"Today is the day, Xena! Did you wish him?"
"But Mama, why is it his first anniversary and not his first birthday?"
"Hmm... Because we don't know when he was born. But we do know that he came to our home exactly a year ago."
That seemed to satisfy her.
"Happy anniversary, Blue!" She leaned close to his tank, looked up and wished him. Then she trotted off to make a card for him.
Sometimes I can't believe we have had Blueberry for a year. I remember the frenzy when he made his unexpected entry into our lives, catching us totally offguard. I remember the joy he brought us, once we were past the panic attacks, the confusion, the anxiety and the insane amounts of googling to keep him alive and well. I remember Xena's teacher telling me that every single fish the class had got during that excursion had died within the week, including the two that were at school, and I remember wondering what I'd do when ours did too.
But somehow, he survived. He lasted through our move when our home was getting renovated (though he did get really really sick once and was saved only by the grace of Google devta) and he lasted through our 3-week India trip. We had left him with a friend, who I must say was incredibly courageous to agree to keep someone's fish for 3 weeks, in spite of not being a fish person at all. I had emailed her a loooong list of care instructions, which she sincerely followed. I was too embarrassed to add, "Please talk to him regularly." as it felt rather silly. Now imagine my joy and amusement when I received a message from her saying, "I know this sounds silly, but I talk to him every day." I think when she returned him, she must have felt the same separation pangs I had felt when leaving him with her. She had also been very gracious about the fact that I had dharm-bhrashtofied her Tambrahm household by taking Blueberry's food (he's a strict carnivore) there.
In the days leading up to his anniversary, I was very very nervous. A friend of mine, who knows a thing or two about fish, had paid a visit, taken a good look at him and remarked that he was in his senior years and that I should be 'prepared'. And for the first time in almost a year, with trembling hands, I had googled "How long do betta fish live?" There were many answers but what I generally got was that these fish live an average of about 2-4 years. And oh, the fish may already be a year old, possibly more, when you get it from the shop because it takes about that long for the fish to mature and its colours to truly bloom and make it attractive enough to be sold.
So Blueberry is most likely at least 2 years old. And since Murphy is everyone's chacha, I worried that Blueberry might be gone before his first anniversary. In fact, sometimes when he sleeps, he really does look quite dead. He'd either go and sink all the way to the bottom or float in a corner at the top, or hide in his grey cave, showing no movement at all. It always makes my heart skip a beat. The thought that he might be really old troubled me so much that I even spoke to Xena to prepare her for the fact that one day he would be gone. After her initial indignation at the thought of her fish dying, she started asking very weird questions. If he dies, will we have to throw him in the dustbin or can we keep him in the storeroom? Oh dear lord. Flashes of Joey's dad's pet mortician girlfriend appeared in my mind. I didn't know how to answer that. I don't know what people do with dead pet fish. I didn't want to think about it. We will get there when we get there.
For now, I want to celebrate the fact that we have managed to take good care of him and kept him alive for a year. That's a long time. He has been the delight of every young visitor to our house and a great conversation-starter. People are instantly interested when I say, "Our fish is very dhaarmik. He fasts on Saturdays and is a vegetarian on Sundays." It's true. Because betta fish have stomachs the size of their eyeballs, but appetites the size of Kumbhkaran's, it is easy for them to overeat. Actually, the top cause of betta deaths is overeating. So I starve him on Saturdays, and then give him a quarter of a finely chopped, blanched frozen pea on Sundays. Since he's a hardcore carnivore, this high-fibre vegetarian meal does wonders to clear his gut out and keep him healthy. (See how sarvagyaani I am, thanks to Google again.)
Xena made a card for Blueberry's anniversary and even stuck it on his tank with scotch tape. When I pointed out that it was facing outwards so he couldn't see it, she peeled it off and stuck it back such that her drawing faced him now. It really touched my heart. I'm not sure if it freaked him out though.
Sometimes, I can't believe that such extremely non-pet people like us have had a pet for a year. I do know that we will never get a dog or a cat, and we may never get another fish, but having Blue around sure has made all of us, including Xena, a little more compassionate and caring.
Happy anniversary, Mr. Blueberry Bubbles!