The Mermaidand the Old Man

(A short story by Sidharth Vardhan
First written on September 2nd, 2020)

1.

He was an old man in his seventies or maybe eighties. His health was on the decline but he still walked without any support, could talk clearly, and seemed to have full hold of his sanity – something I must emphasize given the nature of our story. As for the rest, his once-probably-impressive height had been eaten away as his backbone was no longer able to hold him straight. He was accompanied by a young girl of perhaps fourteen – in her teens to be sure, whom he asked to wait in my living room (we were in my office) while he made his confession.

I won’t go into details of how he found me and why he chose to give me this confession of his. I consciously didn’t ask to give me details of his identity – for while he probably wanted to save his privacy in his last years; I had least interest in it myself; being more interested in the story than the circumstance of whether his narrative was true or a tall tale. Yet unless he was a very good actor in the middle of an Oscar nomination worthy performance, there had to be some kind of truth to his story – for it was with a slowly increasing expression of terror and tears that he reached the end of the story – like he could live the things he confessed all over again. 

After making his introduction and some irrelevant small talks (I always avoid rushing my visitors toward the real subject matter – letting them settle in and get comfortable and also often making small talks provided me a chance to evaluate the visitors’ personality from perspectives unrelated to the subject matter of their confession), he steered the conversation quite smoothly to fantasy creatures. By this time, I knew that though probably an illiterate villager from his course ways, he was a real smooth talker and so I was more suspicious of his intentions as he asked me what I thought of mermaids. The word ‘mermaid’ was the only English word he used and, he seemed awkward for the first time when he used it. A smooth talker like him won’t utter a word he wasn’t sure of getting right in front of strangers if it was really important to him.

I had no more thought of mermaids than any other fantasy character meant for little girls but I knew that showing my ignorance or indifference about the subject would only lose his confidence. He wanted me to say something clever and so I was forced to make something up.

“I do find them quite amusing. There is this theory I have. That many major fantasy creatures have a kind of sex appeal to them – either this sexual appeal was the cause of their first being imagined or it is, at least, part of the reason for their continuing popularity, at least in as far as their popularity in youth is concerned – why people continue to obsess about them. And that often your interest in them tells you something about your sexuality. 

Centaurs for example seemed to be the result of fantasizing male sexual power – with horses being popular for their raw sexual power and physical energy. Unicorns seem to be born of the female desire of making a male with such raw sexual energy innocent and cute.

Vampires seem to have something to do with women feeling cheated out of something – of being drained out of, robbed, or rather cheated out of something, of some kind of life force, after acts of sex. Werewolves are hairy, smelly, sweaty beasts showing the ruder, animal form of sex. Obsession for devils is always shown by women who are attracted to smooth talkers.

Pixies are mischievous young girls while mermaids have always seemed to be born out of a sailor’s need for conversions with women marrying with humanity’s obsession of female virginal innocence. A woman that attracts but can’t lose her innocence because she doesn’t have sex organs – no doubt young girls to continue to love it ……”

I was so impressed with myself for coming up with all this intellectual sounding nonsense at the spur of the moment that I might have started gloating if it wasn’t for the reaction on the face of the old man which made me realize my mistake – he won’t know what vampires or werewolves are – I had been using the English names of many of the creatures and most of them were not very popular in rural India which had creatures of its own. This thus meant my having to repeat what I had just made up only this time with details about what these creatures were like – sometimes even googling their pictures and showing them to him on my laptop.

He had a remark or two to make – for example how he couldn’t imagine why any girl could love something like a werewolf but then “white women are crazy”. Racism and misogyny aside; he had a knowing grin when I got to the part about the devil’s main attraction being his smooth-talking ways.

Yet he was particularly impressed by part of my theory concerning mermaids and with that, by now, an increasingly annoying smile, asked me, “But according to you mermaids are imagined?”

“Yes,” I said somewhat unsure – believing my reply will make him decide that I wasn’t worthy of his confession.

“What if I say they are real? Or at least there was one? And I saw her?”

“I will only believe that if you can prove it.” I knew honesty would lose me his confession but it seemed to me I was committed.

“And what if I have nothing but the story of my own experience to offer?”

“I will love to listen to that story – even though I might not believe it to be true.”

He laughed “maybe that would be best.”

I smiled and gestured for him to start. He sipped some water (something he would do a lot throughout his confession) before starting. (I have to make a lot of changes in wording for he wasn’t a first-grade narrator but I have not changed any of the facts.)

