It was a rough night at sea. The moon was partially obscured by the thunderheads, casting down ghostly slivers of light. I stood on the cliff. Far below colossal waves pounced with malice onto its rocky feet. The sea looked ready to devour the world with its salty lips.
Tonight nature reflected my life, bobbing like a cork through brutal waves. The loss of my job coupled with the unpaid loans; the ever-increasing insistence of the loan sharks for payment; the rejections from everywhere I’d applied for jobs – all these had engulfed my life. The only way to escape this misery was to give it all up.
A gale was stirring up. Soon raindrops whipped like crystals, stinging my bare skin like ice burns. I glanced at the dark sky and the enraged sea one last time. Then taking a deep breath, I plummeted down with closed eyes.
After what felt like a thousand years I hit the capacious sea. For the first time in my life, I was aware of my mortality. I gasped for breath, longing for a little more time with life. But, there was no way to undo that which had been done. The wind was already baying for my blood.
A mountainous wave rose, blotting out the sky. The brine shrouded me, pushing me down the milky depths of a whirlpool. It was impossible to swim through such torrential currents. My limbs were failing and I was ready to surrender when somebody grabbed me and pulled me up.
Saltwater blinded my eyes. I never saw who gently kept my head above the rippling waves and guided me towards land. After an endless struggle, I touched coarse, grainy sand. We’d reached the beach. I tried to see my savior. But exhaustion overtook me. The last thing I saw before losing my senses just wasn’t possible.
Was I dreaming?
It was a beautiful lass with skin as clear as porcelain, and eyes as blue as the deepest sea. Instead of limbs, her body ended in a fish’s tail. A mermaid, straight out of the pages of a fairy tale.
The night was as turbulent as the emotions crashing on the jagged edges of my thoughts. The moon shone in all its maddening brightness, cursing the sea waves to a continuous danse macabre, dying out at the feet of the sandy beach after a last passionate kiss. I ached to dance like the leaves fluttering in the wind. Whirl on my toes like the swirls of a tornado. Pirouette on the beach with the feel of the sand under my toes. Weather like this always revived my wish to dance crazily and led to the familiar ache – regret at being forever bound to the waves, and the sea the only dance floor available. The shiny tail my body morphed into, was no match for a pair of legs that I so deeply desired. I was a deeply unhappy mermaid.
The unbroken line of the hills rose like a giant wave to form an undulating ridge above the roaring sea. The beach under the other side of the hills remained desolate. I was fond of coming here whenever I felt overwhelmed by the onslaught of my emotions.
Gloomy thunder clouds gathered on the horizon and quickly overran the brightly lit sky, covering the moon like a veil. Darkness crept over everything but I’m used to the darkness. The moon bravely splashed trickles of light onto the bleak barren land from gaps in the cloud. In no time, the wind whipped up into a squall. As the cold raindrops struck my clammy skin, I saw a man standing on the cliff. Before I could gather my thoughts he took a step forward and fell into the violent waves underneath.
Anger rose inside me like a wave. Here I was, mad at not having a pair of legs. Never being able to walk upright or run with the wind into my face, like the wild caresses of a passionate lover. Never able to climb a mountain and experience exhilaration and pain like a well-deserved punishment. No, I was cursed to crawl and swerve through the endless undulating waves, bound to the water, deep and dark. And this blessed human was throwing it all away.
I lost all caution, drilled into us since we were tiny like carps. Sleek like a dolphin, I breasted the violent waves and reached him in no time. He had been caught into a whirlpool and was jiggling like a jellyfish, being no match for the violence of the swirling spirals. I pulled him from the embrace of the eddies and, keeping him firmly tucked under an arm, swam towards the shore.
Once there, I deposited him on the gravelly sand. He lay there, blond hair tousled and strong muscles relaxed. I hoped he wasn’t dead. He looked like one of the carved statues lying submerged around the dwellings of my people. Broken remnants which gave rise to dreams and soaring desires in my heart! Once I’d seen those sensually carved statues, I was never content with my lot under the sea. I had to go and explore what was there on the surface and beyond it.
The prone figure lay on the sand like a god in repose. I never knew what came over me as I bent forward and kissed him on the mouth, his full lips beckoning me like the shells of an oyster to explore for the pearl hiding within.
My insides exploded. His lips tasted of the sea and something else; icy cool and sweet, like the green glaciers. I wished to continue like this forever, but a breath or two later, he sputtered, spat out seawater, and opened his eyes. They were deep blue, almost indigo, like the deep sea. I couldn’t keep myself from falling into their depths. I needed to leave and dived into the waves, my sleek tail parting them like a marlin’s spiked nose.
