Jill Sadowsky is a South African author who has lived in Israel since 1963. Her first book, Weep for Them, was published under her pen-name, Sarah Ben Dor. The second, David’s Story, is coming out as an e-book soon. Her subject of expertise is mental health and her article My Personal Account appeared in the Schizophrenia Bulletin, published by the US Health & Human Resources.
Jill’s work has been published in the Schizophrenia Digest of Canada, the Jewish family journal, Horizons, and the Israel Journal of Psychiatry. Her essays have been translated into Hebrew and Greek. She has also published several short stories.
The Bohemian Fish
“I’m tired of swimming around and around this fishbowl,” the herring told his mate. “I’ve counted the revolutions until Im giddy.”
“I don’t like it either but … here’s an idea for you. Maybe if you stop swimming in a clockwise direction and you might see life differently.”
“Well, the cats might look less threatening, the noise from the piano over there could sound less jarring and children’s faces pressed against the glass might just appear to be less gigantic!”
The countryside surrounding Bloemfontein, the Judicial capital of South Africa is filled with billboards cajoling tourists to visit their beautiful city. During a thunderstorm when I last visited, I drove in the direction of the Herring Barrel which I’d seen advertised. At least it was under cover.
Someone with novel ideas flew in aquatic fish and crabs, probably from Cape Town, threw them into tanks, opened a snack bar and charged the gawking public an entrance fee.
The place had an intimate feeling to it. There were nets and floats strung from the uneven sand-colored ceiling and crudely painted fish hung from pale turquoise
walls. Fish pies and fish and chips wrapped in brown paper were on display at reasonable prices.
Tanks stretching from floor to ceiling contained confused crabs, gaping clams and an infinite number of snails. I went up to the small display on salmon farming then strolled across to a giant, black, plastic tank with hundreds of halibut lying on the sandy bottom, ogling back at the curious faces of the public pressed up against the glass.
The centerpiece of the show was a magnificent doughnut called The Herring Ring; a glass construction measuring about six meters in diameter. After swinging through a turnstile, I peered into it and watched the herrings swimming diligently in a clockwise direction around the tank, with the exception of one free thinker that was battling its way around, anti-clockwise; and a hell of a time it was having. Ducking, weaving, dipping and diving in a constant attempt to avoid colliding with the three hundred and ninety-nine fish going the other way, it was the piscatorial equivalent of driving up the no-entry side of a busy one way street.
I watched in fascination to see how long it would take before that herring gave up and started blending with the flow. But, it never did. Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed and that herring persevered. I drank a cup of tea, ate a buttered scone spread lavishly with home-made strawberry jam topped with a blob of freshly whipped cream and then read the newspaper. When I returned to the Herring Ring, there it was, still heading the wrong way.
A middle-aged attendant was sitting on a straight backed chair, sporting a pretty blank expression on his face. Here was a man who had no doubt heard
every inane comment possible, so I walked over to him and gestured in the direction of the large doughnut.
“That herring,” I said.
"Aye," came the reply.
"Does it always swim the wrong way?"
"Yes it does, ma’am.”
"How long has it been doing that?"
"From the second day it arrived here," he said without bothering to look up
“When was that? Do you remember?”
"That'll be two years now."
I imagined that he was classifying me as a dummy.
I thought for a moment or two and worked out that at one revolution per minute, that herring would circle the tank almost half a million times in one year.My clockwise fish really knew how to stick to its principles.
"Is that the first batch of herrings you've had here?" I asked.
"Fourth," he shot back.
"Ever been another one like it? A wrong way swimmer, I mean?"
"In every batch,” he said, then paused, milking the statement for every ounce of drama before adding portentously; “So far.”
"I suppose I am not the first to notice its odd behavior, am I?”
"Third today, Missy,” he replied, changing from the ma’am he’d used previously.
Like pinpricks of rust on a car, a tiny incident like that clockwise herring, festered, spread, and niggled at me for what seemed to be a lifetime. Twenty
years have passed and that fish pops into my thoughts at the oddest times. I have spent time in traffic jams, in bed or standing in line at post offices or banks, ruminating about its motives. In fact, whenever I am amongst crowds of people, I see that little herring fighting its way around its huge tank, behaving exactly the way an
obstinate person would.
If all herrings began to swim his way, would he turn and swim against the
shoal? If he'd been born a goldfish and lived alone in a bowl, what could he have done to show his individuality?
Either the fish was troubled or maybe even fish have an obligation to be contrary. Psychologically impaired is an attractively simple explanation but the attendant said that there had been one such fish in each of the four batches. For all I know, there could have been hundreds more loads since my visit. Three people asked about the fish the day I visited. When I rang the center, I discovered that on an average day, the number of visitors averaged approximately twelve hundred. About one in four hundred people had been sufficiently interested to ask that question, which is uncannily close to the ratio of clockwise to anti-clockwise fish. Swimming in an anti-clockwise direction is the nearest thing a herring can do to reach the equivalent of being Bohemian.