The bad yellow-eyed woman said she was going for an afternoon nap. Said I should buy some fish for supper. And not a chunk of hake deep-fried in a vat of recycled batter, which, as everyone knows, is the tastiest of all fish.
She wanted real fish. From the sea, of all places. Hake, in her mind, is mass-produced by Monsanto for consumption by the poor. Fair enough. Let them eat hake.
It’s not easy to find fresh fish these days. I suppose you could always buy a boat and some fishing gear. It would have to be a boat with an engine. You don’t want to be rowing out to sea. Then you need a trailer to get the boat to the beach. And by the end of the day, you’ve spent around R180 000. It seems a bit steep for a fish supper.
Even without the boat, catching fish is a terrible mission. If you want to pick your fish, you’re going to need scuba gear and one of those underwater shotgun things. Or at least some kind of long, pointy stick you can stab the fish with when he’s not looking. I don’t have scuba gear.
My whole life, people have been trying to get me to scuba. Every campsite, ever bar, there’s someone telling me that I really have to learn. Apparently you need a licence. Quite frankly, I find that ridiculous. What can go wrong? Are you going to lose a flipper and veer into a passing whale? Or mistake your buddy for a stumpnose and spear him in the face? I can’t see it happening.
I don’t have time for lessons of any kind. I’d rather go out there and wing it. Make my own mistakes and to hell with the consequences. That’s why I stick with snorkeling. Sure, it’s a bit gay, but what isn’t these days? Even Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, says he’s proud to be gay. With a name like that, I bet he knows his way around a kitchen, too. Lucky man.
I’d like to be able to say that I am proud to be heterosexual, but I can’t. I was searching the internet for recipes when I came across a website featuring women doing unspeakable things with a variety of rubber implements. I was staring male obsolescence in the – well, it wasn’t quite the face, but you get my point. You don’t? Please try to keep up. The point is that there is no point in men wearing their heterosexuality on their sleeves, given how easy it is to replace them. The moment women learn how to wire a plug and change a tyre, we’re finished as a demographic.
It’s appalling how a simple column about fish can be hijacked by sex. It’s everywhere. And yet nowhere.
So. My options were limited. The bad yellow-eyed woman hadn’t given me a description of the size nor species of fish she desired. She had, however, made it clear that its eyes had to be unclouded by the disillusionment that death brings with it. The fish she wanted had to be so fresh that it would still have a quizzical look on its face as if to say, “Good heavens. Where am I? What is this terrible place?”
Instead, those words were spoken by me. I was in a shop between the hours of 5pm and 6pm, a time when food shops everywhere are occupied by frantic women who have somehow forgotten that their duties include making sure that their families have supper. I am not going to be dragged into a squabble about the pros and cons of patriarchy and sexism. I’m not. I’m sticking with the fish. Fight among yourselves, if you must.
The shop had two kinds of fish. I didn’t even recognise them as fish at first. I thought they might be lambs with a skin disease. The toothless crone behind the counter assured me that they were, indeed, fully paid-up members of a paraphyletic group of organisms consisting of gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals lacking limbs with digits. I asked her why she wasn’t teaching at a university. She said the fish counter paid better.
I prodded the fish. They looked as if they were leftovers from the beach party at Bethsaida. Only Christians will get this joke. Not that Christians are wild about Jesus jokes. Maybe things have changed. The pope just admitted that God isn’t a magician with a magic wand, so I suppose anything is possible from here on.
I wanted to buy those fish and take them home and give them a decent Christian burial, but that would have been ridiculous. I’m not a Christian. I turned to a fellow shopper wearing some kind of cross and asked if she might not do the right thing by these poor piscine peasants. She politely pointed out that her cross was inverted and that, as a Satanist, she had no need for dead fish from a supermarket that clearly catered for idiots.
That’s the problem with Satanists these days. Picky, picky, picky. When I was a young dog, Satanists would take whatever dead things they could get their hands on. For rituals or dinner. In my neighbourhood, the two were frequently interchangeable.