Daybreak arrived with a riot of colors brightening the horizon. The storm had passed and left a beautiful day in its wake. Curiosity couldn’t keep me away from the beach. What had happened to the stranger? As soon as I could, I slipped away to find out.
I was some distance away from the shore when I noticed it was no more empty. I hid and watched things from behind a rock. Some fishermen had gathered on the beach. They had covered the stranger in thick blankets and had given him something hot to drink.
When no one was looking at him, the stranger walked to the shore. Clutching the cup tight, he gazed at the sea wistfully, his eyes scanning the green surface. My heart jumped. He remembered! Then he turned and he was gone. Soon the whole crowd left the place in some vehicles with flashing blue lights on top.
The beach and the sea stood silent as before. But something had changed. The scenes from the night flashed before my eyes. How he’d stood there on the ridge, wild and determined. The way he’d struggled in my arms and laid like a carved sculpture on the sand. The taste of his lips when I’d kissed him. My lips longed for his sweet chilled breath and my eyes for another sight. And I wondered if, in his heart, he felt the same way.
I checked the beach and the ridge in the evening. But he hadn’t come back. The next morning my smitten heart led me back but the beach was empty of suicidal strangers. Heartsick, I couldn’t stay away. On the third day, I again swam to the beach without any real hope in my heart. The crackling of driftwood reached my ears and I swam on eager, towards the shore. There he sat dozing, like an unseeing statue, before a roaring fire. I’d never been happier at seeing someone before.
So much had changed in a month. The mighty sea waves flowed astral-blue from the horizon and washed my feet gently. Slumbering in its blue robe, the sea dawdled under the streamers of silvery glow splayed out through the clouds. I watched the nonchalant sea and disdained how I was at the same spot to throw away this precious life last month. It was a miracle that had saved me. Today that same miracle would free me. I wondered if I was dreaming.
Dream. That’s what I’d thought when I regained consciousness. The doctors were surprised. There wasn’t a single scratch on my body. Everyone kept asking how I survived. What could’ve I said? Who would believe my tale? But, the taste of her luscious lips was fresh in my mind. It wasn’t my imagination.
I visited the beach again two days later in the vain hope of finding something. The waves broke gently on the shore sending up sprays of phosphorescent froth. Crabs scurried away at my footsteps. I knew what I sought lay amidst the briny deep but there was no guarantee of finding it.
It was cold. I lit a fire from the driftwood scattered on the beach and kept an eye on the dark seawater. I don’t know what I hoped for. Tired, I dozed off. When I opened my eyes, I had a feeling someone was watching me.
There she was. The mermaid. As soon as she realized I’d seen her, she ducked underwater. This continued for some time. I would look at her and she would hide under the blue veil separating our worlds. I searched inside my pocket and found some mint candies. I held one out on my palms as a friendly offering. She came forward a little, her shimmering tail still partly underwater, and took one. I showed her how to put it inside the mouth and she followed. Her round eyes full of wonder were ecstatic as she devoured the sweet. Was it a blush creeping up her alabaster cheeks? Soon we were sitting together by the fire, in silence, devouring mint toffees.
The memory brought a smile to my lips. We kept meeting after that daily.
“I’m Will. What’s your name?” I asked her one day. She never told me. So I gave her one. Pearl. She was a treasure from the depths of the sea. Just like her name.
Her eyes shone every time I called her that and a smile would light up her face. She was like a child, carefree and trusting, the first one to trust me unconditionally. I soon began living for my nights when we could be together.
One night she beckoned me to an unexplored part of the beach within the ridges. It was a phenomenal scene. The water there glowed, creating a glimmering effect. As if stars had been scattered into the sea, shining brightly therein like diamonds. And how she danced! My Pearl among those stars. It was a view worth millions. I captured it on my mobile on the sly. She loved to dance and I knew she craved to own a pair of legs. She’d conveyed it to me through gestures enough times.
The next day Tom, my faithful friend since childhood, and I were sitting in the pub drinking together when we were surrounded by some men. Their visages gave away their purpose. When they understood I had nothing to pay back, they bashed me black and blue. Tom intervened and he too sustained some bruises and scratches. The men left with threats to me and my family if I didn’t arrange the money soon.
“You’ve to do something. Moneylenders don’t let defaulters go easily,” Tom said as he put ice on my bruises. We were at his house. I didn’t want to alarm my family.
“There is no way out. Why do you think I jumped? I don’t want my family to suffer for my misdeeds. Why did that mermaid save me? Everything would’ve been over by now,” I lamented.
“Mermaid? What mermaid? I think they hit your head too hard.” Tom was incredulous as expected. I told him everything but he still did not believe it. So, to prove my veracity, I shared the video with him.
