I had not planned to write the Romance of a Goldfish. I had not constructed the story line. For a few days, it was only the Romance of Three Kingdoms in my vision.
At first was Zhuge Liang. He was the poorest wise man in Chinese history. Could he shed some light on Chinese culture? He had been cooperating with Liu Bei the King and appeared to be vigorous at first. And later Liu Bei the King died. He had to serve the son of Liu Bei the King. The son of Liu Bei the King was a weak character. He only liked women and enjoyed the services of eunuchs.
And then some other thoughts cropped up in my mind. It was Cao Cao, the famous bad character in the Romance of Three Kingdoms. He was extremely clever, and cunning. However, he failed also. No one in the history of Three Kingdoms had ever succeeded. He had a headache. And the famous Physician Hua Tuo was summoned to cure him. Huo Tao offered a surgery plan to remove the thickened tumor inside his skull. But Cao Cao never trusted surgery.
It was way beyond his thinking system.
And, it occurred to me all of a sudden: could Zhuang Zi cure him? Could someone enlighten him? Could he conquer the problem?
Such thoughts had pushed me to a spinning circle, couldn't be stopped. I couldn't sleep anymore.
How could Cao Cao heal his headache? This must be the most difficult question on earth.
For many days I couldn't write. I could only explain to myself that if anyone had known the answer, history would have been different.
But history had to be different. Now, poor Cao Cao was still lying on his sick bed at the intensive care unit, but he had sent people to ask me how his headache could be healed.
I was about to pack my things immediately when I got the dream letter from Cao Cao. However, a noise from my fish tank woke me.
The Goldfish shouted: 'Lee Chard, Lee Chard!'
She was supposed to be sleeping at midnight. And it was in my private study room. There was only one noise allowed and that was the air-bubbles from the tank. Now there was another voice.
How could she be so naughty and not go to sleep?
I enjoyed watching the Goldfish every day. I could hear her inner voices. She kept asking me: 'Hello Mr. Lee Chard, don't you answer things? Please tell me how I can leave the water. I am bored in the water. ' And this must be the same most difficult question on earth. And it was very unlikely for me to find an answer, if any, from the work of Zhuang Zi. I was ignorant about the issue, though Zhuang Zi had already written about it.
And today I was in a bad mood. I couldn't stand the Goldfish anymore. And I had a plan to let her go. I told her: 'Oooh, Sister Fish, would it be nice to send you back to the sea? One of your elder relatives was released years ago. '
I had released another fish into a big pond several years ago, not the sea. I was afraid she couldn't make it. She might die in a second. But if it was a pond somewhere in a garden, there might still be some chances for her to live on. And that could well be considered as a future of something.
But the Goldfish said: 'you can never understand me, Mr. Lee Chard. I am not eager for the sea. I only hope to live in the air, like you. '
'What? Leaving the water forever? What imagination.'
And that was also a most difficult question on earth. Why couldn't the questions be easier? Can you help a Goldfish to live in the air? Or can you help human beings to live in the bottom of the sea?
Cao Cao wished to heal his headache; Zhuge Liang wished to win, and both were as crazy as the Goldfish. It was just impossible. And the dream letter from Zhuge Liang might be coming soon. What shall I do?
And I knew his question already.
'How can I defeat Cao Cao?"
'How can I run a better education to help the son of Liu Bei the King, so that he would know how to avoid bad influences and seek good advice?'
Education? Do you all wish to leave your waters? And I do hope to advise them that there would not be any three-dimensional scenery at the same flat surface. It must be a very nice thing if they knew it.
However, my Goldfish was not the same. She had been born in a very good study. She was close to books for all her life. And she kept asking me questions.
'Can I go today?'
Maybe I was too kind to her.
I asked: 'Can you do your homework every day? It's hard work. Are you willing to take it?'
The Goldfish was extremely happy to hear this. She knew there were possibilities.
She promised everything. And our conversation had become legend, as it led to her eventual freedom. She could leave the water to live in the air finally.
And this was the first half of the story. I was on holiday during the Spring Festival.
I put up a notice on my notice board:
'My dear friends: If you do wish to leave the water and live in the air, and if you do wish to know the advice from Zhuang Zi, do come to visit me during the holiday.'