These were simple people who hardly ever bothered with any of the really weird stuff like eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ. Satanists these days tend to follow the laws of Tim Noakes rather than those of the Devil, although there are many who say they are one and the same.
Finding myself in the Cape peninsula’s dangerous Deep South, I sloped off to Kalk Bay harbour where I knew there to be fresh fish frequently available. Also weed. And tik. And a smattering of swarthy harlots as under-aged as the fish were under-sized.
Most of the boats were still at sea. Those that had returned had delivered a few bunches of silver fish. Around the corner, men with scarred faces and oilskins as orange as their eyes packed prime yellowtail into white plastic crates. These weren’t for sale to the likes of me.
I imagined that, within 24 hours, a fillet would appear before a sheik in one or other of those weird oil-based fantasias that desecrate the Arabian Desert. It will be on a platinum platter beneath a solid gold lid. He will try a morsel, then toss his diamond-encrusted fork aside and cry, “I asked for coelacanth! Behead the chef!”
The fish at the harbour were tied in bunches. I don’t know if it’s because a bunch of not very big fish looks more appealing than just one lying there on his own wondering why he’s having trouble breathing.
I didn’t want to ask what they were in case the heavy-set woman doing the selling thought I was retarded. “Yes,” I would have to say, “I can see they’re fish.”
Lying slightly apart from the silver ones were some who didn’t quite fit in. They were a lovely shade of red. Well, I appreciated their colouring, anyway. It’s probably different in the ocean.
“Oh, for Neptune’s sake! Here they come again.”
“Just ignore them.”
“This is our reef. They have no business being here. Red bastards.”
“Leave it. They’re bigger than we are.”
“What we need is a shark on the payroll. That’ll put an end to this nonsense.”
Dockside, I overheard someone say the words “Red Roman”. I contemplated whether this might be a code word for some or other nefarious harbour-related activity. I was reluctant to ask about the Red Roman for fear of being blindfolded and led into the hold of one of the boats where I would have to offer a good price for half a million kilograms of crystal meth or risk being chopped up and fed to the giant seals that patrolled the harbour wall.
Then a tourist walked up, inexplicably unarmed, and asked about the Red Roman. Nothing happened to him, so I followed up with my own discreet enquiries.
“R160,” she said. Hmm. A bit pricey. Perhaps they were stuffed with cocaine. She picked up the biggish one. He had a smaller one lashed to him with one of those cable ties that American cops use when they arrest people on suspicion of being black.
I only wanted one fish. I couldn’t understand why they had to come together. Were they related? Did they go to the same school? It felt a bit like the time I walked into an orphanage thinking it was a hotel. I asked for a double and they brought me twins.
So now I have two Red Romans in the fridge and the bad yellow-eyed woman has gone for a “nap”. It could be days before she surfaces. And I don’t know whether to grill, bake, boil or braai them. Thanks to masculine prerogatives and Woolies instants, I don’t understand the settings on this oven. The numbers, I get. But the other dial has hieroglyphics on it.
Risking what little remains of my heterosexuality, I googled fish recipes and found a lot of chatter about baking and grilling, basting and and roasting. As if I hadn’t had enough code words for one day.
Stupidly, I clicked on Jamie Oliver’s recipes. There was no mention of Red Romans. I now know, however, how to whip up a delightful Sicilian-style tuna carpaccio.
Fish also like to be lightly brushed with olive oil. Well, darling, who doesn’t?
Then there’s something called jerk fish. Really, Jamie? You kill fish just because they’re jerks? I wish we could do that with jerk people. Maybe not eat them, though. And to call sea bass, fennel and grapefruit ceviche a South American classic is ridiculous. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a South American classic.
Fish is supposed to be healthy. It lowers your blood pressure. It floods your body with omega-3 acids. Finding out how to cook it, on the other hand, sends your blood pressure through the roof. And makes you want to flood your brain with lysergic acid.
Why can’t someone just come up with a fish that can cook itself? Is that so difficult, Monsanto?