THE MERMAID’S REVENGE
By Michael Jordan
(Continued from last week)
The sun was starting to disappear behind Stevedore Housing Scheme when we set out for the blacka; me and Maxie in front, Old Skeets behind.
We had slipped over to Aubrey Barker Street and caught a bus that was heading to the back of South, because the walk from Tucville would have been too rough on the old man.
Old Skeets, though, had a shoulder-bag with a sort of large spray-can inside. He would not tell us what it was for.
After what had happened to Maxie, we’d known that we had to talk to somebody big.
We discovered that we couldn’t come up with a single adult —except maybe Ralphie, who was still at Tacama—who would have believed our story.
They would think that it was a prank, or that Max was going crazy, and then my parents would know that I had gone to the Lamaha. That would mean licks. They might even send me to some boring summer school for the rest of the holidays.
That had left us with Old Skeets who used to work at sea a long time back.
Old Skeets must have seen the fear in our eyes, because when we said we wanted to tell him something important he had just taken us to his living room and listened as we told him everything that had happened.
He had questioned us, especially me, and at the end, we knew that he believed us.
Then he had told us that we had to go to the blacka.
The thought of returning to that spot terrified us, but he said that it was something we had to do.
My dread increased as we moved closer towards the track leading to the blacka. But yet I felt a strange excitement at the thought that I might finally see this dream-girl, scarred and terrifying as she was, who made strange promises to me that made my mind spin.
At last we reached the path leading to the Lamaha Canal. Max stopped abruptly.
He looked at old Skeets pleadingly.
“We have to do this?”
Old Skeets nodded. “You have to. These things will not leave you boys alone until you make peace with them.”
He passed the shoulder bag to Maxie and made a few steps down the track.
“You just hold this, boys, and direct me.”
We continued down the track, and soon we were on the dam, Old Skeets following our directions as he moved with his slow, bow-legged stride ahead of us.
As we headed closer to our destination, it seemed to me that Old Skeets somehow seemed older, more stooped. He was about seventy-four, maybe older, I guess, I began to wonder if we had made a mistake in involving him in our troubles instead of waiting until Ralphie came back from Tacama.
But it was too late now. We were a few yards from the spot where I had caught my fishes. And then, just like that, we were there at the spot where Max had caught the strange fish with the old cast-net he had found; the spot that we have revisited almost every night since in our dreams.
But there was nothing there. No scar-faced, long-haired, green-eyed girl; no man with silver snake-shaped bangles. Just a heavy silence.
Old Skeets turned to us. He was perspiring heavily. He looked even older now.
He paused to catch his breath then said: “This is the spot?”
Old Skeets reached out and took the haversack from Maxie, then he turned back to the blacka.
We stood there in the fading light, staring at the smooth black water…
We waited…waited…a tired old man and two terrified boys ready to bolt at the slightest sound…
And some fifteen minutes into our waiting, I became slowly aware of a prickling sensation at the back of my neck, and of that that overpowering, rank smell that had become familiar to me in my dreams. I turned, and there they were.
They stood on the dam, about fifteen yards away from us, cutting off our path of retreat.
The man stood with arms folded, silver bracelets glinting, his lips pressed together. Except for the fact that he had feet, and was wearing a tight pair of trousers that seemed to be made of some sort of skin, he was exactly as I had seen him in my dreams, from the long greying hair tied in a knot to the muddy-brown eyes.
The girl—his daughter—stood nearby. She was barefoot, topless save for a bra made from the same skin-like material as her father’s trousers. Her multicoloured skirt –so thin I could see through it—-almost brushed the ground.
Everything was as had imagined; the black hair loose and long to her waist, the scar at the edge of her lip, those knowing green eyes.
All my pores had risen, there was a pounding at my temples as I looked into those eyes that told of experience far exceeding mine. I felt a terrible desire to rush to her, to let her wrap those smooth, fair arms around me. I seemed to hear her voice, like the soothing sound of the sea, making sweet promises that a shy, twelve-year-old boy like me had only imagined but never heard from a girl’s lips.
And I knew that I would do anything for her, throw myself in the deepest part of the blacka, and betray my best friend and this old man just to—
And then Old Skeets put a hand on my shoulders and I heard him mumble: “You boys stay here,” and it was as if something had slipped from my eyes and I was seeing her as she really was; a scarred, ageless creature with no soul and a hate-filled heart.
I knew that she had read my thoughts. I saw her eyes narrow. Her fingers curled inwards like claws. Instinctively, I knew that those same hands had wrenched off the door from Maxie’s fowl pen and wrung the necks off his two-week old chickens.
I heard Maxie gave a muffled cry and we were about to run when Old Skeets stepped forward.
I heard myself emit a stifled “No,” as he began to walk towards the girl and her father.
He walked until he was standing almost within touching distance of them. He gave a slight bow, to the girl first, then to the tall, wiry man.
We heard him mumble something, then gesture towards us.
The man stared at us for a moment, his gaze pulling the strength from me, and I knew I could not run even if I wanted to. Then, to my relief, his gaze returned to Old Skeets. His arms were still folded, and to me, he somehow seemed even taller.
Old Skeets began to speak to the man again, bowing every now and then and gesturing in our direction occasionally.
He spoke in a pleading tone, and I thought I heard the words “very, very sorry,” repeated every now and then.
But whatever he was saying only seemed to agitate the man, who was shaking his head emphatically.
Old Skeets sighed, and now we heard him clearly.
“The boys didn’t mean any harm,” he said in a tired voice. “Will you accept a token of their sincerity?”
We watched him fumble with the haversack zip. He withdrew something that looked like a large, folded handkerchief.
He unfolded the kerchief and took something out. It glinted in the twilight. Even from where I stood, I saw that it was a beautiful gold chain with some sort of pendant.
Old Skeets passed the chain and the kerchief to the man.
He held the jewellery up in the fading light, then passed it to he girl. She grabbed at it greedily, and then strung it around her neck.
Old Skeets bowed to them. He said some thing that I sensed was: “Is this okay?”
She stared at Old Skeets for a moment, then she turned her face to the left and pushed the hair back from her face, exposing fully the long, ragged wound that Maxie’s knife had inflicted on her.
She snarled something, then tugged hard on the chain. It snapped, and she hurled it to the ground.
Now the man opened Old Skeete’s kerchief.
He shook it out contemptuously. Several rings, and another gold chain fell on the grassy dam.
Old Skeets had taken a hasty step backwards, almost tumbling over in the process.
He steadied himself and stared at the girl, then at the man.
“What y’all want?” he said at last.
They answered Old Skeets by staring past him and pointing to what they wanted, and what they wanted was me.
(The Mermaid’s Revenge concludes next week)