I spent my school holidays helping Ye Ye with his ornamental fish business. Ye Ye had promised to pay me. I looked forward in spending the money on stuff.

Yet, the first day I stepped into his shop, he tasked me with the gigantic task of feeding the fish and assorted live aquatic animals. It was not just one big tank. It was many many tanks. And Ye Ye was very specific when it came to the feed. It must be from that particular bag of feed – tiny brown granules. It must be a handful. I rolled my eyes. 

So, I started with the small ornamentals. The goldfish, the tiny yellow ones that darted about in a tight school, the neon ones that changed their colors with their moods. As expected, they swarmed over the feed like hungry...fish. 

Then it was the large ornamentals. The big koi, with the prize gold sheen. Larger goldfish that looked at me intelligently. 

By the time I reached the exotics, I was tired and whiny. Ye Ye just shrugged and carried on negotiating a shipment with some overseas trader on his cell phone.

I stepped into a room that sounded like bubbles. Most of the rooms with the tanks sounded like bubbles and smelled like stale water. But this one sounded exactly like the sea, when I went diving with Ris and Gia. 

The tanks looked like normal tanks. The fish inside looked normal. They still swarmed over the feed. 

When I scooped up one handful of feed, hating the fishy smell, I saw her rushing through the wavy seaweed, bubbles trailing next to her mouth.

It was... a mermaid. Not human-sized. Like my old Barbie dolls now kept in plastic boxes, but alive, with long translucent tails and longer hair that looked more like blue-green seaweed. The seaweed hid her breasts. Does she even have breasts? Her eyes were bright, like fish eyes, only lighter and more intense. I thought she was mad. I automatically scattered the feed into the tank. Falling back to something familiar worked. My mind went blank. Mermaids. In front of me. 

The moment the feed hit the water, two more mermaids emerged and fought over the feed with sharp teeth. They also pulled each other’s hair as they battled to get most of the food. It looked really creepy and surreal with all their hissing and screaming.

I fed the rest of the exotics and ran the heck out of the room. Ye Ye paid me. I didn’t say anything. 

The next school holidays I worked at the nearby cafe instead.