The Price of a Soul

In today’s hectic world, where corporations and conglomerates compete for our ever-dwindling reserves of free time, the average person rarely has a chance to stop and think. Our days in the aftermath of a pandemic are filled with concerns about money and acceptable living standards, trying to shape the cost of commodities into something we’re able to manage.

I would, however, ask a simple question – how much is a single soul worth? Not a person’s life either, but that of an animal.

For every wondrous achievement our species has surmounted during its time upon the Earth, we do have some rather inescapable flaws to counterbalance. One example is our instinctive need to assign other forms of life some arbitrary value. This is done by calculating innumerable factors such as consumer demand, aesthetic value or scarcity in the wild. Pedigree dogs and cats with traceable bloodlines can sell for thousands, and their demand is further heightened by current social media trends.

You can walk into a pet shop – perhaps described as an “emporium of lesser souls” if you’re of particularly morbid thinking – and buy some poor animal’s existence for the price of a coffee. Their lives are numbers on a balance sheet at this point, deemed to have financial value based on a set of conditions. Yet, humans ascribe value in such fashion even when something isn’t for sale.

Certain animals don’t have much chance against these preconceived notions set by human society; ravens and crows, in particular, come to mind here. Their cloak of ink-black feathers and those harsh, raspy calls conjure a stereotypical construct of evil – clever darkness and keen-edged malice, lurking in shadow with villainous intent. When some people see a raven they’ve already decided what they are and instantly determine their value as a creature, undoubtedly far beneath the standing of an average human being.

Melancholy this viewpoint may be, I would like to counter by talking about another animal in my remaining word count –goldfish. These most familiar of fish are intelligent creatures with personalities and differences that separate them as individuals. Commonly found crammed into overpopulated tanks within pet shops – or once upon a time, bagged in clear plastic as “Hook a
Duck” prizes at Hull Fair – these fish have the capacity to recognise individual faces, tell the time of day according to the sun’s light upon the waterline, and distinguish between various colours and shapes.

The common goldfish (Carassius auratus) has eyes that are superior to ours and they see in what scientists call “full-spectrum vision”. This means they are able to see everything we can in addition to both ultraviolet and infrared light, making them the only species in the animal kingdom to have this particular trait. That’s right – goldfish can do something better than us!

In addition, the average goldfish memory lasts around four months, which is nowhere near the six seconds you commonly hear touted in urban myths. This means they can be taught tricks and will become tame over time, swimming to the tops of tanks and ponds to take food from familiar people’s hands. Some clever goldfish also develop the talent of communicating by opening
their mouths and then forcibly contracting their swim bladders, floating just below the waterline. This makes a loud popping sound that they will use to attract their owners’ attention and “beg” for food.

Unbelievable, you say? I am fortunate to know two of these talented goldfish and they absolutely do remind me when I’m late at feeding breakfast. There are witnesses and several sources of recorded material I can provide as evidence to this fact.

Goldfish should never be kept in bowls without a filter but will thrive in outdoor ponds or large aquariums. In optimum conditions they have lifespans of around forty-five years and can grow to over a foot long; something to think about next time you see multitudes of baby fish in a pet shop.

These incredible fish also have a sixth sense provided to them by a “lateral line” of nerves running down each side of their torsos. Pressure changes in surrounding water, vibrations and minute electrical currents are all picked up by the lateral line and translated into information the goldfish use to survive in their environment. They are adaptive and hardy fish, able to survive in
ice-crusted water as long as there’s a ready oxygen source. Fish need that to breathe, just as we humans do.

Now, I will state that not all fish retailers disregard goldfish and their amazing qualities. Indeed, it’s fast becoming a trend that places selling live fish will ask a barrage of questions to determine your suitability to care for them, and some will flat-out refuse custom if they believe fish will be going to an unsuitable home. That’s a good thing and should be mandatory for all animals.

As you may have guessed, I am passionate about goldfish. I hope that I have taught you a bit more about them and, if I’m fortunate, perhaps you will see them in a different light and spare them a thought in the future. To me, their value is immeasurable and I love them more than any other animal we share our planet with. They are complex beings and worth so much more than the depressingly-cheap price tags often displayed on their tanks.

Now that we’re close to the end, I will ask that same question again – how much is a soul worth? Would you give goldfish souls a higher value now that you know more about them? What about the crows and other animal pariahs typecast into negative roles by humans?

Perhaps considering such questions also teaches something about ourselves as a species. Do we take too much at face value? We know more about the moon than we do the deepest depths of the oceans on our planet, so there are lessons to learn everywhere we look. The true difficulty is finding the time to think about them.

by Rebecca Kirk

Rebecca Kirk lives in East Yorkshire and has always loved the written word. She one day aspires to be more than a hobbyist writer but sometimes finds the lure of procrastination too difficult to ignore.

photo credit: Imso Gabriel