“It might have been like forty-five forty-six years ago or thereabouts, time loses all meaning if you have lived long enough. I was in my mid-twenties, my parents had died two years ago and I had spent the last two years of my life living alone in my cottage near Travanku sea where I worked as a fisherman. I was always a bit of a Don Juan but ever since my parents died, I had free reign, I had been with a few girls and even a couple of married women, and this had got me a bad reputation in the community.

2.

Like the god of love, the god of the sea too had always been kind to me. I could always find all the fish I want” here he winked to ensure that I didn’t miss his witticism, “ It seemed to me it seemed to everyone around me that the sea loved me – I had been fishing ever since I was five and there had never been a storm during times when I was out in the sea. As long as I was out on the sea, it would keep calm – though sometimes a storm would break out minutes after I had gotten out of it. It seemed to me I was special somehow, and my success with women was proof. But there was something wrong with that pleasure too. It seemed to me that I was not being given my due.

I  have always had the impression that most of us, except maybe sometimes very little children, are mere shadows … and the true thing, the real person whose shadow we are, is no longer there … I don’t know how exactly to phrase this. I felt like I had lost that beautiful real thing myself and I never could find anyone who had it. At least not a human adult.

Anyway, I had inherited my father’s boat and I would go deeper into the sea because it impressed girls as well as of sheer desire to challenge myself. Moreover, there was something peaceful to be surrounded by nothing but a blue sky and a blue sea on all sides – and with nothing but the sun and some sea birds to distract you. Perhaps ‘distract’ is not the word. For I think what I loved most about my profession was that you could spend hours thinking nothing – I have never been a fan of the world and things that want you to engage with them, to respond, to react, to think. That was one of the things that was irritating about women. They always wanted to talk. Emptiness. Void. That’s been my real pleasure. And if I had my way I would never come back to land except for the fact that I couldn’t cook in the sea and there were no women in the sea.”

3.

“No women but her.

At first, she seemed like just another human. There I saw her sitting on a rock in the sea. I thought it was another fisherman who lost his boat and was now sitting there hoping that a boat will pass by soon. I moved closer with the intention of offering help … Only to realize that it was a naked woman. As I moved closer I realized she didn’t have feet, instead the lower half of her body was like that of a fish.

I hadn’t seen anything like that. It is a creature not known to Indians and back then no one had the internet. It is only recently and from my daughter” he pointed in the direction of the living room, “that I have learned that such creatures are called mermaids.

It was a thing of astounding beauty, that much I could gather from my first close sight, and yet I can’t say if I only had one sight of her I could have remembered how she looked in any detail. It was too much information to process. That kind of beauty had something both terrifying and hypnotizing to it.

She looked at me, and although one can never be a hundred percent sure when one’s soul is shaken by such strange circumstances, yet I believe she greeted me with a smile. In fact, the only suspicion about this bit of memory was developed afterward because she would never smile again during our time together. Laugh without noise yes but never smile. Maybe the smile proved that she had never seen a human being before.

My boat’s head was right next to the rock by now and even though I am willing to fully take responsibility for my later crimes – yet, for these first few moments, I have been unable to discern why or even how I acted that way. Something else seemed to be moving my body while my true … My true self sat inside terrified and clueless.

She had stayed there still and smiling until the tips of my fingers touched her body – my moments were slow and she had a lot of time to discern that I was about to touch her but she had kept smiling, so I am inclined to believe she had no problem with it till it happened. It was only after the touch, that her facial features showed panic and, a moment later, she jumped. I was shocked by this reaction myself and fell back in my boat.

It took a moment for me to recover from the shock and, at that moment, I thought I had lost her forever and it gave me an unbearable sense of loss. Yet as I stood up again, I noticed she was in the boat too. In her panic, she had ended up jumping directly on to the boat – and hurting herself in the process. She was frowning in pain while her fish-tail shook drumming away at the boat and with her beautiful hands, whose digits had long sharp nails, she was trying to dig into the wooden boat under her and failing to find any grip. She wasn’t seriously hurt from the looks of it. There was no blood. But she obviously wasn’t very used to pain at all.

She didn’t scream, I would later learn she was unable to speak at all (underwater too, for I, once tried to put her head and my own head in a tub full of water to see if she would speak or scream in there) … In all our time together, she didn’t try to communicate at all except in so far as it is possible through facial expressions and gestures.

