She left because the seas were getting colder and she’d heard of mermaids becoming trapped in ice and frozen over. She had never liked the cold and didn’t want to drown, so she decided to travel south, where it was warmer. Her family thought she was mad, but then, they always had. ‘Odd’ was what they called her, or ‘singular.’ They thought she spent too much time exploring and not enough time sitting on rocks brushing her hair. She was not sorry to leave them, and besides, she preferred her own company.
On her journey south there were new sea creatures to play with: she confused pods of dolphins by calling scrambled messages in sonar, brushed sea anemones so they closed in a huff, and was tickled by the fins of lionfish. She slept on white shores where the sand, unlike the prickly ice she had left behind, was cushioning. She followed frigate birds and albatross, holding fish up in her hand so the birds would swoop down, gusting her with their powerful wings.
Eventually, the sea became fickle and threw her against a pile of rocks. She was so tired she couldn’t move, and went to sleep.
When she woke, she found herself on a shore so bright she could barely see. Her hair was knotted around her body and scales flaked from her tail. Squinting, she made out stunted grass and thin, grey trees beyond. By no means did it seem a friendly country, but she was exhausted and the warmth of the water was appealing. So she stayed, swimming beside the beaches. She loved waking to the slap of a tide and birds’ cries from the bush. When the weather heated, shrubs lining the shore erupted with constellations of tiny white flowers. As the sun drew away into winter, she followed the land north and didn’t ever get cold.
Some time later, while she was teaching whale calves to leap in the ocean, she saw people with dark skin rowing in bark canoes. They sailed where the water permitted and carried their vessels where there was land to cross. When they came to the country where she lived, they travelled south. As they observed the land becoming hotter and drier instead of remaining moist with sea air, they put down their canoes and kept walking.
The mermaid didn’t mind their arrival, because a little company is always good, and soon she came to like them a great deal. They were clever people and she enjoyed the sound of their laughter as they sat by their fires at night. The men’s thin spears caught fish from the sea and the women’s fingers slipped into wet sand, drawing out shells. Their children loved water sprinkling upon their skin as they jumped through the shallows. Sometimes they saw the mermaid and waved, and she would play a trick of flicking water into their faces with her tail, then hiding herself deep in the sea. Slowly, she learnt their language, and they accepted her.
Over the thousands of years that they lived together, the mermaid noticed her skin gradually becoming darker, like theirs. She lost fat from her body because she no longer needed it for warmth, and her hair turned from gold to brown. She often wondered what her family would have thought of her if they saw her again. They would probably still call her ‘odd’ and ‘singular’.
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