The Knowledge of a Koi Carp - Part 1
The Knowledge of a Koi Carp – Part 1
If the rain hadn’t stopped I would never have noticed the paving slab was leaking water.
At first I thought it was nothing more than rain mooching around with nothing better to do. Picture the scene: a large public square of concrete paving. The paving is a tawny colour when dry, darker in the rain. Here and there across the square are leafless, wintry silver birch trees like a group of strangers too shy to talk to one another. Each tree is trapped within a cage to a height of about six feet. The metal has been painted the colour of rust. Set into the ground between some of the slabs are narrow strip lights that flicker into life as dusk falls. They change colour unhurriedly, from a raw neon pink, to canary yellow to ailing blue then back to pink again. At night it brings a space-age feel to the square. That, or the feel of a science museum.
I had been wandering through a light, fluffy rain with nothing much to do. It was that or joining a long line of exhausted faces waiting for a bus already limping late. It was somewhere between four and five on a Thursday in January. It had rained on and off all day which had given many people much to talk about. It had not rained heavily enough, however, to pool around the paving and within a few minutes of the rain stopping I noticed a particular paving slab. It was near the western edge of the square and was flanked by a cylindrical metal bin and a solitary wooden post that was either awaiting a sign or having lost one. At first I assumed the slab was lower than the others and that this had encouraged the rainwater to collect around it.
I crouched down – having first tugged up my trousers a touch, something I have started doing since arriving in my late thirties and something I fight hard not to do – and took a closer look. The slab seemed no lower than the others but there was undoubtedly water collecting. It looked like a pavement crying. I trailed a couple of fingers through the water to find it was icy cold but as my fingers moved I felt I could hear distant singing. It stopped the moment I took my fingers from the water. I put them back in again – once more the singing. It was a distant sound heard not across the square, but inside my mind. It was a chorus of soft, spectral female voices with a melody that felt older than the mother of time. I knew it as a harmony I had heard before; lifetimes ago or beyond.
A ladder of bubbles rippling to the surface surprised me. My fingers felt along the edges of the paving slab which gave onto a narrow channel on either side. Wriggling my fingers under the slab I knew I would be able to raise it. It lifted with a mighty sucking sound as the water rushed underneath to fill the gap left by the slab. The hole was around thirteen feet square and it was impossible to see the depth for it was filled with water holding the reflection of dusk. It looked like the opening to an underground cavern beneath the city.
Before I could come to terms with this a fish nudged its way through the surface of the water. It was a Koi carp the colour of sunset. I know this because I had a pond when I was a child, back when the carp weren’t much smaller than I was. Still wanting to hear the melody from another time I put both of my hands back into the pool. It was intentional, but I touched the cool scales of the fish and rising from the song came a young, female voice with a leisurely American accent. “Kyi po tang.” It was not a voice heard aloud but instead a sensation of a voice inside my mind. “Kyi po tang.” Somehow I knew what the Koi was saying.
The Koi introduced herself as Molly. She told me she had originally been a girl but having drank too much bottled water woke up one unexpected morning to find herself as a carp without knowing why. She said she had come from California after someone had dropped her into a drain outside a large supermarket. From there it had been some swim. I wasn’t entirely sure I believed this, but having never had the opportunity to connect with a carp before I let it go. She didn’t fully explain how she had come to end up in an underground cavern in a northern city. If I’m honest, I was so mesmerised by her delicate tone as it echoed in my mind like the world’s sweetest bell that I didn’t care for the gaps in her story. All of us have gaps in our story; those places we don’t want to share until we trust people. With that voice she could have read aloud from a Solihull telephone directory or from washing machine instructions and I wouldn’t have moved a muscle.
She followed her introduction with an invitation. She made it quite clear that the commonly held belief that salmons hold all the knowledge is simply not true and that it is generally accepted that Sticklebacks are fearsome negotiators and Tench excellent listeners. She told me she had knowledge and that I was to dive headfirst into the hole, without fear; without doubt.
I am not a strong swimmer, but I can swim. It was a Thursday and I had nothing more pressing than a roasted sweet potato with a pepper, mango and rocket salad, so I swapped the crouch for a kneel and putting my arms together in front of me, prepared to tip forwards through a hold that looked like it would struggle to accommodate my shoulders…and with a soft Thursday splash, I was away…