I wasted my time in the holiday eating and drinking all day. Nothing happened in my story.
The year lapsed in the holiday. Now was the year next to the previous year.
I still remember how she pleaded me last year. Though that was only a few days ago.
The fish pleaded again and again. She wanted a life in the air, not in the water.
I wanted to stop her pleading noise; and said in a fierce smile: 'you need to pay school fees to learn it, if you do wish to leave the water. '
The Goldfish answered eagerly: 'Oh sure, sure. I will pay my school fee. Can I pay it in the form of, er….., like my fish food? I can eat less and save it.'
'Ha, do you know how cheap is you fish food? There was a monk who wished to learn from the Guru, do you know how much he paid?'
'I am not a monk. How could I know?'
'He had paid it with his own arm. He cut his own arm, are you willing to do the same?'
And the Goldfish remained calm. 'Ooh, Mr. Lee Chard, I had learned the story before. Are you telling the story of Monk Shen Guang and Bodhi Dharma? You have told me the story many times.'
'Then you know what to do exactly?'
'Yes, sure, though I know that story was a lie, but for the sake of you, I am willing to try.'
'What? You say it was a lie? How can you say so? It is in the Holy Scriptures, and I have put you in my study! To keep close to the books! You better stay in the kitchen; it would be better for you. '
'But, Zhuang Zi says otherwise.'
'Ha, you still remember Zhuang Zi! '
'Yes, haven't you said you are an expert on Zhuang Zi? What does it say in Section 1, Chapter 1? '
'That is a story about a fish that has been turned into a bird. And what does it mean to you!'
'Does the fish amputate her arm to turn into a bird?'
This words from the Goldfish were not a shock to me. However, it made me think for a few seconds. I had never thought of that, not knowing why Zhuang Zi would let a fish turn into a bird.
I was dumbfounded in a second, and there came a loud noise. The Goldfish turned a somersault and jumped out of the water. She landed in the floor with a big splash.
I hurried to pick her up with both my hands. 'You shouldn't have done this. It was only a parable, my poor little fish.'
The Goldfish answered after a deep breath: 'I have no arm, but what if I dedicate my life to it? Is it acceptable?'
'Oh no', I was rather relaxed in the moment, and I was about to put it back into the water: 'to dedicate doesn't mean to commit suicide. It is to dedicate your effort in a useful way, not to waste your life. How stupid you are.'
It happened in the moment when I tried to put the fish back into the tank. I used both my palms to carry it, blushing away the dust from the floor; I dropped the fish several inches above the water. I did it with an intentional slow motion. I knew she could hardly breathe, I wish to teach her a lesson.
But apparently the normal force of gravity was not functioning. The Goldfish didn't drop, but to turn another somersault again. Everything happened so fast that I lost control of her. She had a high jump and landed on the windowsill.
I shouted: 'Don't, don't! You will fall on the street!'
All stopped at a split second.
Being a deep meditator, Lee Chard was used to unexpected happenings. Now, a slow-motion scene grabbed him. It's he who couldn't breathe this time. He saw with his own eyes how a beam of early sunshine was on the fish, and the fish was changing. She changed slowly, from a fish into a golden bird. She was turning, sunshine was on her new feathers. She was no more a Golden fish, but a Golden bird.
The first ray of the morning Sun made him realize that he had been talking with the fish for a whole night. And the golden sunshine had made the fish exceptionally beautiful. She appeared to be transparent. Standing in the sunshine, she was a Goddess. She stretched out her wings slowly, testing their strength. She would like to show to the world her new dress.
She looked at the sun, turned back, seemed to say goodbye, and flapped, she was gone. The dumbfounded Lee Chard rushed to the windowsill. He saw she was just skidding down from a higher position, and her tail was very long, leaving a golden circle behind.
And she shouted: 'Thank you Mr. Lee Chard, and my regards to Mr. Zhuang Zi!'
Lee Chard didn't know what to say. He murmured: 'Oh, now you are satisfied.' Though the fish was far away and couldn't hear him. But still, Lee Chard couldn't stop murmuring: 'She needed only one second to leave the flat surface, and the poor Zhuge Liang wasted his whole life. '