A perfect match! Mike’s hazel eyes searched, once more, from his small hand, up along the line into the Indian mid-afternoon sky. Quartering the cloudless blue, to where he knew it to be, his slim face broke into a broad grin. It was a perfect match! The main diamond of the kite was invisible; the red tassles that made up the tail the only sign of the kite’s existence.
Hi s choice of colour for the main body of the kite had taken an age; going to the kite makers street, searching the stalls, asking the owners for any blues, other than those on show, finally discovering a helpful kite maker who had more stock coming in that day. When the paper arrived he agonised for some time over each colour that Gupta the stallholder offered.
The decision finally made, and the necessary haggling completed to the satisfaction of both, Gupta had the paper plus Mike’s choice of straight, split bamboo and the correct fish glue, delivered to his father’s bungalow. The boy’s slim body lounged in the curve of one of many coconut trees that ringed the lake. Letting out more line to the kite he looked out over the brown water and saw a ripple spread from a spot out from the shore.
The lake, or tank as it was called locally, teemed with fish. Out from the shoreline the small silvery ones that his aiya, Ruth, who looked after him and the other children in the Haller family, loved him to catch for her children. She also curried some for him sometimes. In close were the huge whoppers that his father had told him not to try to land.
"One day" his father had said, "I’ll show you how to land the big ones. They need a firm strike to hook and then a fair amount of strength and cunning to bring ashore," and then added, "We may need to work on the strength part". This father knew his son all right! That had been two weeks ago, almost a lifetime for an eleven year old and, considering his fathers workload at the local airport; where he held a responsible position, he doubted his father would ever get away to teach him the skills, or to work on his strength.
Looking up to check on the tassles as they swung amongst the many hawks flying, his attention was drawn to the temple in the far right-hand corner of the tank; to where smoke rose, possibly the priests were cooking their evening meal. Mike had been over there a few times and there had nearly always been a troupe of monkeys around, all with their hands out for peanuts or tiger nuts, those wrinkled, sweet tasting kernels that he had a taste for. He turned his thoughts to the kite once more, as he let out more line from the ball in his hand.
Having watched the kite makers in the market for hours, as they went about constructing their multicoloured works of art, he knew most of the tricks. Most of those things that go towards making the perfect kite.
He’d spent many hours, much patience and great care on the manufacturing of this particular kite. No one had seen it before its first launch that afternoon. The balance had been perfect. In the stiff steady breeze the kite had done all he had asked. Looking out of the classroom window that morning he’d seen the sky take on that hue of blue and Mike had thought that mathematics had never, ever, been as dull or as long. Lunchtime, which he usually enjoyed with a game of tops or two, was a bore. Time seemed to have stopped.
He’d hurried the rickshaw-walla all the way home. Part from the sheer joy of speed, part from the sight of the funny, running gait the rickshaw-walla had as he pulled the ungainly machine and the way the walla jumped into the air, causing the rickshaw to tilt backwards, making his sister scream with enjoyment. Mostly it was because of his awareness that the sky was the shade of blue he’d waited for. A delay that had seemed to be an eternity, but which was, in reality, no more than two days.
Why did he want an invisible kite? Mike didn’t know. Maybe it was just to see the line in his hand vanish upwards, as if from a hook in the sky with the kite hidden from view, as invisible as he often wished he were some times.
He knew he was something of a handful but it wasn’t always his fault, things just seemed to happen around him and because he was closest to them when they happened, he got the blame.
Take yesterday as an example. In India, didn’t every boy of eleven have a pet scorpion? He could tell it’s age, about six weeks, from the pale colour of its body and he needed a young reptile if he was going to teach it any really good tricks. Although he doubted the scorpion could catch a stick as well as his mothers King Charles spaniel, play dead or swim in the tank and not get told off for doing it, the scorpion had still been his project.
Anyway, his father needn’t have been quite so brutal. Mike wished the scorpion had stung through his fathers heel as he had crushed his pet, although he doubted Sidney, his name for the young reptile, would have hurt his father very much. Anyway, after his father had explained that even a young scorpion could be lethal, he had accepted the demise of his pet.
That was the trouble with India, there was death everywhere.
His first trip to school two years ago was an exciting one. Travelling in the rickshaw along the road around the tank he’d heard a gurgling sound ahead.
On the bend, hidden from first sight, stood a huge and very sacred tree to which a local, who needed a favour from one of the many gods, had sacrificed a large multicoloured chicken, by cutting off it’s head. Round and round the body went spilling blood from it’s flopping neck, making that hideous noise for what seemed to be minutes before it fell dead.
His mother, travelling in a following rickshaw, had nearly fainted and had had to go back to the bungalow to lay down for a short while and compose herself. Ever since, Mike had looked for the unexpected, nearly always finding it. Going to sleep with the sound of tigers in the distance was a long way from the sleepy east-midlands hamlet he’d been brought up in.
A hand on his shoulder brought him out of his reveries; his fathers smiling face made him grin in response, especially when he saw the long fishing rod in his father’s hand.
