Those two parks are always the last. Two parks: one supposed to be for pets, the other supposed to be for children; but squatters and vandals are more persistent than lichens on the wall down here, and they do what they do with mocking smile to the authorities no matter how authorities clean up, and especially after our mayor became governor and the replacement concerns more about enlarging his tummies and not the people.
There used to be a group of young gamers playing thrice every week, sitting at a distance from each other and talking over while their eyes are glued on their cellphone. There used to be young couples sitting on the benches under the light.
But now, no more. There are only people squatting, street stall selling food scattering their litter, and people selling small animals, like a bucket of tropical fish and the kids can catch their fish themselves.
I mean, they are fish but they are kept in small bucket and a bunch of children, some too young to hold things properly, each with their own tea strainer stirring and chopping all day, the water come from minimally treated river water and there is no food if ever coming in.
They’re just fish, and those people look at me with mocking smirk when they strut their chest toward what they thought is just a Chinese girl who will cry once they call their bluff.
Tall, big houses with neatly trimmed garden stood behind even taller gates lining the surrounding of the parks. People on the internet call those houses “mansion” They are beautiful, and though my God does not love me enough to grant it, I really hope one day I can live in one of those, because then I can help even more unfortunate animals and give them a home.
But at night, those places are eerie. The street lights are bright, the road is clean; once in a while there would be motorbike gang passing by, or car with one or two drunkards driving through, screaming and singing.
That’s why we always visit those parks the last. The fewer passers-by, the better, so cats can cross the street and mother can teach their kittens to do the same safely. Rats can literally just squirt from one side of the sewer on the roadside to the other, and we always let them have the crumbs. There are bats too, looking for fruits, or whatever left to survive this town. Kitten-eating-dogs can stay on the side with jealous look. They will have their jerkies last, lest they got tempted to ruin the rest of the picnic leaving only hate we don’t want to have. They are the runt of the game in life; it’s just that they have owners – supposed to be – the others are free.
There was that day when almost all of them were sick. One has runny nose and one almost lost his life in a fight; running toward us with gashing wound and blood everywhere. It couldn’t be other cat. There was a lady who always stand by an old guy, running toward us with ultimate concern, her husband sat by the road side with blood dripping from his neck and he can barely stand. The lady and her husband are always together. Her gentleman never run by other female, and she has never been close to other male.
It was the day when we pour out all our artilleries. Antibiotics, wound dressing, disinfectant, ointments, supplements…
And at the quietest moment when we battle with the army of death, a clicking sound.
I froze and listened. Sheilla saw me and listened. More clicking sounds. It has always been eerie, but that night was horrible.
More clicking sounds, desperate, desperate desperate.
I walked to an empty tent, left there by its tenant. It was from down there, on the ground. It’s impossible but I feel it was from further down, below, from hell.
A rectangular shape, its corner glitter once by the dim light from the street. I took a deep breath. Grabbed the corner, and drag it out.
Whatever monster might there be.
It was a very poorly made small aquarium, and it was cracked at the bottom up to its side. Inside was – who knows how many – hermit crabs.
The big ones, the small ones, the babies, the red, the black. Some are dead, and some of those dead were eaten. Some that somehow stayed alive, tried desperately to climb. The smell was beyond nauseating.
They are hermit crabs; they sell for one or two cents, but they are taken from their home, piled up into that filthy aquarium so small they cannot move. Without food, without water, not sold, so the poacher give up their wanton free money ideal, and left them there to die.
They had to eat their perished friend; and they live, but death is there, after a long, painful, hopeless, journey.
They are hermit crabs, they sell for one or two cents, but they are alive.
I scramble for a discarded water bottle, fill it up with water from tanks provided in many places for people to wash their hands in this pandemic, and pour it down. They are hermit crabs, but that night, somehow, I feel them. I feel the gladness, I feel relief, it’s as if I am in drought, and rain came down the sky.
I came back the next night with a KFC bucket. Tend to the cats, and to that tent. Someone had found them before then, it seems, and upon finding out what’s inside, pushed them further to the bushes behind the tent. Bushes no one can see, bushes where no clicking would be heard.
“They are being attacked by colonies of ants” Sheilla whispers.
I ran with that bucket filled with water and pour it down to drown the ants. I scrambled for a used plastic spoon, those street stalls must have discarded a lot of them there. I found one near the trash bin, wash it down the street.
I know hermit crabs make Sheilla shudder, with their tiny ticking legs that looks like scythes, but she holds that spoon and takes them out, one after another.
I skip sleep reading about freshwater hermit crabs. The only one species ever existed, and that only one species lives in Indonesia. Who cares, no? They are free and they can be sold so they can be exploited.
Should we release them to the river? Should we drive out of town to find a good home?
More of them dead every day. They are safe for two days, but live through hell for who knows how long; and others who found them before us saw their pleas, but put them back and push them further away from sight.
Those people reminds me of many strangers, some with lawyer degrees writing a message demanding me to stop writing sad stories on Instagram or Facebook, because they are cruel and they are sad and they are not good to read. The world is a happy place, they said.
I have twenty dollars in my savings. A little cardboard box where I emptied the coins every night and keep them for last resort. Those coins buys a small aquarium, two bags of sand, and I pick tree stump I kept because its twists and hues is beautiful. I took one of the cats’ saucer and put water. I took Sentaro’s (a rabbit we took from the street) salad, just one leaf.
One more time, I feel them. The warm feeling when one goes through a very long, seemingly endless perilous journey and finally arrive home. Not quite, but close.
I ask the aquarium seller for discarded empty shells, I clean the sand, I replace water, and feel them every now and then. When they marched to the new leaf of salad, few pieces of beans, jump into the pool I made with fresh, cool water in their saucer. When they climb the tree stump, and got themselves stuck there with their tiny legs that looks like death’s scythes. When it rains and they all line up on the stump branches, feeling the wind, the mist, the air. When they dig into the bottom of it all and sleep there for days. I annoy them a lot when I dig their surrounding and lift them up with a spoon. Soon they will dig another hole.
Can’t you feel it? They are not home, they will never be, but can’t you feel it? They are alive.
Hermit crabs, despite their names, are not craps. They are social creatures. They mingle with each other. They fought once in a while, but they are friends most of the time.
They are hermit crabs, they sell for one or two cents, a few pennies at most.
But they are alive. ~