As I stood over her, I could see her body curved in a different way. There was something about ridiculous thinness and flatness of her belly and how, just below the naval, the human skin gradually turned blue (in increments, and not all of sudden like they do in those far too simple cartoons and drawings) to her fish skin tail that suggested to me something I would feel several times afterward – that there was more to Beauty of her body than a few glances could take in.”

4.

He paused a moment to have another sip of water and this led me to interject, against my better judgment and out of pure curiosity, if he could describe how exactly she looked. His descriptions continued to be on the lines “Twice more beautiful than the most beautiful woman you saw.” I had to start asking more specific questions like the color of her hair etc … only to know that the color of her hair changed often. Anyway here is what I learned about how this ‘Indian’ mermaid looked from all the questioning and, also, from some of the details he kept remembering afterward throughout his confession:

She was five and a half feet from head to tail fin (fin was another half foot) but on land, she would never be able to stand straight like humans.

She had a hair somewhere between golden and white – it changed its shade as if according to light – and it was long enough to reach her waist. Some of it curled so beautifully in a wave-like motion (the old man-made wave gesture on the side of his left ear to make sure I understood what he meant “and it refused to stay tucked away behind her ears where she would keep placing them every now and then”.

As far as changing colors go, the same could be said of her tail except all its shades could be described as blue more or less. Its scales also went darker as you approached the fin at the end. The scales weren’t rigid like with fishes – rather it seemed you could easily scratch them out. The fin seemed to be her most delicate part. It would move even while she slept and was always a shade or two lighter than the tail, and translucent when wet. It was the part that seemed most vulnerable especially on hard surfaces and it was almost impossible to keep it clean.

Her skin had its own laws too – it was white when wet fresh from the sea, but it darkened a little as it dried and it could “adopt the color of the yellow light of my fire lamp when in my cottage”. However, according to our old man, “it was in the moonlight on the day I kidnapped her that the skin looked prettiest – almost glowing in full moon’s light”.

She had a small skinny body – her breasts were small, two hemispheres and with nipples that were the color of her skin – only ever so slightly darker in shade, “that looked up at you and almost pierced your eyes, if you know what I mean”.

Her waist was long, flat, and thin. When she laid on a side, it took a deep curve inward. When she lied straight her belly drew in as if she was holding her breath. When she lied on her belly, outlines of her shoulder bones would be clearly visible. Like I mentioned before, there was no one sharp point where her human part ended and the fish part started. The color change was gradual – it started slightly below her navel where she was thinnest.

“There were so many very small black moles on her – one at the small of her back, another at her chin not far from her lip, another at the back of her neck, another on the small of her back one at her chest, one at her shoulder blade, one near her left nipple, etc – all so small that you were bound to miss at least some of them even if you tried to make a deliberate conscious search for them all.”

“And she had at least seven dimples – two on cheeks, one on the chin, two on shoulders, and two on small on the back of her neck.”

Her eyes were … well I don’t think it can surprise anyone, shaped like fish – big (in comparison to the rest of her facial features), mostly human but with little black triangles on outer edges. The color of her pupils was white but a different paler shade of white than the rest of her eye.

Her ears and nose seemed small too – any shorter would make them weirdly so. Yet in their present sizes, they were just at the lowest point of what can be considered normal. Her nostrils were closed by a transparent layer of skin that probably had some kind of filters that probably helped her inhale only oxygen mixed in water (or air). Her pink tongue was long and it lay folded in her mouth – our old man believed it acted as a second door that assured that only what she desires enters her throat when she was living in the sea.

You could see the veins in her neck when she moved it and there were hollows in her shoulders on either side of her neck. Her arms were ridiculously thin. “It was as if no more muscle was wasted in her creation than was deemed necessary by the lord in creating her. It only added to her beauty.”

Her nails were long, white, and sharp, and yet, the sharpness of her nails didn’t take away from the beauty of her hands either- one of the uses of nails was as a comb for her hair. Though a bit of a weapon in themselves, she never used them against our fisherman. The palms were slightly more triangular than human palms and didn’t have any lines on them.

“She had the aroma of fish too.”

5.

Our old man continued his confession:

“As I was saying, while I stood over her, it seemed to me her body had more charms than can ever be caught in a fleeting sight. It was perhaps this thought that inspired my next action or perhaps that sense of loss I had felt moments ago when I thought I had lost her – for the next thing I did was that I drew out the fishing that I had forgotten all about having dropped it in the sea to catch fish and threw it over her.

