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The sun sprung up from the horizon of an inky blue ocean and scantily airbrushed the grim skies with its pale faded light. Underneath the water was a gigantic reef- a clingy hell, that was best kept away. Shoals of grumpy, grouchy, and half-witted fishes stormed out of their bastions in a monumental march towards the depths of the ocean. Amidst them, was a poor little fish with a broken tail- Machli. She was struggling to keep up her pace with the rest of them.
An unexpectedly strong current gushed through and flipped Machli's broken tail sideways. That was the peculiarity of her physical defect. She lost control and stumbled over. With stinking breath and ugly flappers, the other fishes pushed her off and raced to get their daily dose of zooplankton. They got ahead with crass ignorance smeared on all of their faces.
Machli was colored with despair and got pushed right back to the very end of the shoal, with her mouth gasping for breath. She was desperate to not lose sight of her predecessor but no one seemed to take notice of this. Tears swam in her eyes. She was too slow and tired of dragging her broken tail along.
Machli's fate had to bear this insanity every single day. It was getting too much for her. She remembered that one time when all she wanted was some company during meals. But when everyone turned her out, she was compelled to rest upon her broken tail on a cliff edge, somehow preventing herself from slipping over.
No one talked to her or wanted her, for she used to be broken and alone. She always felt worthlessly inferior to everyone around her.
As the day clocked to an end, the blazing red sun had now slipped back into the horizon, and quaint darkness swallowed the ocean. Machli traversed across the reef and noticed all the fishes quickly snuggling into their spots amidst the coral polyps as if wanting to escape her sight. She swiftly crawled out in dismay and went down past a sketchy sandstone, into the Undercover.
It was a place completely secluded from the chaotic reef overhead. That sketchy sandstone stood balanced on its tip, blocking off all the sunlight. Underneath was a dark, odd rocky cliff with two frustrating holes bored into it- one bigger than the other. Machli wisely pushed herself into the bigger one and retreated for the day.
Her eyes sank in penitence as she cursed herself for her tail. She confided within herself and lifted her fins to wrap her tired little head in solitude.
The next day the sun yawned in the sky, filtered through the dreamy clouds, and hit the oceanic blue horizon again. The fresh morning rays pulled out the rest of the droopy shoal from their sleepy reef. Unfortunately, none of the cheer reached Machli. Instead, she woke up to ripples of the cold tide flowing in from the deep. It was already time for another exasperating day to start in her life. She pulled herself out of her hole and wriggled out reluctantly. She knew what the day had in store for her and begged for it to end quickly.
But she had no idea what was about to hit her that morning. Just when she swam out of the shadowy Undercover to join the breakfast marathon, something shone below. Machli paused to notice and then cautiously darted towards it, only caring enough so that her broken tail does not flip again.
With an anxiously rhythmic heart and a seductively curious mind, she popped her eyes from behind the sketchy rock and looked down to see a male fish like no other. He was laden with glamorous scales of gold and his crimson head stood out in the dark. This was Meen, the manifestation of beauty in the aquatic world. Machli was getting late, and half the shoal had already left for the day. But she was willing to ditch her appetite for her insatiable inquisitiveness.
She saw Meen snug himself into the smaller hole in the Undercover, right below hers, and shut his eyes.
An act of newfound courage dragged her out of her hiding and threw her right in front of him. In the politest possible tone, she introduced herself and inquired about him.
A pleasant surprise- Meen's relaxed welcoming gesture drained out all of her anxiety. He looked tired but warm. A brief exchange of semi-awkward and subtly-flirtatious pleasantries followed. Then, away from the hullabaloo of the reef, the two of them began to indulge in a blissful conversation. It was not long before they knew that they had much more in common.
It turned out that Meen had a similar fate to hers. But he was not broken, he had the most perfect body any fish could ever dream of. And that was where the problem was. He shone too much was too different from everyone else. His fins had photosynthetic algae, which when in proper sunlight, nourished him for life without him ever needing to hunt. And all this lead to obvious envy that cast him out. All he wanted now was a quiet abode, even if it was a place without sunshine. The Undercover was unique, one of its kind- the only region in the bay that was free from other fishes. Meen had given up on his life. He had just a fortnight more to live with his stored food, but he would rather go hungry than be pushed around.
Machli's heart empathetically flickered as she took it all in. But part of her was relieved to know that she was finally not alone anymore. She reached out to him in a protective hug and consoled him by narrating her tragedy before his eyes. He was seemingly intrigued by it, and in a few pulsating minutes, the two of them felt an abhorrent nostalgia bonding their souls together. After years of deathly silence haunting the mind, heartfelt interaction with him felt too addictive. At once, she was swept away by his charm. They shared an eternally long conversation about emotional repression and bonded deeply over their shared tragedies. Hands down, it was the most wholesome moment in Machli's life till now. That night, maybe for the first time in ages, her quenched mind got lost in an unsuspectingly calm sleep. She finally had a friend in this world.
The days that followed were not much different for her. She was the same old loner who dragged her sad visage through the ruthless ocean that would not stop screaming at her. She was still the outcast of her shoal and would probably be like that forever.