" Alright," his father said." Let’s see what we can do about landing those big ones."
What a dilemma! Three quarters of the way across the tank with the "invisible" kite and now his father wanted to show him how to catch those whoppers close in to the bank. No contest. "Hang on Dad," Mike said, "I’ll just park my kite." And tied the string around the coconut tree, leaving the remainder of the ball at the base after looking along the line once more, to see the tassles still flying.
His father’s fishing rod was spit cane, with a proper ratchet reel, ledgers and most significant of all, the hook looked huge. Totally a more elaborate apparatus than his single length of straight bamboo with the line tied at the whip end and a small fly spliced on.
"Ok", said his father, "I haven’t fished this water, so we’ll have to see what’s what. Have you seen any sign of the big ones here?"
"Yes", Mike replied, becoming excited and pointing to his left "Just here," As they looked there was a swirl of a tail fin, then another. "Obviously the place!" his father agreed, and started readying the rod. "What do the small fish feed on?"
"Well Dad, sometimes a fly, mostly bread balls, but just lately I’ve used wood lice. Got quite a few with those."
"I’ve never tried wood lice. Aren’t they difficult to get onto the hook," he asked, as he baited up with a large piece of moist bread.
"No Dad, not if you go through the underbelly." As he took the proffered rod. Mike had huge, flappy butterflies swooping around his stomach.
"Ok son, let’s see what we get. You know how to hold the rod and how to control the line on the ratchet. Don’t you?
As his father asked, he adjusted his hand so the reel attachment bar was under his wrist and his hand grasped the rod gently, but firmly, with his first finger along the split cane, while the butt of the rod rested under his forearm and stuck out past his elbow.
"One thing. I won’t have to cast far." The son quipped.
His father chuckled, "No. They’re right there in front of you "
Becoming serious, his father said, "If you feel the fish is too big for you, let me know and I’ll give you some help. Now lower the line; about five feet away from you, two feet out from the bank."
Concentrating now, with his four feet six frame trembling with the tension, he lowered the line and watched the hook drop into the water. And nothing happened! Mike looked at his father questioningly.
"For the small ones you only need a fly. This is different. Patience, my son. That’s what fishing is all about. It’s a hunters game between you and the fish."
They stood there; the large, middle-aged aircraft engineer and his son, conspiring against their prey. Quietly concentrating, Mike realised that there was something nibbling at his bait. His father heard the sharp intake of breath and put a hand on his sons’ arm.
"Don’t strike yet." He whispered. "Wait a little, he may be just playing with the bait. If you feel a strong tug, strike hard! The larger fish usually have harder mouths."
The nibbling stopped. Nothing happened. Again. For longer this time. "I think that crafty fish has had your bait. Have a look at the hook."
Sure enough, the hook was empty. Re-baiting took a moment. "Back to the same place and let’s hope he’s still hungry".
Mike swung the bait into the same spot and everything went into slow motion. The reel screamed and the line streaked away, parallel to the shore. No need to strike. The fish had hooked itself. But he struck upwards anyway, to make sure.
Mike let the line run through the ratchet, the same way he’d seen his father do it, when fishing for smaller game.
"Tighten up the ratchet. Before he gets too much further, try taking him out into deeper water. Use the length of the rod as leverage."
"Thanks Dad". There was elation mixed with panic and fierce determination in his face. Small he may be but this fish wasn’t going to beat him. Out into the deeper water the leviathan went, then turned to head straight towards him.
"Wind him in on the reel as fast as you can and turn your rod away from him, so the line doesn’t get too slack." The line went taut once more and went slack. Mike started to reel the fish in as quick as he could, but the monster wasn’t finished yet. Fast to the left again, then an about turn and, in front of their gaze, almost broached the surface, showing his huge side as he turned to head into the deep.
"He can’t keep this up for long son. Just keep control of him for a little while longer."
For what seemed an age the fish taunted him; turned, twisted, did short runs, laid doggo. Mike was tiring quite quickly by now; knew he’d have to either hand over to his father, or let the fish go.
"One last effort and I think he’s yours ". Those encouraging words brought the reward Mike sought. With aching wrists, arms and shoulders, he slowly reeled the monster in to the bank, in the quickly growing gloom, where his father waited with the gaff.
One strike and the fish was held aloft, in all its glory.
Gold and blue its colour. The sheen was iridescent. To Mike’s bright, wide-opened eyes it was the biggest and best thing he’d ever seen. He felt his face would split apart with the width of his grin. Tiredness gone, he felt on top of the world.
"That is a whopper." Even his father was in awe of the fish. The son could hear the admiration in his father’s voice. "It must be around four solid pounds! An absolute beauty! And just in time, the light is almost gone."
Remembering his first reason for being at the waterside, Mike looked for the kite, just as it dipped into the surface of the tank. The evening always caused the wind to drop. He didn’t care. He could fly a kite any old time, but there was only one, first time, to catch a fish like this.
Specially because his father had told him what to do and he’d got everything right, for once. The proud father handed the fish over to his son; together they walked across the road to home and a fish dinner.