My friend was most excited, Tenali had finally come home. For those in the dark, Tenali is her latest pet - a plump, orange-gold swimming sensation. I walked into her house and there on the dining table in a transparent, upturned astronaut’s helmet was a single goldfish, going round and round in circles like the worried father of a bride who had run away.

 

She (the friend not the goldfish) looked at me with sparkling eyes, ‘Isn’t he handsome? You know he has begun to recognise me.’ I curved my lips a fraction to hide my scepticism. To demonstrate his superior intelligence, she picked up a small bottle and shook it. Tenali immediately swam up to the surface and gazed at her with his bubble eyes, opening and closing his pout, as tiny pellets of fish food rained down his throat.

 

I don’t understand pets like goldfish and turtles. Where’s the emotional pay-off? How do you recognise their love? What do they do to express their friendship? Traditional pets like a dog, will slurp at my skin, thump his tail when I come into a room, leap onto my bed and dig his wet nose into my toes while I read a book. A cat will perch on my warm lap to groom her paws or scratch an itch by polishing the knob of her head against my feet and sometimes, albeit rarely, will even give me a rough-tongued lick of approval. When that happens a warm, fuzzy feel dances around my entire body and I feel quite content with this demanding world.

Untraditional pets can be quite demonstrative too. A snake will slither out of his cage, claim your neck with his body and gaze into your eyes as if he can read every single thought running in there. Or a dormouse will twitch at your ear, a mini nuzzle, fall asleep in the crook of your arm, her tiny breath moistening the hardest part of you into mush. Even a macaw will rub his hooked, lethal beak against the curve of your cheek as his claws clutch your shoulder in gentle camaraderie.

 

What does a turtle do? Poke its head out of its shell and chew a leaf to show how much it cares? Am I the unenlightened one who doesn’t see affection overflowing in the twitch of a lizard’s head? Could there be endless adoration in a harem of angelfish swimming between the legs of a red, plastic diver in an aquarium?

 

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When you ask proud goldfish / turtle / lizard owners why they keep them a popular answer is ‘Low maintenance’. That’s when it hits me. Perhaps, the amount of ‘maintenance’ we put into love is directly proportional to what we get back.

 

While I was discovering these fascinating theories to life, Tenali got a girlfriend, Sundari. This fecund couple wasted no time in tripling the population of their glass planet. I asked my friend whether they were as intelligent as their father. She squealed in delight, ‘Now, all six of them recognise me.’

 

‘Still Figuring It Out’ a funny, sad, questioning take on adulthood will appear every Saturday on newsable.com. Arathi Menon is the author of Leaving Home With Half a Fridge, a memoir published by Pan Macmillan. She tweets at https://twitter.com/unopenedbottle. The views expressed here are her own.