Me gills hurting me now. Dem spots just below me ears what does plump up wid pressure and let me know dey been working too hard for too long. Let me know is time to rise. I must soon break de surface of de water and fill up me lungs wid air.
As much as I like to pull de air in through me nose holes and feel its welcome passage down me throat and feel me chest fill up and me breasts rise even higher, me ain’ want to get up just yet. I comfortable, cosy, and satisfied, hug up wid Amilo, not quite hiding, since everyone know dis me spot, between de blue sea fan and de buried in de sand part of we sunkin ship home.
I wiggle me toes and flex me legs, feeling de water respond to me slightest movement. I raise up a little, den a little more, expanding me chest muscles, arching me back ’til I raise up little little off de sand ground. I go slow and Amilo ain’ wake. QueQue does doh, and she dart up above, small as me knee cap, she little brown-and-white body bobbing ’round as if to show me de way, urging me on.
I swallow spit six times on de way to de surface, more dan me usual four and I meet de cool night air wid me eyes closed. I like to turn to meet de moon or de sun wid me first gaze, only opening me eye dem after I twirl me face to Night Hope or Day Being. I been doing so since I little and Mommy dem does call me foolish, but me ain’ care. Dey had laugh at me too, when I tell dem I had want to swim to de moon, when it sitting low on de water, like tonight, and climb on it, go live for a while. I don’ mention it no more.
Amilo know doh. He been hearing it from me for years, since we was small. Only now me wishing grown, like me breasts and hips, and is more dan a desire now.
I watch de Night Hope and it watch me back. QueQue circling me, timing she revolutions so she in front me mouth when I does blow out hard. She let she tentacles relax so she could feel de push of me air ’round she. She let sheself drift back as far as me breath send she den start she circle again. We friends, even doh she is a small octopus and I is a large woman and we can’t self speak. But still we does usually be near each other, so sometimes I wid she and she people and sometimes she wid me and mine. She people been here, belong here.
My people, we born here, for over three hundred fifty years we been birthing, living, and dying right here in de sea. Ever since we first MotherJumper hit de water determine to live. Dat’s de way de ole folks tell it, been telling it since de days when de slave ships pass dese waters several times in a moon. She jump. She wasn’t de only one, but she was de only one to survive, dat day, dat time. She was gon’ be shark food or drown, she knew, but sometime between launching sheself off de side of de ship and blistering de water wid she filthy, pregnant, sickly body, she feel she want to live and she feel she body and de baby in she body, de only child from she love man Unofu to survive so far, want to live and she gon’ find a way to make it so.
Wasn’t she who had stand tall against she father when he had want she to marry dat ole ram goat Famari just ’cause nobody else could abide he nasty way of being and dey know she was harden enough to keep him fed and protect she own life same time? She protect she own life, she own health and happiness by not staying by him atall. Dey take she dere, truss she up like a calf and carry she to him house, but soon as she hands and feet loose, she gone. Time dey catch she, deliver she, release she binds, time she gone, ’til even Famari say leave she be.
Wasn’t she decide she gon’ lay in wait to ambush wild pig to steal she piglets, start she own herd? Even doh women not suppose to handle de animals so? Wasn’t she cut and break and twine to make she own home, far, but not too far to walk, from de village? She was one who follow fear like t’was a guiding light. So when she had leap from de ship, she own and everybody else’s worm-invaded filth squishing through she toes, clean salt air burning she lungs, she follow ’fraid right into de water and ain’ drown right away.
