Consider the Octopus

An Octopus fished from the sea. Photo by Max Ablicki.
An Octopus fished from the sea. Photo by Max Ablicki.

Never once did I think that I’d be spending an evening riding around in a cab with a dead fish and a very live octopus in a plastic bag, but, then, this didn’t happen somewhere in the United States.  I was in Tangier, Morocco.

I had been quite under the weather the week before, so when Garrett asked me to accompany him on a fishing trip with Saeed, a local fisherman, I hesitated. I don’t fish much despite having a pole and a license back home, and so pairing a tough case of the common cold with almost zero fishing skills gave me a good excuse to say “no thanks.”’ But I’ve always been one for new experiences, and my afternoon was free. To skip this trip would’ve meant skipping a memory I’ll have for the rest of my life. “I’m game,” I told Garrett.

We met Saeed just outside of an apartment stoop near the Grand Socco. He came equipped with fishing poles and five-gallon pails, ready to be stuffed into a grand taxi that would take us to the waterfront just behind the city’s main casino, one of Said’s regular spots. When I think of fishing in the States, the go-to fishing holes are typically the secret lakes surrounded by fir trees with a morning haze, where an old guy sits in a canoe with a wide brim hat and a wicker basket. But the backside of the casino is how it goes in Tangier, with two-stroke scooters and stray cats on the seawall.

Saeed set up the poles and we started to fish. Garrett caught two small fish, I caught only the rocks on the ocean floor. Hours began to pass as the stray cats tried to figure out how to steal our bait. The sun started to set, bathing everything around us in the soft, golden light of sundown. As I was appreciating the light, Saeed came over to us with a wide smile. At the end of his line was a big, wriggling alien—an octopus. Its tentacles were grabbing his coat and wrapping around everything in their path. It was a lively one. Saeed immediately put it in a bag as a “keeper,” and we finished off our night of fishing as it got dark.

What I didn’t know was that Saeed’s “keeper” was more of a “gifter.” As we packed up the gear, he handed us a fish and the octopus. I don’t know how to clean and cook a fish, let alone an octopus. However, I know that freshly caught fish and octopus are delicacies and that back at campus we had an excellent chef, Karima, who could make quick work of these guys. So we accepted Saeed’s bag full of sea creatures and got ourselves a cab.

During the entire cab ride back to campus, Garret and I exchanged glances of, “I can’t believe we are in a cab with a live octopus in a bag. What do we do?” The cab driver either didn’t know about the octopus or was used to such shenanigans, so we arrived at the campus without incident. Confusion quickly ensued.

In our haste to return to UNE, and in our awkward fear of refusing Saeed’s gift, we had completely overlooked the obvious fact that dinner had passed over an hour before, meaning that Karima had left for the night. In the cafeteria, we put the bag with the octopus on a table and pondered the fact that nobody was around to cook it. We were standing in front of a living octopus straight from the sea and had absolutely no plan as to what to do with it.

“Do we refrigerate it?” I thought to myself. “No, it’ll escape the bag and terrify whoever opens the fridge.” We texted Douaa, our campus coordinator. Unsurprisingly, she had never dealt with such an absurd situation and more or less said, “You’re on your own for this one, guys.”

That’s how Garrett and I ended up back in a cab across Tangier, octopus in tow. Our mission was to release the octopus back to the sea before it was too late. Garret and I turned our attention to the well-being of our octopus companion.

“Man, if you think we’ve had a weird day,” Garrett said, “just consider the poor octopus.” He had a point, but then again nobody wakes up on a bright Wednesday morning expecting by nightfall to play chauffeur for a traumatized octopus.

We told the driver to step on it, and he sped us to the beach. When we tossed our companion back into the sea, he was weak. But Garrett and I hoped the dunk in the sea would revive his strength to return to doing whatever an octopus does down there.

After the release, we still had the dead fish to contend with, and we decided to give it to a nearby fisherman. He looked confused, probably because this was his easiest catch of the day.

So what does one do after such a mission? In our case, not much. We walked off the beach, bought a soda from a convenience store, hailed a cab back to school, and told people in the dining hall, “the octopus is back in the sea.”I went to bed reflecting on what a bizarre Wednesday night it had been, knowing full well now that Thursday could get just as strange.

That’s just Tangier.

Max Ablicki is a Psychology major at the University of New England.

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