But the nights- the nights were her savior. They always culminated in endless talks with her new neighbor. Meen would lay still with a sympathetic grin, listening to every word she spoke until she had dumped her basket of miseries into his ears for the day. They chatted about everything that crossed their minds during those seven hours of blissful darkness- from crying over their pasts to laughing at each other's insecurities. Machli would try to come up with innovative ideas to feed him, but in the end, they never turned out to be feasible. Meen was destined to starve to death in a fortnight. Nothing was changing that. For once in her life, she did not feel broken. Meen was like the missing part in her broken tail. She was too comfortable in his company to forget what had happened to her. In short, she was beginning t fall in love.
But one night everything was about to change. Machli was on her way back along with the rest of her shoal. Massive tidal currents were sweeping around the reef as the entire shoal was sheepishly retreating into their homes. The hard exoskeleton reef barriers were the only things shielding them. Machli was scurrying towards the sketchy sandstone to sweep down to the Undercover. Suddenly, one of the fishes called out to her from the side. She offered her a shared spot to sleep for the night until the storm passed. That was a first. And maybe if it was another time, Machli would have been the happiest creature on Earth. But then all she could think of was getting home, her true home. She politely declined the offer and fearlessly went over towards the sketchy sandstone.
But in the blink of a moment, the tide slashed in the opposite direction. A merciless gust of water chopped through her broken tail, thrusting it onto the left. Machli instantly lost her balance and crashed against the sandstone, tumbling it off its tip. It came crashing down into the Undercover and shattered a whole chunk of the rocky cliff!
Devastated by all this, Machli plunged to check on Meen. Her heart paced as she frantically navigated her way through clouds of dust. Both the holes in which they stayed had now been reduced to a sorry pile of debris. Deafening grief crippled her mind. She looked everywhere around for him and finally, there he was- floating in the distance, with a broken dorsal fin and blood-smeared scales.
She was relieved to see him alive, but alas, his home was gone forever, and so was his perfect body. Machli brimmed with an earnest apology in her heart as she rushed over to him in regret.
But his eyes boiled with disgust and struck her down with a reproachful glance. One could not blame him for his rage. After all, his life's last hope had now withered away. He rushed out of her sight, but he had nowhere- no one to go back to. Battling against the cruel current, he tried to keep up without his dorsal fin as he faded away into the night. Never once stopping to say anything to her. It was tragically absurd. Machli tried to follow him but a harrowing sense of remorse tied her down.
Her lodge in the Undercover was destroyed, and she was too ashamed of her actions. She shivered with chagrin and swam up to the reef to tuck herself in the shared spot which that fish had offered earlier. She was too afraid to even think about what happened. She buried her head into her exhausted fins. Tears of angst rolled out, and she sniffled under her meek breath. None of this would have happened if she did not have a broken tail. She felt useless, totally, utterly useless- undeserving of anybody's sympathy. She was devastated, cold and her throbbing heart kept her awake throughout the night. Her gleaming eyes stared in the bleak abyss outside her reef, but Meen was nowhere to be seen. He was gone. All she could witness was the rocky cliff that lay broken just like her.
The next day, a powerful beam of blinding sunlight pierced Machli's half-shut eye, and she woke up hastily. The first thing that churned her heart was yesterday. She wished for this new day to end too and shivered in anxiety. She was flushed with disdain and gradually crept out, praying hopelessly for Meen to come back and forgive her for being a dumb broken jerk.
She gathered enough courage to turn around and swim back to the Undercover, maybe for one last time. And voila- there he was! An overjoyed Meen was floating right in the middle of the debris, dazzling like an angel in the golden sunshine. Machli was bewildered. It was a bizarre miracle, a farce fantasy. However, that was when she first took notice of the sunlight that was all around her. Every part of the, once dark, Undercover now lay bathed in a pure playful light. It was weird at first, but then she realized that the sketchy sandstone overhead was now gone for she had accidentally toppled it off last night!
Meen's photosynthetic fins glowed divinely, and he awkwardly stared at Machli- not knowing what to say. His face was a canvas of anxious apology and heartwarming forgiveness. He had come back and was genuinely sorry for his actions.
Machli did not know what to do either. Her eyes swelled in joy, but she could not fathom the courage to wrap her head around what was happening. Meen felt an impending urge to reconcile and was unable to get rid of his shame so he just eyeballed down. He shifted sideways to reveal a burrow in the rock behind him. It was newly carved out of last night's crash and was flushed with morning sunshine and beamed out from the mundane rocks. It was large enough for two fishes of their size to stay.
Meen's apologetic façade dropped, and a gorgeous smile stretched across his crimson face. He eagerly wanted to stay with her for if it wasn't her broken tail, he would have gone hungry. After all, she had saved his life.
Reading between the lines, Machli exhaled in joy. She forgave and was too delighted to hold onto her passionate outburst of relief.
After a prolonged emotional reconciliation, the two of them snuggled into the sunny hole and embraced in a warm hug. Her broken tail was not useless as she thought it was. It had not only saved Meen's life but had also ushered the light in her heart, silencing her inner critic forever.