THE MERMAID’S REVENGE
You may wonder why the date August 18, 1997 sticks in my head. I’ll tell you why.
It was the day that me and Maxie did a terrible thing, though we hadn’t meant to hurt anybody; we were just two 12-year-old boys enjoying the long holiday, but nobody, except Old Skeetes, who is dead now, believed us back then and nobody believes now even though I
But let me start at the beginning.
We were fishing near the culvert by Old Skeet’s bridge that day, the August sun stinging our backs and the fish refusing to bite the fat worms that we had dug up from behind the fowl pen in Maxie’s backyard.
Finally, Max sucked his teeth and said: “Leh we go by the blacka.”
I hesitated. Maxie grew up rough with a set of big brothers and didn’t have to account for his movements. The licks I got for going in the Big Gardens to fish on Bird Island—me and Max swimming and beating the water with our rods to chase the caimans awaywas still fresh in my memory.
I was about to make up some lame excuse when Maxie said: “I know a spot where Ralphie pull up a big houri long like he arm”showing his own thin, sinewy arm for emphasis.
Ralphie was one of Max’s big brothers and the thought of pulling up a houri long like his arm made me forget about the licks.
Old Skeets was in his yard, his back to us as he sat on a low stool, patiently weeding with his cutlass.
He didn’t see when we slipped away down the Tucville back street and into Festival City, then to the back of North Ruimveldt, and eventually, we were on a dam, with the Lamaha canal, black and silent ahead of us.
Maxie led the way south down the dam, crushing dried leaves and rotting plums. Fish splashed occasionally in the still black water, and I felt the familiar stirring of excitement as we headed further south, the thought of catching a houri as big as Ralphie’s arm keeping me going, even though, behind the trees, I sensed that the sun was going down.
Finally Max said, “Right here”, and we stopped at a turn on the dam, where the trees were thickest.
He pointed to a spot near a log that had fallen in the water.
“Is right there Ralphie pull up the houri.” He had dropped his voice to a whisper.
We baited our hooks, then shifted apart to cast our lines. Max had chosen the spot by the log. I found a spot where the branches of a tree leaned close to the water. I always tried to imagine a spot that I thought the fishes would like, and this shady area seemed like the ideal place.
I bobbed my line a few times in the water and then sat back and waited. Almost immediately, my cork began to bob frantically and then began to sink.
I waited until it had sunk almost out of sight, then pulled on my tamarind rod.
There was a frantic splashing and a pink-and white sunfish came into view. Max came over to watch as I unhooked the sunfish and put it in a salt bag. I baited my hook again, placed it at the same spot, and waited.
Not a minute had passed before I was pulling up another sunfish, then a nice-sized houri. Ten minutes later I had added four patwas to the bag.
And now I was having that weird sensation I sometimes had; a feeling of having some sort of connection to the fish; a feeling that I could fish out the entire Lamaha if I wanted.
Maxie had taught me to fish a year ago but I was the one who always came home with the longest string.
Old Skeets said that it was because I was ‘water sign’.
He would sometimes, sit near the culvert, watching us Tucville boys, chuckling knowingly at my strange luck.
Max was still trying his luck at the same spot where Ralphie had caught the giant houri, Every now and then he would pull frantically on his rod and suck his teeth as his hook came up empty.
I could sense his impatience.
After I had pulled up yet another sunfish he muttered: “Ah going to another spot”. With that, he walked past me and headed further up the dam, and disappearing from view.
I was baiting my hook about ten minutes later when I heard Max yell my name.
“What?” I yelled back.
“Ah got a big one.”
I wrapped up my line and hurried in the direction that Maxie had gone. Eventually, I spotted him.
He was hauling on a cast-net ( I would later learn that he had found it tucked behind a tree). His sinewy biceps were bunched as he struggled with something large that was trapped inside.
I helped him to pull the net to land, then we squatted on the dam to examine the fish.
It was about four feet long, it had a pink-and-white colour and it was like no other fish we had ever seen.
It appeared to have no scales, its teeth were tiny and harmless. But, to me, the strangest thing were its eyes.
The fish now lay motionless in the net, and it appeared to be staring at us; not with fish-eyed blankness, but with pleading, fearful eyes.
We stared back in silence at this strange, beautiful fish, and then Max, still panting a little with excitement, stared at me triumphantly and said: “This gun make Ralphie houri look like stupidness.”
“You will have to help me carry it. This thing weigh ’bout forty pounds.”
I stared at the fish, lying silently in the net and staring at us, and the words tumbled out without me thinking.
“We have to throw it back.”
“Maxie, we have throw it back. Something funny about this fish…I don’t even think it good to eat.”
But it was more than that. I was having that weird feeling, that connection.
Max was glaring at me resentfully, but I sensed that he was feeling some of my unease.
Now he turned again to the fish. He rubbed his hand along its side, then pulled it back.
“It feels so…so smooth,” he said, almost to himself.
“Leh we put it back,” I said again. “We gun share what I catch.’
He glared at me again, but then he bent to the fish and we began to untangle it from the net, while it lay silently, watching us.
I really can’t account for what happened next.
Maybe Maxie was thinking of how we would be passing Old Skeete’s home, and he would laugh knowingly when he saw my salt-bag of fish. Maybe he was thinking of how he had failed to bring home a fish bigger than Ralphie’s, but just before we tossed the fish back, Max whipped out his sharp pocket knife, and slashed the fish just below the gill.
I gave a shout of surprise, and at the same time, I thought I heard that fish emit a human-like-sighing sound, and then Maxie had pushed it back into the blacka.
There was a splash, and the fish sank from sight, and all that was left was a thin streak of blood on the black water , and that sigh ringing in my ears…
(To be continued)