“Oh, my God. You’ve hit the jackpot. This mermaid is the key to your freedom from this wretched life.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Trade her in exchange for your life. The lenders would jump at this out-of-the-world opportunity.”
“How can I do that? She saved my life. That innocent girl…” I demurred.
“She isn’t human, dumbhead. She’s half-fish. Don’t we keep fishes in the aquarium? Don’t we eat them? Who is more important – your family or a fish?”
His words had logic. But, my heart wasn’t ready to betray her like that.
“But how will I convince her?”
“Trick her. Tell her that you have arranged for her much-desired legs.”
I spent the whole day in anxiety, but at last, bowed before his idea. It wasn’t hard to convince the lenders to forego my loans in exchange for that innocent creature. One look at the video and they had been all mesmerized.
I felt guilty. She had saved my life after all. But, then I thought maybe this was best for her. She was bored of the watery life and wanted adventures. And didn’t she love me? She would want me to be happy.
So here I was today at the same spot to capture her. The last time we met, I’d promised to arrange an operation to replace her tail with legs. The happiness on her face had exacerbated my guilt. But I had no choice. The preparations were in place and we, the moneylender’s goons and I waited with bated breath for Pearl to come. It would be an easy thing. She trusted me completely.
Do wishes really come true? I’d always felt that something had been lacking inside me. I didn’t want my tail to define me or my movements. And today I was going to have my wish fulfilled.
The excitement in my heart knew no bounds. Finally, I was going to be free of these boring and monotonous waves. I could be walking in a day or two! I couldn’t wait to explore the world beyond the water and the sand.
In my excitement, I reached that lonely cove where Will and I had met, much before the determined time. The furtive men there and the flurry of activity raised my hackles. Something wasn’t right.
I swam, silent as a shark, under the svelte little sailboat mooring nearby. Who were these people and what were they doing here? As long as they were here, Will wouldn’t come to take me with him. He’d promised to keep me a secret from his world for now.
As I lurked under the water surface I watched the men transfer a steel cage onto the deck of the boat and then fit over a great big glass tub filled with water. I was wondering what purpose that cage would serve when a familiar voice broke into my thoughts. Peering over the surface I saw Will shaking hands with a swarthy-looking fellow. And then he said, “Don’t worry. She trusts me. She’ll be yours in a few hours.”
I felt as if a giant wave had crushed me. I couldn’t breathe. Gasping, I submerged deep beneath the salty curtain to be able to think straight in the inky depths, with the comforting weight of tonnes of water above me to still my galloping thoughts.
Betrayal! He meant to take me to his world to hand over to some villain for his nefarious purposes. Oh! How could I be so blind? Lovesick and driven by my feelings of deficiency, I’d forgotten all the tales of human capriciousness that had always been whispered amongst us sea folk. I’d bared my heart to Will and he’d used my hopes and yearnings to beguile me for his depraved ends.
The stories heard long back came tumbling into my mind. Of the little mermaid who’d given up her life for a human prince to no avail. She could never get him to love her even though she’d saved his life. Humans are so selfish, they cannot see beyond their desires and their fulfillment, even if they cause untold hurt in the bargain. Well, I wasn’t the little mermaid. I wasn’t going to be a silly fool and die for the love of someone who didn’t appreciate what he had.
Some wishes are destined to remain just that. They are there to sow our hearts with dreams and to push us to be the best version of ourselves. To help us strive and excel but we’ve got to remember not to insist upon their fulfillment.
All my life I’d believed that my tail made me less. Limited in my movements and less in my reach. Now I realized it made me more. More alluring, unique, magical, me! I’m a miracle and the sea would always be there as my dance floor.
With this new knowledge bolstering my aching heart, I bid a silent goodbye to Will and went back, unhappy but wise.
She never came. For the first time since we met, Pearl failed to show up. The blackness of the night slowly gave way to the golden light that laminated the world with its warmth. But, my life remained cold and bleak.
“So, you tried to trick us with a morphed video?”
“I… Believe me… The mermaid comes every day… I don’t know why she didn’t come. Maybe she saw you all and got scared.”
“Oh! Is it? Did we scare her away? Let’s teach you how our scares work.”
The knife at my throat was swift and smooth. Before long, my body was falling down the same cliff once again. I tried to shout and call for help. However, no miracle would be arriving this time.
Picture credit – Dominica Roseclay from Pexels.com
Team Name – Pensée
Authors – Sreeparna Sen and Sheerin Shahab
Author’s note : This story is an ode to one of our favourite classics, The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson. Those who have not read it may find it here.