She ain’ drown atall. She sink down far far under de sea dark, de story go. MotherJumper lungs afire, she move she weak arms and legs to save sheself de bother of breathing in de water just yet. Up she a go ’til she reach de surface where she hearing de yells of de sailor man dem and de screams and hard plunks of other bodies splitting de water farther and farther away. She stop top de water so through de rest of de day and beyond de night and into de morning. No shark or fish bigger dan she come ’round. But as she spirit breaking and she preparing sheself to meet she ancestors she steady praying, doing she own death ritual, caressing she body, she baby belly, down through she pleasure and life giving center, down she thighs, which used to be strong and full, now hard and bare like tree limb, on down to she feet. Which she people used to tell she was too big for she body and was de reason she wouldn’t stay where she was put, but only travel where she want to go. Is de feet part dat catch she up, so de ole say it, bending and compressing to reach, she face full in de water. She ears dem pop, one long hard pain and cause she to scream out but instead she scream in. De water full she mouth and nose and when she head again above de water she feel more dan possible coming out she ears. Was blood and flesh she shed but she ain’ die den neida. And even doh de healing was constant pain, she heal, she body changing to take in de sea water through de holes dat had tear under she ears. She could sink down in de water for longer and longer time, learning to catch she sea neighbors, rising to de surface to bring dem to she mouth to eat. She ain’ die.
Over time six a dem find each other and is so we start. Stolen from de land to survive in de sea.
But is now, after so many generations dat we bodies had time to change more slowly and deliberately dan MotherJumper and dem’s painful passage dat I, and not I alone, feel we is hiding. Amilo agree. Sosal and Whadeer agree. And seven other people who could mate up too. Is enough. We whole pride start wid just six. Is true we had mix up we blood wid others later found but eleven is a good amount to start a new pride. Yet in truth me ain’ care. I done make up me mind, I going. Whether Amilo go wid me or not. But I tink he will. I believe so.
Is so me mind roaming when a rising come up beside me, pushing de water high up wid force. QueQue done start to swim away as I feel de current swirling ’round me legs.
Rappo sing out wid he big laugh as he still flowing upward and me heart start to relax. Rappo laugh could make de water ripple, but not dis time. Dis time is just he regular breath, not, as we does sometimes call it, he whale breath.
“Uncle Rappo, is you! What you do dat for? You tryin to frighten me? You see QueQue gone far already.”
“Junpee, you know you hard to frighten. I been tryin for years, since you was small and straight, not big and curvy like you is now.”
I make a ting outta wiping me hand over me eyes, even doh me ain’ need to. De water don’ bother dem and I could see just as clear whether me eyes in air or water. De webbing dat does shorten me fingers by half, translucent in de moon’s light and I peer through at Uncle Rappo. He all right, I tell meself. He ain’ mean nothin by it. Is de same kinda jokes and behavior he does carry on wid all de time. But QueQue ain’ come back close. She never do when Rappo near.
“So, what you tinking ’bout?” Rappo ask me. “You have dat look to you like when you had decide we should all swap we homes. What you had say? For variety? I had tink you just want to move into where I used to stay den. I know you had like how I had it fix up wid de coral and sea fans dat I had coax to grow by me.”
“T’was pretty, yes, but no. I done tell everyone already, from long time. I was young, dat was years ago. I had only tink it would be fun, like a game, to move ’round, see another view, watch de place from out a different hole.”
“Oh, so is now you calling me home a hole?” Uncle Rappo drop down fast and try grab me two legs together, but I get away. He come up laughing again. I was gon’ try explain dat I ain’ mean to insult he, but I realize he ain’ studying ’bout dat. He still heself and watch me again.
I ain’ tell he me thoughts. Instead I change de subject. “You and Mama Willa gon’ make de party for Sosal tonight? What you need me to do?”
Sosal is me day one friend. She Mama Willa daughter, but since Mama Willa take up wid Rappo when Sosal was young he does try treat she like he own. Sosal father had die when we was both can’t-swim-alone little, about two years old. Is shark dat had eat he.
“I need some a dat red dulse seaweed from down by de sunrise reef. You know de one I mean? You does like to go dere a lot. Near where de reefs does get high and plentiful.”
I know where he mean, yes, but I try not to let on dat it’s any place special. And how he know I been going dere? It far. But it have different kind a plants from what common ’round here.
“Diyo,” I say, “how much you need? Only de dulse? What you gon’ do wid it?”
“I want de kind dat have de high flavor, de ripeness. I gon’ dry it in de sun ’til it crispy. I know you know dat’s how Sosal like it best. So when she bite it, it bite she back wid it sharpness. And you know everyting to she is health and she say we should all be eating more since it especially good for us, she say. And Willa want de drapy kind, she gon’ use it first to string ’round de circle and you know how she could get de plankton to gather where she want for a time to light up de place. It gon’ be oma oma. I gon’ sing and play de shell. You father gon’ play he clam drums and I save some of de sea moss bongo juice from last time. It stronger now, gon’ be lightening in we head.”
“I hear you,” I say, making de sign too wid me hand flashing in front me ear, quick like de stars a twinkle. Me only do it one time doh, ’cause me ain’ like when Rappo and he friends does bring out de bongo juice. It does twist up dey minds. First dey start out laughing and dey music take off like when QueQue family circle celebrating and all dey limbs going so fast me can’t self see. De water churning so hard me dancing even if me ain’ mean to. But den from one rise breath to de next, Uncle Rappo and dem change tone and mood and now dey angry and demanding.
“I hear you,” I say, and me flash de sign once again. “I going back to Amilo now. And I gon’ see if Sosal want to come wid me, wid us, dat oma?”
“Diyo, diyo,” he say, “Me done know allyou like to do everyting together, if she ain’ following you, you following she. Allyou is like fart and bubbles.”
I do me hand in de sign for rude dismissal, behind me back doh.
“I gone, please tell Mama Willa I gon’ come by later for Sosal.”
I wave me hand, de polite goodbye, palm toward me face, quick downward stroke of me fingers, pushing de water toward me own self and down.
Dis working out good, I tink. If Amilo and Sosal and dem others want to go, we could swim little further and visit de small reef island I want to climb. See if we could make a home dere.
Most everybody had like to stay long sleep dis time a night. Even when dey wake to breathe is wid quiet ease dey rise, breathe, and descend again to dey home. Most a de time you can’t even talk wid dem ’cause dey not really alert, just doing what de body say dey must do. From young we does learn to do so. When we born we mother does give us what de air does later do through we mother link. We stay so, bound together for ’bout two moons, den de link tell us when is time to let go by shriveling and breaking off. You father does take whole day to clean out de link and stretch it so ’til it long, long. It skill it take to get it six to seven grown body lengths widout no holes or tears, and de men dem does take pride in making strong da-links. Me own da-link was one a de nicest ever, real oma, people say, ’cause not only had it do what was intend, let me breathe through de tube while I under de water, but mine was pretty ’cause me father had coax two small sea fan plants to grow on de side widout disturbing de ting. He had start de process from de day I born, dey tell me. No one else had a da-link so. Not even me brother, Mandrin. Mommy wouldn’t let him try it wid she first born. Mubbe dat’s why I always been different.
And it wasn’t, as Rappo had say, just dat I had want to move for move sake. I had tink dat Mommy would feel good if she take up de space a she long-time friend Layda. Layda was a giant clam and she and Mommy was friends since dey was small small, like me and QueQue. Since Layda been dead and eaten and nobody else ain’ take up she space I had know Mommy had want to, ’cept she ain’ want to say. Mommy like dat. She rarely say what she want, only she will speak up for what others want.
When I reach back to Amilo, he was fumbling ’round he waist, tryin to loose he own da-link while he still sleeping, to wake up go breathe. Our home, since we had start to nest together, on de topmost part a de ship, high to de water surface. I release de ting gently from he unresisting fingers. It tangle up wid he locs, which so long he does tie dem in a loose knot ’round he waist, even doh he da-link does get caught up in it all de time. He know is me, recognize me touch and ain’ had no fear. I untwist me own da-link from in me hair. I blow de two a dem together to make one. Is many pieces a floating driftwood tethered to the topmost parts of we ship wid chains a braided seaweed. QueQue and me take de da-link up to de one me always use, close to me home, and twirl it ’round de driftwood. QueQue does help a lot wid dis part. She have so many arms and such a gentle touch. She does bind it so smoothly dat it don’ twist pon itself and block de air flow. I don’ know how she do it so good for me when she don’ even need de air. When she get it just right she swim to me face and put she underbelly right up on me nose. She know I ticklish. As she get me to laugh and blow de fast bubbles she like, she rise up and I feel she tangling sheself in me hair. I know she like dat. I don’ know if she feel she hiding, or she like de way me locs does tickle she, or she just like to have me do all de swimming, but we does travel together like dis a lot. She even find ways to tell me where to go by pulling de locs on each side a me head. As many arms as she have, I say she should use hand language too, but she have, we have, other ways of communicating. I feel QueQue reach out and snatch a couple shrimp on de way back down. I tinking I hungry too, but too lazy to eat. I could wait ’til day rise.
But I can’t sleep neida. I had fix de da-link to Amilo’s mouth and he resting easy again. I had tink to wake him and share wid him. Me mind restless and me body can’t keep still. I hungry for de other life-sustaining ting, touch. When de smallest little light drifting through de water, I rub meself over Amilo back, latch onto him as if I one a QueQue suckers. Me hair drifting ’round he chest and arms. I know he like dat and he rouse little bit. I blow on de back a he neck, de small bubbles breaking near he earlobes, popping near he gills. Is love I put in dem bubbles. Me arms and legs wrap ’round he from behind and I know he could feel de heat of me giving place on he backside. I run me legs up and down he thighs. He grab hold of me calves, but not to make me stop, I know. He drag he hands up me calves, to me thighs, making de shortening of he fingers flutter on me backside, making me backside flutter in turn. Together we swing me ’round ’til I in front a him, join seated on he giving place, face to face, bound up tight like de da-link above us, forgotten. We stay so, quiet and still, breathing each other breath, smiling wid we eyes alone ’til I make de hand sign dat I know he could feel on he back, de one dat mean now, now leave we travel together. Leave we rock and sway and rise up, splash down ’til we dance so strong we create we own current, ’til I feel to give me own vibrations to de sea, ’til Amilo water me wid he own dance.
I had meet wid two others before I decide on Amilo. Or I could say we come together again. We done know we like each other and we match, but from since we was swirling ’round each other in dat getting ready to be grown way, is he dat had take time to know me likes. We all, Sosal and Whadeer and Wayli and Fo and Swadeem and dem was sex playing one day near de seaweed drying float where we knew no big ones would come since dey had just send us to lay out de catch. Was de spicy one Sosal like so much but she tink it ain’ enough and she and Whadeer had gone off to find more. Was just me and Amilo on de sunset side a de float and Amilo notice I was stroking me pearl after he had done make de funny face dat make me laugh. Is when he see de bliss on me own face dat he circle ’round slowly watching me. He face change to puzzle, den question as he ask me in bubble talk, “What you doing?” I answer him same way, de words expelling wid me breath, de intonation and vibration making me clear to him even so I saying what he ain’ hear before, I sure.
Is Mommy teach me de words and I choose to share dem wid he, because he ask, because I know he care for me even when we not sex playing.
“Is me pearl,” I bubble speak, “is what does make me want to touch to you, make me happy burst like a bubble inside a me, ’cept it just settle ’round me—”
“You ain’ making no pearl,” he bubble. “What? You gon’ oyster now?” He laugh, we was little more dan half grown.
“I ain’ making pearl,” I bubble back. “I done already have it, is only what we does call it, ’cause it look so, but is only for special.”
Dis getting hard to say only in bubble so I add in some hand talk. I want him to get me meaning clear.
“I is special?” he ask.
“Come,” I tell he, “follow me. I show you if you want to see.”
De sun high and start to dry me skin quick quick as I lay out on de water on me back. Amilo lay beside me, patient. I take he hand and he turn he face to watch me. He throw he head top back in de water one time. “Yes,” he telling me. He use he other hand to show me de sign for “now,” reaching across he chest so he know I could see, he four fingers pull apart from one another two by two and fold de outside set a dem toward he palm and back straight again. Is usually done fast, means now, hurry or swim fast, but he do it slow, so slow was almost like watching de sun sink into de sea. I let me feet drift apart, den open me legs wide, flesh moving apart from flesh, de way sometimes we does open we gills wide. I bring he ’round me, guiding he by he hand, under me backside and up to de surface. He eyes open right on me receiving and giving place.
“I done see dat already,” he start to complain.
“See again,” I tell he. “See here.”
I bring me two hand together dere and make de look sign, me two inside fingers meeting and spreading, like a blink, ’cept I using it in a different way, on me pearl, making it peek out de shell.
Amilo eyes widen, even as he holding me waist, helping me back stay arched.
I start to coo and I can’t see him no more as me head lay back on de water top. I rest me idle hand on me pearl and peel back de soft shell ’til I feeling de sun rays.
“Pekelepe!” Amilo say, and start to laugh.
I start to laugh too, and quick flash I dip down under de water backwards, head, breasts, belly, thighs, leaving me feet spread wide as I dive.
“Lemme see again,” I hear him say.
I had make me own home early, was a place you could always find me once I was big enough to be away from Mommy and Da. Was a round space, dark like inside a clam shell, but t’was inside de ship, little light slid down from a open space to de top and t’was a next round hole on de side. I began bringing me treasures dere and stayed dere more and more to play, even at night. Mommy not like it but Da calm she.
“Junpee near enough,” he tell she, “she make a nice ting she like, leave she enjoy it.”
Da had always watch me wid pride, Mommy wid fear.
I make de ship part grow to be mine. Mark it wid sea fan and plants and shells and bits of stranger tings dat others had bring back from afar. Was other prides, other settlements, but I never been to dem. Me brother, Mandrin, he does go all de time, is a girl he does go see, Rasa. He probably gon’ leave we to go mate wid she. We all probably make de trip den. But ’til den when Mandrin does come back from he visits, bringing Rasa and some a she family, dey does make us presents of strange tings dat make de big ones mad and sad.
“De sea ain’ make dis,” I had hear Rappo say once. “De sea ain’ make dis, and too besides, it hurtful. ’Member dat time,” and here he turn to he day one friend Fon, “’member we had see ting like dis bind up on Kotay two leg? ’Member?”
“Kotay? Who Kotay?” ask Fon. Fon does always agree wid Rappo, but he know how to lead Rappo to get he say.
“Kotay! Kotay, de ole green turtle. De one who had de bind up legs. ’Member how we had come back to find a sharp edge? Den carry de ting ’round wid us for almost half moon ’til we see Kotay again? ’Member how it take almost sunrise to sun high to cut de ting off? Dem ting hurtful, I tell you!”
“But some a dem useful too, you know, Uncle Rappo.” Mandrin only call Rappo Uncle when he want to be heard, but Rappo only hearing de respect.
“I was tinking I gon’ use dis to guide me da-link, you know, when is time,” he duck he head, playing shy, but everybody done know he and Rasa breathing each other breath.
“See,” Mandrin go on, “see how it round so, and clear, and strong. De da-link could go through and instead a swaying so much it could make a straight path up to de break water.”
Mandrin turn ’round, showing de six joined circles, clear like jellyfish, to all a we.
“What dat girl name again?” Fon ask, doh he done know, “dat girl who considering you?”
Mandrin thread he fingers through two a de holes, pulling dem apart, dey stretch but ain’ break. We see he muscles moving and know he straining, but he me brother and I know he only taking time to tink, confused by de intent a de question.
“She name Rasa,” he say, not finding no trip in it.
“Well, Rasa might well start digging a hole in de Bed a Heads for she babe if she mate up wid you.”
“Watch you bubbling now.”
“Speak right, live long, you hear.”
A crowd of de big ones had done gather and dey move in closer when Fon call down de death of a child and speak so carelessly of de burying ground, tryin to stop he from going too far. But Rappo finish off for he.
“’Cause you don’ see how dat ting sharp? And unnatural too besides,” he yell.
Everybody start to yell and I leave dem dere. Dey was gon’ argue so for long time. Mandrin and Rasa brother wid Da siding wid dem, and Rappo, Fon, and he other friends, who mostly don’ have opinions but like to hand talk and bubble what Rappo say.
I had bring me present from Mandrin back to me little home and find a nice place for it. T’was a almost clear ting, a vessel of some kind, ’cept de opening too small to catch rain. Was made out a de same stuff Mandrin was handling, but green. Pretty. Different.
I was tinking I gon’ take de top off, make de opening bigger. I had already start to collect tings dat gon’ be useful.
“Mama Willa, how you flowing today? Easy?”
I start to call out as we nearing Mama Willa home, knowing she could hear and feel me words from outside. Mama Willa chosen place was near to de middle a de ship, a long narrow passage wid de opening only on one side. When we was little, me and Sosal and Boto and Keat used to race de length a it ’til de sand swirl up and disturb Mama Willa peace. She would chase us out, but she would be laughing and we girls would be right back next day.
“I here too, Mama Willa,” Amilo say, “we come to take Sosal away from you for a while.”
Mama Willa come to de entrance, pulling Sosal along.
“You come in oma time. Take she and leave she gather all de dulse she want and even more. If you see any kelp, bring all you find. And bring de drapy dulse here to me, dat not for eating yet, you know how I like it for nicing up de place.”
“Diyo, Mama. We know. You gon’ make de cave hole like you had do for Lano and Twil? T’was de best party you make since you own.”
“Eh-eh, you know Lano and Twil take sick last night?”
“What? Both a dem?”
“Diyo, dey mother come by first light to ask for me whale plaster wid de plants for ear and bone.”
“Pekelepe.” Me lips shape de word but no sound come out. I feel Amilo come closer, rest he hand on me back. Ear and bone, dat mean dey sick bad. We done know dat we hear so good in de water ’cause we feel de vibration a de sound in we bone. By de time you does wake up and can’t hear so good it mean you bones dem already start to crumble. Is happening more and more. De ole folks say wasn’t no such sickness before. Is a lot a new sickness since de sea come so full a noise.
“Ma, you sure we still want to have de party? I don’ feel right since we just find out,” Sosal say. “We could try see what more we could do.”
“Diyo, everyone have to eat anyway, we gon’ eat together. We gon’ tell everybody. Whadeer will take food to he mother, father, and he sisters. De rest a we could go one by one or two by two or so to comfort dem. I gon’ go several times to freshen de plaster. Diyo, Sosal, go get de tings I ask you for.”
We three leave and pick up de others on de way. Keat and Fiss, a easy pickup since dey always together. Fiss following Keats big hips anywhere she want to go. Boto join up easily as she was only circling ’round she family home, always watchful, she tiny body swaying wid de currents in a floaty kind a way. Labadini come too as we pass she going in de opposite direction saying she going look for peanut worms to give to Mandrin for de new bolon instument he say he gon’ make. We stop by Whadeer family home, de smell a de sickness of he sisters strong as we swarm ’round de entrance. Whadeer mother come outside looking tired and worried. She call back inside for Whadeer and tell him he must go wid us, try find plenty shrimp as it good for de girls dem bones. Sosal swim to he side, wrapping she body to him and pulling he along.
We reach de small island and pull weselves out de water, hanging onto de rocks. De feel of de sun, hot and drying on we skin. Seven times we been here already and we getting use to it. De breathing getting easier each time. Amilo had done climb up, de whiteness of he foot bottom shocking in de morning sun as he moving on he hands and knees. I move to he side, tryin to ’member how I had stand up on de land before, de way I so easily stand on de sea floor. Keat, Labadini, Fiss, and de others slowly making dey way up behind us.
Past de rocks, slippery wid sea moss, spotted wid snails and whelks, is de strangeness of land. De sand not like sand, but brown and dry, small small. I look ’round at de trees. So tall and still, no breeze blowing, de leaves not moving, no current to tickle dem. I move to touch de brown hardness and tink dis must be what de sunkin ship home made from. Brown, hard, and silent. Alive, but seeming not alive. Still on me knees, I approach one a de big tall trees. It seem different from de ones me brother Mandrin had tell me about. He girlfriend Rasa people does travel far, and dey say dey see more dan one kind a tree. Some a dem wid legs like dey walking through de sea, some a dem well rooted, like time will never move dem. Dis seem like de second kind, like de roots could reach down and down and down, through all dis brown sand ’til dey send out little tendrils, smaller dan catfish whiskers to float free in de water again. I wrap me arms ’round it, feeling it sharp and prickly, like jagged broken shells. I bring me right knee up in front a me, foot flat on de brown sand, den me left. Ah yes, dis is how I had stand up before, wid help from de strong tree which ain’ bend or sway. Is so I rise, dragging me body up de tree and lift me face up to de bright light of Day Being and smile.