This was all the imprisonment that was needed for her. She wasn’t particularly clever.

I sat there observing her for hours – the sun shining on her moist skin but I just couldn’t have enough of her. There would always be some little detail that would take me by surprise.

And then it was already evening. And I knew what I was gonna do. Like I mentioned before I am not much of a thinker and this was too much for my brain to process. So I didn’t know why and haven’t ever since cared to ask myself why but I knew I was taking her home. 

6.

“I waited until it was dark so no one could see her before coming to shore. By this time she seemed to have accepted her new circumstance though unwillingly and had in fact taken several naps in the boat. When she was not sleeping she would only move her head to look around herself paying no particular attention to anything including me.

Once on shore, I removed her net and picked her up in my arms, touching her for the second time in all day …. I was a strong man but she was ridiculously light, she clutched hard on my arm and as I picked her up in fear and forced her into this big jute bag I always had in my boat. Despite her ridiculously flexible body and her unwilling submission to my tyranny, this was tricky because the bag barely contained her.

It was easier when we were home. I took her out of her bag, I just had to tie her hands to keep her captive. She didn’t try to resist or run away – even later when I would be out fishing. It was only in her face that I could see her discomfort from her new condition.

7.

The first night, I cooked fish and offered her one with a glass of water – only to get a vacant glance from her. As I ate I worried myself that she might starve herself to death if I didn’t free her but then I noticed that she stared lustily at uncooked fish I had kept in my tub where I had kept them to sell in the market early next morning. I offered her a couple of uncooked fish – these she took greedily.”

At this point, I interjected with another question, “how can she eat uncooked fish?”

“Your interests are strange. You are more interested in her eating habits than in her beauty. But anyway perhaps I should first describe how she ‘sat’. She could not sit on her behind because, well she had none and although the tail offered great flexibility, it was … too curvy behind her to hold a straight weight still over itself.

Thus When she sat on a solid surface, it was always like a snake with a raised head. I mean that to rise and sit down she would first lie on her belly and then use her hands to slowly raise her upper body to a straighter angle. Even this posture she was unable to hold on to – as a part of her fishtail, somewhere near her knees would be if she had legs, would have to bear the weight of her upper body, something it never apparently had to when she lived in sea for long. But now if for nothing else, she had to do it at least twice a day when she sat down to eat. Later on, I realized that having a pillar to hold on to or against her back comforted her a great deal in this aspect.

She would always rinse the fish in the water (the smaller the fish, the better and water she preferred, I learned through experimentation, was seawater) – the first time she did so by emptying her glass of water on fish. She would use her nails to claw her food into smaller bits which she chewed with the passion of a starving person though she never ate a lot. She seemed to prefer smaller fish – the smallest she could gulp whole. Her teeth were human too except much sharper grinders. There was something inhuman about how she would sometimes bite raw a fish like a dog might and have blood on her teeth. Yet once she was done – there would be no trace left – except for bones that she would spat out.  She would wipe her mouth and lips clean of all blood with her long pink tongue.

8.

“I bet next you will be asking how she defecated. And to be entirely honest, she had no genitals and no way to defecate as far as anatomy goes. How such a life form defecates or reproduce is beyond me – and not for lack of curiosity as far as later is concerned. Not in the beginning, but there were days I would spend several hours observing her as she lied there looking at the roof in between her naps before losing myself to sleep.

What I can tell you is that her fishtail did release a lot of what looks like sweat – just as her human part did sweat too but with her fishtail sweat, it was a brown liquid that stinked – like a dead, stale fish, except not as strongly. It released that liquid every night. The first night I didn’t clean it believing that it would dry on its own. It ended up leaving a strain on my floor – which for years after she was gone, was the only way for me to remind myself that she was real. That explains defecation.

As to how creatures like these (assuming that there were more of them) reproduced, I am to my wit’s end. In fact, if it wasn’t for our conservative values I could have asked my daughter about how fish reproduce. Even back when she was still with me I remember observing fishes I killed and seeing that they had sex organs too but I never found one on her – whether that of a woman or a fish.”

9.

“My actions through the first day I can’t understand. But next morning, I was telling myself that I was only gonna keep her for only a few days – to study her more fully. And that, it, in fact, had been my plan all along ever since I had trapped her.

