September 27 – A Day of the unexpected
I arrived with my parents in Scottburgh in the early hours of yesterday morning. It was odd, waking up to the humidity the ocean brought to the air that Johannesburg didn’t have. My mom kept calling my name – which is Steven, by the way – waking me up even though I was clutching my pillow, hoping if I pulled it over my ears she would disappear and let me sleep longer.
Belinda is a stubborn woman though and turned the radio up loud so I would wake up frustrated. “You can’t sleep now, Steven, we’re here and we need you to help us unpack.” She said. Of course my dad, Christian nodded in agreement and as we parked at the rented cottage, I got up and helped unpack.
When I was finally done, my parents decided to go buy take-out. I decided I might as well go check out the beach. I realised quickly that the little cottage was basically on the shore, with the exception of a mini-forest growing between the cottage and the crashing waves on the other side. I walked among the trees with fear pulsing in my veins, because this was Kwazulu Natal – a place well known for their poisonous snakes.
I reached the other side to find rocks the size of caravans sticking out among the smooth sea-sand on the shore and peered around them to see the calm ocean and for a split second I thought I saw a massive fin plop into the water. I shrugged. I knew I must have been imagining it. To my far left there was nothing to be seen for kilometres, except for the elderly person sunbathing. To my far right, there was a place with restaurants, little shops and people swarming the sea. It was definitely an easy walking distance for me, so I went back to the cottage, phoned my mom and let her know where I was going and changed into my swimming shorts before rushing down to the more “happening” side of the beach.
Hours went by and nothing interesting happened. A young girl with two braids got attacked by a bluebottle, but that was about my only entertainment for the day until a teenage girl came to stand by me and started talking. Alisha was her name and she was 16 years old, same as me. She asked me where I was from and how long I was staying. At first I thought she was being flirtatious, especially when she asked me to meet her friends, but there was a guy named Brandt that she introduced as her boyfriend. Among them were two other guys named Jason and Phillip and a girl called Nadine.
Nadine was really attractive with long braided blonde hair and a smile that shyly peeped out every now and then during the conversation, although she wasn’t talking much at all. They had asked me where I was from and what school I went to. It was all small talk until I told them about imagining a fin plop into the water and Brandt told me a story about a mermaid that lived among the Scottburgh waves. “Humour me.” I said, holding back a grin. “I’m actually serious.” He said. “There’s a story about her among the locals. We call her Silvia; she has bright shiny silver hair and caramel coloured skin, but she’s only been properly spotted by sailors who’ve died at sea.” “How would you know what she looked like, if the only ones who’ve seen her are dead?” Nadine said suddenly, laughing. Brandt pursed his lips and shrugged. “Those are the stories anyway.”
The rest of the day was spent that way and I noticed Nadine coming more and more out of her shell. She also seemed ecstatic when Phillip (who I now knew was her brother), insisted that she teach me how to surf. We went up to the shore and she taught me a few tricks, her beautiful smile breaking though her milky-pink lips every time I fell, making me want to fall more often. My pride got the better of me though, and eventually I managed to stay on the board at least long enough to see her smile triumphantly, which, I decided, was a much prettier sight. When we got back to her friends it was already late and they decided to pack up. “Will I see you again tomorrow?” Nadine asked, and I felt a strange sensation in my stomach that made me blush. I looked away quickly before she thought I was weird – after all, guys don’t blush! I cleared my throat. “Sure, same time and place? Maybe I’ll be able to stay on the board a full minute?” I joked awkwardly. “We’ll see.” She teased and then went off to join her friends.
The next day was also fun and I actually did manage to stay on the board longer. Nadine bought me an ice-cream to celebrate and made a big fuss about it to her friends. “Well done dude!” Jason said, and I realised it was the only thing he’d said since I met him – the rest of the time he was either in the water or stuffing his face with “boerie” rolls that were extremely cheap at a stand close by.
Although we had a great day, the fun was spoilt soon when the lifeguards warned everyone that there was a shark hazard at around 17:00. I saluted my friends –including Nadine who looked upset about my leaving - and walked home.
When the beach was almost clear and there was nothing but the crashing waves to hear, I decided to sit on the beach between to the rocks near the cottage. I knew the lifeguards would complain and shoo me away if they saw me there, so I squeezed myself in a tight space, so that even my shadow was invisible to anyone if they passed by. I sat there and stared out at the ocean. The smell of the sand and water was hypnotising and after a few minutes I was asleep.
