'Sophie's choice' is a story in which a Polish immigrant, Sophie, is taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp and forced to choose which of her two children would be sent to a labour camp and which would be instantly gassed.
I was having the same dilemma.
Except with fish.
Back in June, a friend who was leaving Japan asked me to take care of her pet fish. She promised me that they required minimal maintenance and would be happy for ever and ever and ever.
When they started to make regular bids for freedom by trying to leap clear of the tank, I began to suspect that at least one of those 'for ever's was an exaggeration.
The problem was perfectly clear. While back in June the fish had been comfortable in their little aquarium (top photo), now they were stuffed in between the glass walls like sardines in a can (bottom photo).
It was possibly this analogy that made the outside world a risk worth taking. That, or it was the photograph of the galaxy I had put next to their tank and the futility of their lives had finally sank in.
… or that the pump was no longer up to the task of dealing with these two whales-in-the-making.
Despite a fairly recent replacement of the unit and regular changes of the internal filter, the water emerging from the pump remained a cloudy mix. What was more, it wasn't able to run enough oxygen through the tank, giving a grain of logic to fish's `Little Mermaid' expeditions above the water's surface. When not in kamikaze flight, my scaly friends would swim vertically with their heads close to the pump's head. Occasionally they would drop down to look at me through the glass with huge open mouths.
It was like a mini version of 'Jaws' right there in my living room. Definitely not feng shui relaxing.
I took the hint and went to the local hardware store, bought a bigger pump and eyed up fish tanks.
The pump purchase turned out to be an entirely empty gesture since the box came with only the filter and not the actual pump or connecting hose. This is fairly typical of my purchasing experiences in the country where I can't read the box and left me --also typically-- wondering why you would ever sell these items separately to begin with. My perplexity only increased when the corresponding pump and hose were not in the "Customers who bought this item also bought…" section on Amazon. Was manually blowing down fish filters the favourite pastimes for Japan's Hikikomori[*]?
Fortunately, my guesses for the right connecting devices turned out to be correct and a few days later I was able to fit a new pump. This process also initiated several suicide attempts by the tank residents but ultimately resulted in them chillaxing on the tank bottom.
Of course, given their size, the difference between the tank bottom and top was minimal which brought me to my second and third problem: how big a tank would I need and where could I put it in my rather compact apartment?
The real issue was that I suspected my fish were not goldfish at all but koi. Trawling google produced no convincing evidence that miniature koi existed which led to one inevitable conclusion:
My fish were in a race to out grow my cat. THEN we'd see who'd be forced to live in a tank.
Fearing I'd be forced to leave in an underwater apartment with cat eating fish, I contacted my pet sitter and outlined the problem. Were there koi ponds in Sapporo that might take a couple of additions? It turned out yes ... but with one small catch.
Literally. They were koi fishing ponds.
So my golden buddies had a choice: (1) life in a small tank (2) life in pond of awesome but with the risk of being eaten, Hansel & Gretel style.
It was around this time a friend mentioned to me 'Sophie's Choice'. I've been traumatised ever since I read the synopsis on wikipedia.
I confess, I was leaning towards the fish farm. Koi are very large and very long lived, which rather pointed to failure of any scheme I put together. I was mid-way through mentally constructing an anti-fishing hook training program for the tank troops when my pet sitter came up with another solution. She liked the fish --she explained-- and had room for a bigger tank if I was happy with her taking them. If they outgrew this second container, the gingerbread Koi farm of doom might have to be reconsidered.
Delighted that I could entirely pass this mental burden of anguish onto someone else, I readily agreed. I donated money towards the necessarily replacement fish tank and hoped it wouldn't be later used for psychotherapy.
The cat --meanwhile-- has been stalking the place where the tank used to sit. However, when she leaps up from behind a cushion, all she finds is one large stuffed cow.
[*] Hikikomori: a person who doesn't leave the house. Ever.