Conversations With A Mermaid

The moonlit night carried the scent of wet earth.


Soggy leaves were trampled underneath my mud-stained sneakers as I walked through an untarred path leading to the familiar street where I lived. My mind raced with a thousand excuses that could be offered to my mother to explain why I was coming home so close to midnight.


A slight jolt of pain wriggled behind my eyes, and I heard myself groan in response. I should have never agreed to go drinking with my friends. If I had just been a little bit firmer, a little bit more disciplined, I'd have taken the first bus home once I finished my exams.


Before I exited the path, something made me come to a halt. The place I stood was an untarred road with trees on either side. Behind the cover of trees on one side was a lagoon.


A lagoon that people avoided like it was a plague.


Right then, the rush of water usually heard from the lagoon seemed so loud in the quiet night.


One afternoon, when I was little, and knew little about the world, I asked my mother why all my friends refused to play in the lagoon with me. A look of terror had crossed my mother's face then. She peeled off my clothes and searched my bare body. When she was satisfied, she heaved a sigh and kissed my forehead, whispering gratitude to God against my skin.


I would never forget the haunted look in her eyes when she told me to never go to that lagoon again.


Before I could get a hold of myself, my feet had carried me past the thick line of trees, and stopped me right in front of the lagoon.


Soon after, the area surrounding the lagoon, as well as the body of water itself, became illuminated by moonlight. I looked up at the sky, faintly recalling that it was a full moon. The silver orb floated in the blue-black sky, lighting up the clearing with its borrowed light.


When I had gazed at the moon to my fill, I returned my eyes back to the lagoon.


"Jesus!" I exclaimed, tripping over my feet as I tried to back away. Pain raced through my bottom when it hit the ground.


Perched on a flat, large rock at the edge of the lagoon closest to me, was a woman. A very beautiful one.

A small breeze picked up, playing with her thick mane of curly dark hair. She stared at me with an intensity that made the skin on my neck hot from embarrassment. She cocked her head to the side, as though inspecting me.


We stared at each other for a long moment, neither of us moving, until she suddenly pushed off the rock and swam even closer. Well, as close as the lagoon would allow.


Her upper body was completely naked, save for her hair that fell past her shoulders and over her breasts. She grasped a mirror in one hand, and slowly rolled it between

her fingers.


"It's you again," she said, voice soft and firm.


Me again? I had never seen her before. A face like hers wouldn't be easy to forget. "W-who are you?"


"Hm?" She rolled the mirror again, letting its golden surface catch moonlight. "You don't remember?"


"Remember what?"


The girl brought the mirror in front of her and gazed into it, leaving my question hanging in the air, unanswered. For a moment I thought she had forgotten that I was right in front of her.


"You really shouldn't be here, Sam,


" she said, eyes fixed on me once again. "They will smell you from miles away."


How did she know my name? And who were they? I asked myself.


Quickly, I pushed myself off the ground and dusted myself off, intending to get away from the mysterious naked woman. I looked up once I was done, and opened my mouth to ask how she knew my name, but ended up letting out a gasp instead.

She stood right in front of me, clothed in something like a tube, and a very short skirt. Five colourful waist beads clung to small waist, jiggling as she moved.


I stared at her in disbelief, I couldn't comprehend what was happening.


"How?" I asked, just as she reached out and grabbed me by the wrist. The next thing I knew, we were making our way outside the clearing.


The woman looked back at the trees, and then at me. "No time to explain, let's get out of here now." She made a grab at me again, but I shifted back and slapped her hand

away.


"Look, I don't know you. How do you know my name?"


She leaned in closer to me, and I saw something dark slither in her hair and raise its head.

A black snake.


It hissed and wiggled its forked tongue at me. Then, as suddenly as it emerged, it retreated back into the woman's hair.


"We don't have time for this, Sam! Come with me now or die."


Die?


Using my moment of distraction, she grabbed me and pulled me along with her.


"You're lucky you came here on a full moon when I'd be able to get legs."


That statement sunk. It finally occurred to me what she was.


A mermaid. "Mami water!"

Fear coursed through my body along with another emotion I couldn't place. Excitement? Wonder? I tried to pull away from her, but she had an iron grip.


I looked up and realised that she was actually taking me in the direction of my home.


She looked back over her shoulders, eyes darting over the darkness. "Hm. That's enough for now." She dropped my arm and slowed down to brisk walk. She reached into her hair and pulled out that mirror again, twirling it in her hand before intently gazing into it.


"What is going on?" I heard myself ask. For some reason, the fear I felt wasn't enough to make me scream and run away in fear.


The girl sighed and put the mirror back in her hair. Yes, back in her hair. I was pretty sure my eyes almost fell out of their sockets.


"A couple of years ago, you came to that lagoon, didn't you?" She looked up at me with questioning eyes.


"Yes, I did. How did you—"


"I'm the one that sent you back home safely after your friends abandoned you."


What? "They didn't abandon me."


"Yes they did. When you entered the lagoon, one of my sisters grabbed you and tried to take you away."


Like lightning, an image of a six-year-old me struggling underwater flashed through my mind.


"Help me!" I screamed, but only swallowed water instead. I sunk deeper and deeper . . .


"I was almost too late, but I managed to stop her from marking you as a property of the marine world. I'm guessing the experience was so traumatic that your brain hid those memories to protect you."


"That was why my mother checked my body. For marks."


The woman nodded. "Your mother grew up in this town, and thus is one of those who know about the secrets of the lagoon."


I looked up at the full moon again, finally feeling like everything made sense.


But then an important question surfaced. "What did you mean by die? Who wants to kill me? Why?"


"My sisters want to kill you. It's a full moon,


"she pointed up at the sky. "Full moons grant us human feet, and the ability to walk amongst humans undetected. But, during full moons, we have this intense desire to . . . Be intimate

with a human."


Heat crawled up my neck again. How could she utter that statement so brazenly? Did that mean that she also had such urges? What if she luring me away to kill me herself?


My thoughts were interrupted by her laughter. "I'm not. I don't believe in killing humans. I do not seek revenge."


"Revenge for what?"


She hopped over a coke bottle lying on the ground, twirling around gracefully.


"Humans are killing our waters, Sam. You turn our lakes and rivers into dumping grounds for your waste. An oil spillage once killed dozens of my people. Imagine choking on the air you breathe. My people died from taking in contaminated water." She clenched her fists by her sides.


"I'm sorry."


She looked up at me, and gave me a small smile. "Now, that's the real reason why I saved you that day."


"Why?"


"Because you didn't see me as a monster that day. Even now, you look at me like I am a normal person."


I woke up the next day with her mirror in my hand.


She had left suddenly, telling me that her sisters were calling her. In the blink of an eye, she vanished into thin air, leaving only her beloved mirror behind.

Seeing as I had no other option, I went home and got an earful of reprimands from my mom.


That next morning, immediately I woke up, I rushed out of the house and headed for the lagoon. My heart raced as I crossed the tree line and entered the clearing.


I didn't even know her name, I remembered as my lips parted.


What shocked me even more was that the lagoon was no longer there. There wasn't any sign of it ever being there in the first place. Where the lagoon once sat had been replaced by short spiky grass.


I can't recall how long I sat on the ground, staring at everything and nothing.


In a small act of desperation, I looked at her mirror, searching for something, anything, that could give me a sign that she had been real.


Then, I saw it. An engraving on the handle of the mirror.


Bintu!

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