Hubert's Voyage

A koi fish in Hong Kong
A likely likeness of Hubert (Tina Vanhove | unsplash.com)

Once upon a time there was a charming country house with a large garden. The garden was full of beautiful flowers, bushes and trees. It was a very peaceful place.

In the midst of the garden lay a round pond with clear, cool water. In the pond lived a red fish, and he was a rather peculiar fellow.

 

People of the house noticed right away that there was something unusual about the fish. They observed that he spent most of his days motionless, right in the middle of the pond.

This was, incidentally, how they came up with a name for him. Someone looking from the balcony of the house commented that the fish looked like a red hub of a black wheel. The person was an engineer, evidently. A little child then made a lovely drawing of a round pond with a fish in the middle, entitled "Hubert". The name stuck. No one had the heart to correct the child’s spelling, and the explanation to visitors as to why "Hubert" ought to be pronounced “Hubbert” always raised a smile.

Over time however, as Hubert refused to swim, the people ceased to be so light-hearted. They started to worry about Hubert more and more every day. He was an expensive fish, after all.

"Why does Hubert not swim around? The pond is spacious enough indeed."

"Is he lacking some vitamins, or is he sick?"

They called for a test of the water quality and temperature, they consulted with garden fish experts on improvements to Hubert's feed. They even trimmed the bush of roses that showered its petals on the water just in case that was bothering him. But nothing helped.

 

To put it simply, Hubert was a melancholic fish. He felt there was more to life, and he longed for it painfully.

He appreciated his pond but, in spite of his proverbially short-term memory, he knew it far too well. As a matter of fact — if you spoke fish — he would have been able to give you a guided tour of every litre of water in the pond. Hubert also sensed beauty outside the pond. The colours, the play of light and shadows, and the muffled sounds were marvellous, but their inaccessibility was making him a little more sad every day.

Hubert had finally concluded that there was nowhere for him to go, nothing left for him to discover, that his life was void of any purpose. To top it all off, he could not even commiserate with anybody. In despair, he decided to take refuge in the one place that was the farthest from everything else.

But the centre of the pond only accentuated Hubert's gloom. He started to believe it was his fate to be sad and alone. He began to revel in his loneliness. He imagined he was in the pure centre of the world, in the sweetest spot. Alone in the nave of his cathedral. As close to nirvana as one could be. Just one step from nothingness.

Eventually, Hubert stopped eating. He was just hanging there, suspended and motionless in the middle of his pond.

 

The people of the house could see that Hubert was diminishing. They feared he might die soon. But they had no idea what more they could do.

In the house there lived big people and a little girl. The child loved the fish a lot. One Sunday, at breakfast, the girl proclaimed: "I think that Hubert is sad because he's in the middle of the pond!" The big people smiled the way big people smile when a cute little child says something obvious, and they continued eating their boiled eggs and toast. Only when it came to coffee, one of them pensively uttered there might actually be something to the idea. "Imagine, just for the sake of argument, that the pond would have no centre — could the fish then go and sulk there?"

The people of the house consulted a gardening firm and a week later Hubert observed a huge shadow hanging right above his head. Although out of his element, it was looming ever closer and bigger, and that frightened him a lot. With an instinctive jerk of his weary fins Hubert abandoned the centre of the pond and hid in the water plants at the perimeter. Then there was a booming noise and a lot of waves, and the water became opaque with mud.

The people of the house thanked the workers and were relieved to see the heavy crane leaving their carefully manicured lawn.

The task had been accomplished. Just where the nave used to be, the pond's surface was punctured by a sizeable rock. It had become a kind of an island, really. 

 

Long after the last ripple had died and the mud had sedimented out, Hubert hesitantly came out of hiding and decided to head back to the middle of the pond. Only this time he could not find it so easily. He expected it right behind a corner but it was not there, so he swam and swam, along endless shores. When he got tired, he ate, and then he searched further.

Today Hubert is still on his journey, swimming eagerly in the sincere hope that one day he will get to that most fulfilling of places, the nave of the world, the sweetest spot, the finish.

And the people of the house are happy to see Hubert swimming again. He has a good appetite and looks very healthy.


I first heard this little fable from Tony Judge at the time we worked together at the Union of International Associations in Brussels. He told it as a short amusing story with a touch of philosophy. I only reworked it into a longer piece.

Also many thanks to Nadia McLaren for the proofreading — it was her who noticed that "hub" would have led to a name spelled "Hubbert", not "Hubert". Luckily I was able to solve the problem by blaming a little child :-)

As often with jokes, the story has surprising depths. Basically it tackles the very question of the meaning of life. Perhaps there is only so much one can ever explore, and even then, what's the point... One way out from such gloom is to create an illusion of a journey to something greater.

What a good luck it is to encounter obstacles situated so strategically that they turn our mundane lives into exciting journeys across the vast expanses of the unknown towards some wonderful, if unattainable goals!

article, essay

fish pond loneliness philosophy illusion travel meaning dream hope destination hub nave centre rock search journey fable vacilando

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