By Clare Diston
Ijemma waited for the day she would return to the sea.
She had seen it only once, as a baby, but Mama had told her about it so many times that Ijemma was sure she remembered. “It was a hot day and you were crying,” Mama said, “but the moment you saw the sea, you stopped.” Ijemma could see her baby-self, hands clenched into fists, wildly kicking and then falling still, the tears drying as salt-stains on her cheeks at the sight of that vast stretch of blue.
Mama said, “I pointed to the water and told you, ‘We crossed that sea to come here. Home is that way.’ And you laughed, and when I put you down, you crawled right into the waves like you wanted to swim all the way back.”
Mama would always stop then and look very hard at the wall or the park or the dirty river—wherever she was telling the story today.
Ijemma knew the truth. Home was not over the sea, it was the sea. She had read all the stories of girls coming out of the waves, peeling off their seal skins or trading their voices for legs. She knew she was one of them because of Mama’s story, and because other people told her so. “Go home,” they would say when she and Mama were walking down the street. “Go back to where you came from.” Sometimes these strangers would come over and touch her hair. Ijemma liked that; mermaids always have beautiful hair.
Mama couldn’t tell her, of course. In the stories, it had to be a secret. But there was always a happy ending, and Ijemma was prepared to wait for hers. So she would stay, for now, in the human city, looking out of the window and imagining a glint of blue between the great grey buildings. One day that blue would swallow her up, and then she would know she was home.
Brilliant Clare! I felt the breath of salt in the air on the beach. I yearn too to return home. A short precise piece that even brought in a theme of racism. Everyone should know the life aquatic. Not just in Aquariums but in total immersion in the sea. Then perhaps we would not bleach coral, use it as a trash bin, nor sweep it clean of life. Try scuba in the kelp forests off the Channel Islands in California. It is still a wonderland, my pilgrimage every year.
Thank you, Keith! I’d love to scuba in a kelp forest.
So short. So full of meaning. So beautiful.