The little girl carefully tiptoes around the orange-and-red swarm of tiny soldier crabs. A large crab (yet still the size of her little toe) furiously waved its harmless scarlet claws at her while the rest scrambled to safety.
She giggles at its silly antics and brings down her own scarlet “claw”: a red plastic shovel used to make sandcastles for the crabs. A small smack on the sand. No thunder roared–only a tiny smack like swatting a mosquito. The not-so-big crab is a mess of orange.
She scoops up the tinier ones in her palm. They try to run and pinch but she doesn’t notice. She runs back to her mother, relaxing on a blue picnic mat.
The phone rings and her mother answers.
Her Uncle has Stage Four cancer. She tilts her head in confusion. She remembers the zodiac signs–Cancer the Crab. Her Uncle has a crab? Well, they all loved seafood, it was no wonder he had a crab lodged between his throat and stomach.
Is it a big crab? Yes, they say. It’s causing him pain. He can’t eat. She imagines a orange-and-red soldier crab–only bigger–waving his scarlet claw in a fury.
Was this a retribution for all those crabs she killed? she wonders. But they wouldn’t be caught so she had to kill them.
The crabs struggle to get out of the large yellow container packed with sand. It’s a mad rush of orange stacked on red and red stacked on orange as they climb onto one another, scrambling to escape.
The girl watches them. Fascinated. Confused. By her power; by their weakness.
She observes the way their spindly legs tap dances on the sand. She studies their black beady eyes that don’t reflect anything. She frowns. Do they even have a soul? Why does nature give bright colours to such brittle bodies?
If they were duller, maybe she wouldn’t be as fascinated, she tells herself.
But as the girl grows up and returns to the beach once again, she is reminded of her younger self. The younger self that killed. The image of a crab is no longer that of a toy, a source of food.
As the countless immortal hordes of orange and red once again swamp the beach, she no longer chases them with relentless vigor. She just stands and observes; picks one up between her thumb and finger and places it on her palm. She gazes at the tiny crab on her hand that now scuttles away and falls gently into the soft sand below. She tracks its every movement as it scuttles, scuttles, scuttles to rejoin its brethen and watches as it burrows into the moist sand.
Today when she wakes up, her father will tell her Uncle has passed away.
Today when she wakes up, between the fish and the crab mooncakes, she will choose the crab.
And she will look at it and marvel at how almost life-like it is. It’s the crab her family eats at seafood restaurants, not the small, bug-like crabs she chases at Port Dickson. It still looks real though.
Real. So, so real.
They always said: as you reread a book, its meaning transforms. She always thought it was because as you grew older, you gain a more mature understanding of the text.
For when she sees the crab, she sees only pity and regret.