What’s Your Shark?

“Next question?” the woman at the podium asked. Her hawkish features placed her in the category of handsome rather than beautiful and were accentuated by raven hair cut straight around the head at jaw-level, with a fringe. She was dressed in a black Kevlar bodysuit which made her look like a cross between a superheroine and the baddie in a post-apocalyptic science fiction film.

“You there, the woman in the purple jumper,” she pointed into the sea of reporters.

“Miss Begum, given the mortality rate associated with your line of work, aren’t you the least bit scared that you’ll never grow old enough to start a family of your own?” the reporter asked.

Of all the questions Matilda Begum had ever been asked, this was the one she hated most, which was probably why it was the one asked most frequently.

“I learned to conquer my fear when I was young,” Matilda said, and then course-corrected. “Put a line through that. What I meant to say is that my father taught me at a very young age to use my fear as a motivator.”

“You mean, he endangered the life of a child by manipulating you to help him do his job,” another reporter piped in.

“First of all, my father was a good man,” Matilda snapped, caught herself then regrouped. “And he never manipulated me to do anything. I asked to help him in his work.”

“But as a parent,” yet another reporter added. “Wasn’t it his responsibility to keep his only daughter out of harm’s way?”

“You all already know this story, so I don’t know why you keep rehashing it, but for the sake of this conference, I’ll go through it one last time. My mother was murdered when I was a toddler, so I have zero memories of her. All I’ve ever had in my life was my father. When I was little, he was the biggest, smartest, most important person in the world. When I got older, I could see that he wasn’t really any of those things. He was just a man, flying by the seat of his pants, trying to do his best to raise a girl he didn’t properly understand. When I matured, I realized that he was pretty damned close to the man I thought he was as a child because he endured all my teenage rebellious nonsense, all the hatred and vitriol I spat at him, and never once held it against me.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” the third reporter said.

“Who’s at the podium, you or me? I’ll answer your question anyway I see fit, and you will not interrupt me again if you wish to remain in this room. Clear?”

The reporter remained silent.

“Good,” Matilda smiled. “Now, where was I? Oh yes, my father would have preferred a son, he never said as much, but he raised me like one and I didn’t mind because I wanted to be just like him. He had turned his quest to find my mother’s murderer into an occupation, and when he finally located the killer, I wanted to be there, to help him get justice for a woman I never had the chance to meet.”

“But you were only ten at the time, were you not?” the second reporter asked.

“Ten going on fifty, as my father used to say.”

The first reporter asked, “And you weren’t scared?”

“Are you kidding me? I was petrified! We stood outside the killer’s house and I was shivering so much I could hardly stand.

“I told my father, I can’t do this!

“And he smiled and said, That’s okay, honey, you just wait here. This shouldn’t take long.

“But I told him I wanted to be there, I wanted to help, for my mother.

“And he asked me, What’s your shark? And I just looked at him like he was crazy.

“I never told you that story? he asked. I thought I did.

“Then he proceeded to tell me the story of the Sharks and Fish. Anyone familiar with it? No? Well, it goes like this:

The Japanese have always loved fresh fish, but the waters close to Japan haven’t held a great deal of fish for decades. So they built bigger fishing boats and traveled farther out to sea but the farther the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring in the fish. If the return trip took more than a few days, the fish weren’t fresh and people didn’t like the taste.

To solve this problem, fishing companies installed freezers on their boats to allow the vessels to go farther and stay longer. However, people could taste the difference and didn’t care for frozen fish, which brought down the price.

Then the fishing companies installed fish tanks, but once placed in the tanks, after a little thrashing around, the fish stopped moving. They were tired and dull, but alive. Unfortunately, the Japanese public could still taste the difference.

Apparently, because the fish didn’t move for days, they lost their fresh-fish taste. The fishing companies pondered over the dilemma until they stumbled onto the solution:

To keep the fish tasting fresh, the fishing companies still put the fish in the tanks, but now they added a small shark to each tank. Sure, the shark ate a few fish, but most of the fish arrived in a very lively state. The fish were being challenged.

“So, when you lot ask me if I’m scared, of course, I am and I think that anyone in this or any other profession should be in a constant state of fear when doing their job. This, of course, requires your willingness to break free from your comfort zone and push boundaries.

“If it isn’t already, life needs to be your exploration into that frightening undiscovered country. Every new project is an opportunity to attempt feats above your current skill set. To see what lies beyond the unfamiliar horizon. To embrace bizarre new thoughts, take on larger points of view. To shake hands with the intimidating unknown. To paint the world you live in with unique challenges. Anything less and you do a disservice not only to your work but also to your life.

“Challenging yourself is about punching above your weight class, learning to not only chew but swallow that which you’ve bitten off, and in essence growing as you come to the realization that you’ve just become something better than you believed yourself capable of.”

“So, when you lot ask me if I’m scared, of course, I am and I think that anyone in this or any other profession should be in a constant state of fear when doing their job. This, of course, requires your willingness to break free from your comfort zone and push boundaries.

“If it isn’t already, life needs to be your exploration into that frightening undiscovered country. Every new project is an opportunity to attempt feats above your current skill set. To see what lies beyond the unfamiliar horizon. To embrace bizarre new thoughts, take on larger points of view. To shake hands with the intimidating unknown. To paint the world you live in with unique challenges. Anything less and you do a disservice not only to your work but also to your life.

“Challenging yourself is about punching above your weight class, learning to not only chew but swallow that which you’ve bitten off, and in essence growing as you come to the realization that you’ve just become something better than you believed yourself capable of.”

“So, in the wake of your father’s passing, God rest his soul, does that mean you’ll keep up the family business?” a reporter off in the rear of the conference room shouted.

“Of course,” Matilda said, her smile beaming. “Vampire hunting is in my blood!”

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys