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The Fish Shop – Ben Ali Brown '25

The man had sun bruised skin due to a childhood outside in the Dominican, and a career as a fisherman in the Caribbean. He had been a fisherman before a waiter, and it almost felt like a past life now. The fish, however, linked both lives, for fish had always been part of his life. He never had a wife, and therefore was never a father. So he treated this restaurant like a son. The waiter scratched his back, feeling the crevices and scars. His back was molded by the wounds of his childhood. His family had escaped Haiti when he was young, and they worked on a sugar plantation in the Dominican. They were treated very poorly by the Dominican, and fell into the system of sharecropping. He was beaten in the back by the managers for whining. He had saved as many pesos as he could everyday as a child. When he was fourteen, he saved enough to leave. He got a job as a fisherman in Belize. After three decades of fishing, he decided to shift professions. He joined as a waiter at a new fish shop that had just opened. He was now old. He had worked at this fish shop for over four decades.

The rain fell heavy on the copper tin roof of the fish shop. The bodega on the corner was packed with fishermen and factory workers, the main jobs in the shanty harbor town. It was late now and the men had migrated from the fish shop to the bodega on the corner. Still he, the fish shop's eldest waiter, remained inside. He had closed the shop an hour ago when the dinner rush had ended. Suddenly the bell rang, someone entered. Hola, mi amigo a drunk man slurred. The waiter glaced at the man, then back at the fish. He stayed quiet. Mi amigo, quiero un pescado the drunk asked. The waiter still didn’t respond, he wasn’t giving this man anything. This man is trouble, he thought. He had suffered too much, bled too much, sacrificed too much to risk anything to this fish shop. It was all he had to show for his scars. It was the only proof that he had healed.

¡Puedes escucharme! He said now. The waiter could hear him, but he learned to ignore people and they would eventually leave. The drunk man pulled out a pocket knife, and glanced at it for a second, considering his options. He observed the waiter’s white shirt, so absorbed with sweat from the summer humidity that it pressed and showed every crevice in his back. ¿Qué tienes en la espalda? He asked. This surprised the waiter. He felt conscious of his scars now. He could sense the pity the drunk felt, so the waiter answered cicatrices.

The drunk looked at the modest fish shop now, and then back at the man. The waiter's face was dark and wrinkled, and his eyes showed fear for his fish shop. Lo siento he said. He put his pocket knife away and left. The waiter cried. He was saddened by how relieved he was that the shop was protected. He realized it was all he had. Because of the wounds he endured in his life, he had cicatrices. But instead of reminding him that he had healed, the scars only reminded him of his trauma. He cared so deeply for the fish shop. He had never healed from his past, but the fish shop helped him grow. His scars gave no proof of happiness or of healing. But the fish shop, he smiled when he thought of the fish shop. He continued to cry through the night, and eventually stumbled his way out the shop's doors early into the morning. He crawled into his bed and stared at the ceiling. He would sleep as the sun rose then wake for the fish shop. He tried to forget the tears he had cried the prior night. He knew he hadn’t healed, but he also knew he had grown. Besides, he thought, it was probably dementia.

Art by Matthew Bian '23


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