(c) Nin Harris 1997-
The Guardian speaks:
As you barrel deeper into Alta Exsilii, you slowly become aware that it is teeming with all sorts of creatures. The merfolk come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are those with fins and fishtails. And then there are the confusing ones, who live in the waters of the South China Sea, with fish heads and torso, and human limbs. There are those who completely metamorphose into fishes or sea-serpents. And then there are those who still seem to be in complete human form, but with gills and delicate fins attached to their limbs. A merman riding a chariot drawn by giant eels passes by and waves his trident at me, in customary mer-greeting. He has the shiny grey tail of a dolphin, pointed ears, slanting cat-like eyes of aqua blue and long long blue hair. I wave back and watch as he swims towards the huge coral and ivory coloured gates that marks the entrance to the Mer-City. I glance at the gates consideringly and shrug. I decide instead to swim down, deep down to the wilder regions of the Sea of Exiles.
I barrel my way through a clump of seaweeds, feeling it mess with my hair, then shoot upwards, reveling in the sweet freedom of being in the water, surrounded by water, engulfed by water, drinking the water, its nourishing nutrients coursing through my altered bloodstream. I feel its sweet, unpolluted oxygen pass into my gills. Then, I venture deeper. Here the water is much warmer, for there are livid, glowing underwater volcanoes, the sole illumination where it is so deep that all the filtered sunlight has filtered out. In this curious, dark world I glide, where conscious thought becomes meaningless. Here, reality only consists of these sweet powerful strokes, this weaving in and out of currents, and the softly glimmering textured tapestry of half-formed images and memories.
I do aquatic somersaults, enjoying the freedom from the constraints of gravity. This is the great bloodstream, one that connects millions of souls. How many stare out at the line between sea and sky? How many imagine seeing golden dragons swooping out from that distant horizon? How many aching, empty souls have stared into these depths and felt themselves healed? How many ships have sunk within her, carrying how many more people?
What stories the sea could tell, if we only learned how to listen!
Lapping at the shores of ancient civilizations, swallower of Atlantis, Spouse of Venice when she was La Serenissima-she is everywhere, even as she swims within the tunnels and crevices of our mortal form. I spy a glint in the water and smile, thinking of all the golden rings thrown by Venice’s Doges to symbolise the marriage that had given Venice its glory. I will dash after it, crowing in triumph as I grab a ring with my fingers.
As I swim, I recollect the losing of Hang Tuah’s legendary blade Taming Sari to the sea and the mysterious and potent white crocodile that bore it away. I picture the elegant keris, with its wavy-sided blade slowly floating down, down downward in the waters, and how it symbolized the downfall of the Malaccan Empire to those Portuguese who sailed the Straits in their ships.
Who holds the keris now? I remember all my failed paintings of a mermaid bedecked in gold, watching gleefully as Hang Tuah struggled with the crocodile, of her holding out her hand for it as it fell from the crocodile’s mouth, and of her sisters eyeing it with covetous eyes as she proudly displays her acquisition.
One day, I promise myself. One day, I will finish those paintings.
Deep below in this watery limbo, snatches of tales read and heard come to mind, and I picture sad, mad and profound Ahab as he succumbs to the jaws of the ocean. The sea is not always kind, but she is always beautiful.
Finally, I snap out of my reverie, spying my destination in this dark watery world. It is a short hillock of black rock, with a light flickering from its opening. I swim into the opening and greet the ancient mer-woman who sits within, weaving a beautiful, shimmering tapestry out of the light that comes from the tips of her fingers. I hand her the golden ring and stray odds and ends that I have picked on my way to her lair. I will watch as she adds it to the pile behind her, towering up to the high roof of her cavern.
“So,” she will ask as I anticipate the question.
And with that question, I will grin like either a child or an idiot as I settle down to watch the hypnotic movements of her long, elegant fingers.