And that once I have studied her thoroughly  I will take her back and put her on that rock from which I had picked her. This might be why it never occurred to name her – later when I took to talking to her, I could just call her ‘my little fishling’.

This was what I told myself when I locked her in my place as I went out fishing. This was what I told myself when all day long out in the sea, my mind kept drifting back to her. And that was what I told myself when I canceled my rendezvous with the girl I was about to see that evening. After having seen my fishling, all women just paled out in comparison. And that was what I told myself when I saw rashes on her wrists. Rashes created by the rope I had tied her with. Rashes on her back as a result of being forced to lie on a hard floor. The very first night, I had tried to lay her on a bed; but she had shown a great deal of discomfort and clutched my arms and continued to do so while in bed – unbelieving of anything that could raise her from the ground.

And in fact, dangerously beautiful as she was, I had yet felt no dirty desire toward her. Sexual maybe, but dirty not – that was the first time that I had felt sexual desire without feeling dirty at the same time.

10.

“Despite having felt a strong sexual attraction toward her – just as any man would, I had no intention of acting on the desire. Not as yet anyway. She had a child-like innocence to her and I hated myself for the pain I was causing her.

Yet even then I was unable to act on my compassion and free her from my bondage. I just wanted to spend all my free time staring at her.

As for her, she was strangely uninterested in me. As long as she got her food, she seemed untouched by my staring. She would sit staring at walls and then at several times a day would take naps – never lasting more than a few minutes. Of course, she would eat when food was on offer.

11.

I was unable to cure her rashes but I soon decided to untie her hands and rather only keep my house locked. I was pretty sure that she didn’t even want to harm me – and could sleep quite comfortably even after I had untied her and, knowing fully well, that her nails were weapons enough if she was to choose to kill me in my sleep.

Despite her traumatic experience, she seemed indifferent at best – except if something discomforting was occurring at the moment. For example, she didn’t ever get mad or depressed enough to stop eating. Yet I probably would never have discovered that she could laugh if it hadn’t occurred to me to experiment by offering her a tub of water. Once she had a bit of seawater, she grew bubbly by the day.

The tub of water helped her rashes too. Her skin (both human and fish parts but fish parts more so) seemed to need to be sunk in seawater for some hours a day. As long as it did so, minor injuries would heal over some time. Though her body didn’t fit in the tub that was not ever meant to be used as a bathtub (not unless you are a small child) – yet she was judicious in using her quota of water during her non-nap time – rinsing herself part by part. That, apart from her food, was her only waking preoccupation.

Very soon I bought two more bathtubs one by one with the sole purpose of delighting her – three tubs I would fill twice a night – just after dark and before dawn and carry back in my boat. This was just enough water for her to be comfortable – and in fact, in the night she could even get playful and splash it a little and, as far as possible in a small room with only three tubs would even dance a little – at least that’s what it seemed. Dance and laugh.

12.

Needless to say, I had to cut my socializing almost entirely on her account. I think I even made people suspicious with all the seawater I carried around. Even though I took all precautions not to be seen and my house was near the shore and at very little distance from the rest of the fishing shore, yet I knew I was raising suspicion. Probably of smuggling. Of course, I was no smuggler. Yet a secretive poor young man who suddenly became a loner was bound to raise suspicions. I didn’t want her to be found out. Even though my fear was mostly selfish – that of losing her; yet I was also scared that no one else will be able to look after her.

It was only my determination to keep up with the illusion that she was going to be with me for only a few more days that encouraged me not to act on this fear. Yet, hadn’t I got three tubs? Of what use were three tubs to me once she was gone? I was a poor man, why would I get something like that for a few days of pleasure of someone whom I would never see again? Perhaps I was only lying to myself.

13.

And there was something ridiculously innocent about her. At times when she was napping, I would go and stroke her curly hair – ever since I got her 3 tubs she always had them wet. If she minded my stroking her hair she didn’t show it.

I think my big mistake was when I started talking to her. She didn’t understand a thing I said and never reacted but she seemed to accept my need to talk to her without ever even trying to understand the need – or so it seemed to me. I would talk to her even as she napped stroking her hair. And when she was sitting staring at the wall, tired from having made plays or having splashed away excess water.

Why was it I talked to her? What good would it have done to me? She couldn’t understand a word of what I said and I didn’t even know what it was that she should have understood and yet it seemed important, the only important point, that she should understand. And only she could understand, it seemed to me, no one else. What is it in the beauty that makes you want to be understood? Perhaps all I really wanted her to understand was that she didn’t need to feel alone. That I was there. To care for her.

