded from the doorway of D’Angiles Fish Co-Op had created a small bottleneck amongst the shopping and tourist traffic and Joel, whilst passing by, was just able to peer inside and ascertain to his youthful disgust that it contained in excess of twenty large bound mudcrabs. Live mucrabs. Every slow struggle against their bonds an anathema to him, an outrage.
He consulted his cousin Toby who presently withdrew a small rusted and trusted penknife from his tackle bag, then both boys bent over the tub of mudcrabs with sober intent. Unusual in ones so young.
A moment here they laboured.
Bhazow looked on with a stoic equanimity, surprised that only he appeared aware of the misdemeanour in progress – especially given that a large crowd of Americans has congregated about the same shop entrance. At last one of them, a stout woman wearing vivid colours, appeared to remonstrate with Joel – who spared her not a glance until her noisy persistence convinced him to withdraw his hand and his penknife and go away. Wragged urchin!
Bhazow was about to resume his remote shepherding when he noticed a very large brown nipper arise and grasp the topmost edge of the crabtub. The Americans were standing close about but were unsighted. Tobias and Joel though had halted some little distance away, as they too were watching the only mudcrab that Joel had managed to cut loose its bonds traverse the chasm between the edge of the tub containing his brothers, and the commodious mouth of the Louis Vuitton bag being carried by the stout American woman.
Wherein it slowly disappeared. As crabs do, and where within it wetly rested. Deep amongst her money and knick-knacks. Her perfume and powders.
Much to the uproarious amusement of the two boys who turned about and sprinted out of the building and towards the wharves, sounding like kookaburras.
Later, and when he was able to win five minutes of his grandson’s attention, Bhazow suggested that they choose a suitable place on the wharf and drop a line. Then he took leave of them to attend to the shopping list. This was the original plan.
Sometime later the old man returned to the wharf, now crowded with fishermen and tourists. The boys had deserted their station.
The sound of polite clapping drew him to a boat landing where Bhazow saw that a weighing-in was in progress for the participants of a fishing competition. A long queue of excited individuals, all carrying their fish, awaited their turn at the scales.
In their midst stood Tobias and Joel. In their hands one small yellowtail. In their eyes an extinguishable exuberance .
The gentleman immediately to their front was trembling under the weight of a large jewfish that he had rested on his shoulder, whilst two young women directly behind the boys were holding – at arms length – the ugliest flathead Bhazow had seen since he was a boy fishing in the Mallacoota.
The inquisitive tourists, including the American party, had elbowed their way into the queue and were taking photos of the participants while trying to understand the language being spoken all around them. Bhazow glimpsed the stout lady with the LV bag photographing a broad-shouldered Greek nursing an immature and fatally wounded Blue Groper.
Behind her stood a tall and all but naked Fijian colossus shouldering a large, and dead, Grey Nurse shark.
She turned to her bag and began to rummage into it – no doubt looking for another canister of film.
Tobias gave his end of the yellowtail a proprietary yank and the slippery little fish flipped out of both their grasps and fell onto the scarred planks – close by the stout one’s feet.
The Weighing In Official called for a strong hose to clean away the accumulated waste matter from the base of the scales and the crew of a large open-decked trawler moored there prepared to get under way.
– and the large Grey Nurse shark suffered a severe nerve contraction that very slowly lifted it’s black and sightless eyes until they were level with the back of the stout American’s tightly coiffured head – the mouth an ever widening rictus of dagger shaped and bloodied teeth.
Bhazow, forever the watcher, now and at last witnessed the rare and fragrant disposition of he who commands us all ..
– as Tobias darted around the back of the American woman to retrieve his yellowtail,
– as the woman made the inevitable acquaintance of the mudcrab in her handbag,
– as she wheeled around in horror to almost embrace the leering visage of the dead shark,
and tripped over the small boy crouched by her feet.
– As she grasped the colossus to break her fall,
– as he then lost his balance and released the Grey Nurse,
– as the Official’s hose squirted into writhing life,
and swept her and the shark into the stern sheets of the departing trawler.