I wrote this shortly after a Saturday field trip to 38 Aquarium in Chinatown, right around the corner from where I grew up. This store has been in my neighborhood for years, and, like my neighborhood, it’s gone through a great deal of change. When I journeyed to the store with PEN, a lot of childhood memories flooded my mind.

—Shannon D.

Match My Own

I held my mother’s hand as we strolled down Mott Street, entering the outskirts of Chinatown. An old man sat at the corner, outside 38 Aquarium. He flashed a toothy grin and lightly waved a hand, a cigarette dangling in the other. We greeted each other, I in my broken Chinese, he in his broken English.

Ten years have passed. His voice echoes in my mind as I walk into the fish store now. I take a step onto faded, blue floor tile, reminiscent of the ocean, and my eyes can’t help but stare out the wide open storefront. Bulgy-eyed tourists that only find allure in the brightest lights of the city won’t know that this was once a fish tank where crimson fish with bulgy heads roamed, illuminating the store inside and out.

One night everything changed. Enormous cracks grew and spread over the glass like veins laced with venom. It started with drops seeping out and trickling down to the floor, with the anxious pit-pat of a snare drum, the beginning of war. Just as the storeowners peered down to examine the leak, the glass shattered, and water gushed out.

Red fish were caught in the whirlpool of the outside world and landed with wet thuds on the concrete. What happened next was a weave of instinct and compassion that left me speechless. The neighborhood children, grandmothers, young adults—everyone—heard the shatter, the thuds, the cries of the storeowners. Everyone scooped up a fish, tried to save each and every one of their delicate lives. And I knew, right then and there, that compassion is as vital to us humans as water is to these small, delicate creatures.

I cupped
a little fish in my hand, its
lantern-yellow eyes matching
the brilliance of the moon, the
silver streak streaming
down its slippery body,
its gills, gasping
I could
feel its
match my
own, the
two of
us, just
for a
the same