14.

Kissing too was similarly an act of showing I care. She never kissed me back, she never even smiled but she was always accepting those I did give her. They were first at the forehead and only slowly made their way first to the neck and then to shoulder blades.

After I first kissed her shoulder blades I licked my own lips wondering what her skin might taste like. It tasted like a sea breeze. Her lips … her pinkish-red lips I kissed next. 

15.

It was not until I tried to bite her, that she showed any signs of resistance – she could accept all the kisses I wanted to give her as long as the tongue was not involved. She didn’t mind being touched on human parts but resisted being touched on fish parts. She didn’t like being beaten at all – but that came later.

If she was accepting, it was almost indifferent. Where she resisted – it was in panic and fear. And she would try to shove me away – but without force. She never tried to harm me anyway unless you call those marks her nails left on my chest as harm – but she was just made that way. She would figuratively hurt anyone she touched.

And the same applies to her beauty. In all its innocence, it could hurt anyone just by the fact of its being there.

I had wondered a lot – even loudly too while talking to her; about her origins. What kind of creature was she? Was she born of sex between a fish and a human? Were there other creatures like her? Had she seen another human? The possibility of her being only one or last one of her kind was one of the reasons with which I excused my keeping her my prisoner. She would get lonely in the sea I would tell myself.

16.

I was now realizing that frustration had been building inside me for quite some time. I was getting irritated at the smallest of things. When it went on for a while, I had to wonder why I was being like that. Then one day I realized that though she was my prisoner, it seemed to me she was free, that a part of her still escaped me. And it was this that made me frustrated. This realization made me conscious of the fact that I had wanted to possess her all along.

My first reaction was disgust at my own desire. And yet what curious creatures we humans are! Already I was justifying myself – it was no sin to hold her prisoner, for she was no human. She was a monster; a sweet little beautiful monster; but a monster.

And, I told myself, that my desire for her was the effect of her beauty. She could make whole armies bend their knees to her just by the power of her beauty and she could make you destroy the world with the sole hope of winning a smile from her. If someone should be guilty about my desire, it should really be her. I know how foolish it sounds, but it was as if I was claiming she had chosen to be this beautiful and was to be blamed for it.

17.

Yet needless to say I was filled with guilt even when I kissed her. It was a crime to destroy any form of innocence in the world. Every day when I would be out at sea I would reproach myself for it – only to come back every night and succumb to the bittersweet temptation again.

‘Beauty’ is nothing but seduction personified – being beautiful is when you seduce without trying. It was more than good looks. I was good looking and yet I had to say sweet nothings to seduce a woman. She! She needed only being seen to seduce someone.

It was like her whole being was being a tease – a part of her had still continued to escape me. A big part, that I could never imprison “I love you my fishling, ” I  announced to her one day, ” I love you.” Yet she would never be able to say it back to me. Did she really love me? Or she just hated me for having imprisoned me? Or was she, and this was the worst of all scenarios, just indifferent to me? It seemed to me more the case that she accepted me to be her fate – without reproach perhaps but also without any particular delight.

But she had to love me. So often now the mere sight of her gave me arousal – yet for all the kissing and biting (I would have to tie her hands behind her back while doing it) my frustration only increased. I had to beat her to make sure she accepted what was to come. She would come out traumatized from each such episode and yet showed a magical ability to recover from traumas as long as she had sufficient seawater.

18.

I could encircle her thin waist with an index finger or smoother her breasts and yet all those games seemed to only result in frustrating me more. And it was this frustration that chose for me – she had to die. There was nothing that could be done about it.

It is that bloody day that is struck most vividly in my memory. She had been living with me for months by then. The change in my behavior had made a subject of gossip in the neighborhood. I knew it won’t go on like this much longer. And I am being honest, before killing her I had thought of killing myself. In fact, I would have done it if I was not worried about her fate after my death. I was somehow sure that in the hands of anyone else, her fate would be worse.

Humanity doesn’t deserve, doesn’t know how to handle such beauty. The other alternative was of putting her back in the sea where she came from. I had been telling myself for days now that she was the only one of her kind and that she would be lonely out at sea – by now, I had so convinced myself that it was as sure a fact as the sun.  If I was about to kill myself for her, I had to believe that I had done at least something for her and that she would miss me.

