The Mermaid (Jamaica)

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The Mermaid

Published Mar 16, 2004

There she was with a baby in her arms on the bank of the river. There she sat in silence. Her thoughts were fixed on a place where ordinary people came together to make quilts for babies who were left on doorsteps. It was also a place where isolation became a long distance walk on an unpaved road that was uncertain as the weather. The breeze, gliding across the surface of the river, fanned the trees that circled the two sides of it like bodyguards. The sharp breeze wafted across her face like sprinkling rain, which gave her a feeling of tranquility that entered her soul as needful as the sun. The whimsical sun was hidden behind the leaves of the trees. It occasionally peeked it's swollen head when the breeze blew the leaves from side to side.

The baby made a giggling sound and frightened a swarm of thirsty butterflies. It kicked it's tiny feet as if it wanted to jump from it's mother's delicate yet firm hands. The mother patted the baby's back gently, lovingly-regretfully. The baby pumped it's arms in the air then puked. The mother stood up and took the end of her skirt; she wiped the mess from the baby's mouth, kneeled down at the river's edge, scooped up a handful of water and then wiped the baby's face and then it's fragile head.

The river was still, which reminded her of the old time saying: Still water runs deep. The river, reflecting the colorful light of the sun, was greenish from the overbearing water lilies. It was a deep and silent river. As a child she used to swim way out in the middle and dive for tilapias hiding under fallen limbs that sunk to the bottom of the river. She considered herself a fish. Her mother used to say; "One of these days, she would come home with scales on her body." To make sure she had no scales on her body, she used to leave home with a small jar of coconut oil to rub her skin after swimming. It was to disguise the cracks on her body due to the long duration in the water. In that way, her mother would not see any for her to remind her of scales. In midday, when the noon sun turned water vapors into rainbows, dragonflies dipped their tails in the river then entwined themselves in aerial lovemaking. Multi-colored butterflies swarmed the banks and looked as if they were walking on water. Sometimes, bigheaded tilapias with red lips surfaced with their mouths wide open. They gasped and spat young ones out like a leaky faucet. The big shadowy trees that spread their limbs like open umbrellas, stood proud like statues of ancient heroes. Their leaves, dark-green and sprinkled with raindrops, slow danced as the breeze kissed them stealthily. The birds in the trees, glad for the sanctuary, ignored mother and child. They sang love songs, redesigned their nests and planned for a future of sameness. She was earthy dark. Her hair was long and braided. Her face was shaped out of chiseled stone, with eyes wide like a full moon on a hot, hot July night. She was wearing a long green dress with yellow and blue patterns shaped like yachts sailing in the middle of a rough sea. She occasionally wrapped the dress between her legs like a pantaloon so breeze wouldn't blow it and expose legs needing lotion. She lifted the baby over her head; the baby gazed blindly up into the trees, eyes transfixed on the birds jumping from limb to limb.

The baby had her face, her mouth, and her eyes.

"Girl, you spit that child out just so," they would often say to her when walking down the road minding her own business.

"Girl, that child is the spittin' image of you," another would say. She didn't say anything when such comments were made. Why should she?

Every mother's child is the image of that mother. At least, every mother saw that as so. Her own mother said that was the reason why she was so unfortunate. Why? He mother pointed to the saying; When a daughter looks like her mother, it's going to be hard times but if she had taken her father's looks, then things would come easy. The baby twisted in her arms. It was irritable by now.

Probably hungry, but she would not feed it now. It was not necessary. The moment was drawing near. She too was feeling the pain of hunger. It was a different kind of hunger, she told herself.

The destiny of the child was in her hands. It was time, time to make her life all for the better. To once and for all placed the mendacity of this life in the hands of her savior. To give up being the victim of her shame and give the child clemency for being born into a life she considered mournful.

In her mind, the answer to her reasoning somehow lies in the silence of the river. The silence became a homey kind of feeling. It's like it manifested it'self in a grand mansion where only spirits live-spirits of peace and indifference. It was an indifference of not selfishness but one that says: This is the way of life-one unto you. Her heart was now someplace else. It was between the semblance of her guilt and the day she discovered she no longer believed in the things she once accepted-the purpose for living. Or, lost time is never found.

She wanted to find some way to say to the child, "Mama will take care of you. Mama will always be there for you. Trust me!" The baby squeaked, the mother stood up and walked into the silent river. She stood there for a moment holding the baby to her bosom. Then she lowered herself into the water. The sky opened, lightening flashed, thunder rolled then suddenly rain came tumbling down. She looked up and then disappeared under the silent-dark-green river. The sun was now penetrating the leaves. It sparkled like diamonds in the sky. When the rain stopped, butterflies that had gotten soaked, fluttered on the bank of the river struggling for life. The birds were gone by now and the trees had folded their umbrellas. The river was wavy, it looked as if it was rising from a drunken sleep, as it yarwed and stretched it's arms down to the mouth of the sea. At the edge of the river, young tilapias huddled together. They knew that was the only way for their survival. For them, it was nature's way of giving a reason for living.

Meet The Writer

Winston Nugent was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica and grew up on St. Croix. He is a journalist with the U.S. Virgin Islands Legislature. He has won numerous poetry awards. He was the winner of the First College of the Virgin Islands poetry award. He has received The International Poet of Merit Award (2001) from The International Society of Poets. In 2002 he placed second in the St. Croix Avis Short Story Search Contest for his story, "The Mahogany Tree." He was recently selected as a semi-finalist in the International Open Poetry Contest for his poem, "9/11." He has published three books of poems: Negus, Blue Rain and On Our Island and has been anthologized in several Caribbean books, to include the University of the Virgin Islands Caribbean Writers series. He has worked as a staff writer for the St. Croix Avis and has freelanced for the Rollin Stone Magazine, Essence Magazine, The LA Weekly and the Caribbean Impression. For several years, Mr. Nugent was a radio journalist and broadcaster for W.S.T.X. AM and FM radio stations. He was educated at St. Andrews Technical High School in Jamaica, St. Joseph High School and then St. Croix Central High School. His higher education took place at the then College of the Virgin on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands and then Pasadena Community College, in Pasadena, California.

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