* * * * * *
I was awoken when I heard a scraping noise on the rocks above me. I woke suddenly, alarmed at the noise and jerked my head up, but the rocks were too big and blocked my view. I heard a loud thump and then a splash. I pulled myself higher to glimpse at what had made the noise, but all I saw was a bright green fin disappearing into the water. I hopped onto the rock to get a better look when impulse got the better of me and I found myself jumping into the water fully-clothed, only to see the fin rush away faster with a cloth of silver floating beside it. Were the rumours true? I had no choice but to chase after her and find out.
I swam and swam, coming up for air when I needed it and quickly rushed back down, making sure I didn’t take my eyes off of her. I could have sworn I saw the face of a woman when I went back in for the third time; she was looking for me, checking if I’d given up. I hadn’t and the deeper she went now, the deeper I did. When I was about to go up for my sixth or seventh breath, something stopped me dead where I was. I could feel the blood wash away from my face and I was curtain white. Three massive shark fins surrounded me and I was too afraid to go back in and see. I looked around me and I realised that I was probably 150 kilometres away from the rocks I had been standing at not too long ago. I remember swearing at my incredible ability to swim and started laughing manically at my sarcastic inner joke, but also because I knew there was no way I was going to survive. I was getting hysterical.
Just then, one shark jumped up out of the water like I’d seen so many times on The Discovery Channel and I winced. I trembled all over my body as I realised that it had jumped straight over me. I suddenly grasped with sheer terror that it hadn’t been one of the three terrifying monsters surrounding me, it was one that came up from far below and its jump made the rest more eager to get at me. I was the prize in this tug of war now. I had the image of Jack Russell puppies fighting for a piece of chicken meat in my mind now, not seeming as cute, as I thought about being the piece of chicken. I knew this was the end, so I closed my eyes and suddenly I was drained of all energy. Then I felt warm skin grabbing hold of my ice-cold flesh and smelt someone’s breath that smelt strongly of cinnamon pancakes before I drifted off sleepily.
When I woke, I was on a massive rock, not too far away from the small one across the strip of forest I’d recognised was in front of our cottage. The air was warm and humid, I could feel the slight breeze of the night air brushing my hair as I lay staring at the stars in the sky. It felt like I had just gotten the best sleep of my life, not that I’d just been scared half to death. I wondered how long I’d been lying there. I wondered how I’d gotten there in the first place. Was it the silver-haired mermaid?
I sat up slowly, letting my mind form the pictures slowly. Then I saw her. The silhouette of her would always stay with me. She sat facing the ocean, her long and full silvery hair was being blown by the breeze, her long arms out at her sides as she held on to the rock like she was about to sprint back down at any minute. The skin on her back and arms was the colour of caramel and the texture looked like it had been carved from porcelain. Her fins were the most incredible of all though; long and green, but it didn’t look slimy like fish fins, more like a scaly reptiles’. She sat on her fins like a human would sit on their haunches and the end of the fin was tapping the rock in front of me, like a human would tap their fingers if they were impatient.
Then she turned. Her face was the colour of caramel, just as the rest of her skin was, just as Brandt had described it. Her eyes were so light that it was hard to tell whether they were an icy blue or a pearl white and they were very big. Her nose was perfectly sculpted into a tiny form, almost pinched at the end and her lips were surprisingly thin considering she was actually a fish. She fluttered her eyelashes for a fraction of a second and turned to lie down on her stomach. I thought she was going to flinch away and maybe even dash into the water when she saw me wake, but she did the opposite and in her massive light eyes, I could sense a hint of worry. She stretched out her right arm to touch my hair and I felt my heart racing a million times faster. Her hands weren’t normal. They were the same cinnamon colour as the rest of her body and almost looked like human hands until it came close to my face and I could see that her fingers were webbed together. I sucked in a breath of surprise and she smiled at me before brushing my hair out of my face. Her lips stretched across her face to reveal her perfect white pearly teeth and suddenly she turned back the way she was and jumped off the high rock. Then, she was gone.
Was I going to tell Nadine and Brandt and the others that Silvia was real?
I’ll think about it, but for now I’m just enjoying being alive after a mermaid saved my life.