All this had been in the back of my mind for days, maybe weeks. I had been growing more and more aggressive in my ways as I enjoyed her body. Yet when I finally decided that she had to die, I didn’t want to do it in a brutal way or for her to suffer any more pain than was necessary.

That night I tied her hands again and forced her into the bag. I went to the place in the sea where I had found her. I think I still wanted to keep the option of letting her into the sea open while I did all this.

It was another night with a moon full or almost full – and moonlight bathed her skin in a white glow as I opened the bag to get her out of it.

I was in a bit of a frenzy ever since I had made the decision but I don’t think I could have gone through it if it wasn’t for her expression on coming out of the bag that gave me the final push. She was obviously delighted by the sight of the sea that was around her again. A smile so beautiful and so cruel in its beauty – for, at that moment, it seemed to spit on everything I had been doing for her. All the acts of care I had done for her – and she had no loyalty. We, humans, tend to start believing we own something just because we have cared for it for a while. And it was so with me. She just had to die. That was the only way to make things right. 

I took my knife in my hands and, I don’t know why I did this but, I cut the rope that tied her hands. Perhaps I didn’t want her to die with tied hands or perhaps I still wanted her to escape and run away saving me from the crime. Yet she didn’t move – instead, she lied there in the boat looking at the marks on her wrist. Then I went down on my knees next to her, stroked her hair as she stared at, and smiled at the sound of, tides. I noticed a little mole behind her earlobe that I never saw before. “Goodbye my little fish, now you must go into the big sea. ” I whispered as I brought my dragger down on her juggler vein. She suffered a few moments as the moon sucked the life out of her and left me there crying with her body in my arms.”

19.

The old man lapsed into silence with his last words. I didn’t say anything for a few moments thinking it would be rude. After what seemed to be an appropriate time, I poured some water into his glass and offered him. After taking a few sips, he spoke again in a voice that showed that he was suddenly exhausted. As if he had to make a fresh resolve with every word he uttered to finish the story. This next passage in particular was spoken with a lot of struggle and pauses:

“As I said a while ago, we don’t know how to handle beauty. She was beautiful … What I had with her … that was beautiful too … It was … It was … I know you probably think of me as the worst of men and I am the worst … I am … I am … There are no excuses for what I did … I kidnapped her … hurt her …  raped her … killed her … I don’t ask to be excused from anything  … but you must understand … in my own way, I never wanted to hurt her …. I couldn’t hurt her … that is a truth too … it is just that no one knows how to handle beautiful things.”

“You see when  we are lucky enough to be in the presence of something beautiful, it is also unlucky enough in the presence of us – and with us, also our base instincts, fears and limitations  and with these, we corrupt it – thus proving that we didn’t deserve it in the first place.”

Having killed her I disposed of her body by throwing her into the sea – which seemed to be the only proper way of burying her body.

I spent the whole night on the boat. It grew a bit stormy toward the morning, it was the first time it stormed while I was in my boat and yet it didn’t seem to be anything like the storm inside me.

Sea storms are kinder than storms of the heart. At least they sometimes kill you.

I returned home the next day and didn’t even go fishing for a few days – living on my savings. The very sight of the sea would give me the idea that it was no longer in love with me. I remembered the storm on the night when I killed her and it was proof enough.

I resumed work after a few days, only to have to give up fishing entirely after I couldn’t catch a single fish for over forty days. The god of the sea didn’t care for me any longer.

I sold the boat, took the job as a gatekeeper in a nearby town, and saved some more money over the next few years — it wasn’t a conscious effort at saving, it was just that nothing money could buy except basic needs interested me. I used my savings to open a grocery shop.

I could never socialize again either. Even women lost their charms for me. Yes, sex was still a need but now it was only a need. Moreover, I grew cynical and couldn’t utter sweet nothings to girls anymore. I married with the sole intention of having children. It seemed to me a way of penance – raising children. Perhaps penance is not the word – having children is a blessing, yet I acted as if it was. Also, it seemed to me if I have children it would prove… I don’t know how to say it? That God had forgiven me?

The first marriage didn’t give me any children. The daughter you see outside was born nearly 35 years later to my second wife. Seeing her for the first time, I finally allowed myself to feel happy again – yet my guilt continues to haunt me to this very day. Even this long life seems to be a punishment – all these years and only one wish. A last word. Just for once, I wish to hold my fishling in my arms and apologize to her.”

Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan

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