“Amilo,” I call, and hear me own voice as it run through de air.
He turn from where he was digging in de brown sand and watch me. He smile, look back at de others, all up on de land now, and name we new home wid a word, “Oma.”
We was on our way back from de island, load down wid sea fan, a net a shrimp, dulse, and kelp. Little scrapes and bruises from climbing up de rocks and dancing wid de trees, decorating we brown skin wid tiny spots a blood.
Boto, de smallest and most easily scared, in de lead. We could see she head swiveling from side to side, she long hair not loc’d or braided or bound in any, swaying as she swam. She always keep it loose, saying she could feel and absorb more information faster through its nearly three-foot extension of she senses. QueQue slide in and out a Keat hair, playing. Labadini behind Keat. We group in a loose starfish formation, wid dose carrying de most in de middle. We ain’ plan it dat way, it just come natural since dat’s de way we been moving since we old enough to go gather. ’Cept dis time Wahdeer in de heart a we, ’cause he not attentive, not talking, just looking like if t’wasn’t for alla we, he wouldn’ta go nowhere or do nothin but stay by he sister dem side.
Five people had die already from he family alone since de current change direction. Sosal tell me she fearing she not enough, can’t comfort he enough. She sway between tryin to distract he, cheer he up, and feeling de very attempt is disrespectful to he dead. She stay by he side as much as she can, letting he know dat she dere, she willing and she able. We pride had usually been between fifty and sixty people, de old folks say. And now we is only forty-two.
Amilo come closer and he put he right arm ’round me waist. We thighs and calves sync up and he start to play a game he like, swimming hard, tryin to pull me to he sunrise side, me tryin to pull us to me sunset side. Boto look back, see we playing, and she come to put she strength wid me own. Fiss feel de water churning and he come back, grinning, saying in bubble talk dat now is de time he gon’ pay Boto back for tickling he when she had find he at de surface sleep breathing last night.
I twirling and kicking, tryin to get ’way from Amilo now, signaling to Sosal to come help me, when I glance ahead and see Labadini grab Keat left foot and she right hand and swing she back into de middle of we so fast and so hard Keat knock hard into Fiss. QueQue coming to me so reckless she almost swim into me mouth, she coloring changing to bright orange.
Next ting, Labadini disappear, wrap up tight in a cloud a inky water. I open me mouth wide to yell and flash me hands in de danger signal, hand to head den widening circles towards de surface. I pointing. I yelling. I signaling, but everyone still tink I playing as I see Keat push hard off Fiss and rush back to de darkness and Labadini. I give up on de alarm and just try to follow.
Me ain’ fast. Dey does call me driftwood and say dats why I want to go walk on land ’cause I so slow in de water, but I strong. I use me strength to pull forward, hard, and finally Sosal and Boto notice what I doing.
Whadeer had drop he catch a shrimp and dulse, and was tryin to bring out he knife.
Fiss still tink we playing and he turn ’round to look for he Keat, she who he love and protect from day he first get to loose he mother hand. She wid de wide hips she tink belong to another, bigger woman, but he know is right where dey belong. He see Labadini arm and leg flash outta de dark water and know she is fighting. Fighting for she life, fighting for Keat life, ’cause he well know Labadini love Keat as much as he do.
De dark water come closer, even as alla we approach de mystery at full speed, engulfing we all ’til is only de smooth skin of thrashing arms and legs I could feel. I need to rise, need to take a breath, me heartbeat fast like me father hands dem on he drum. I feel someting slick and warm, too big and smooth to be a limb, too flat to be a shark. Is a manatee den, a big one, grown. I could feel de scratches and scars from other fights along de wing. Must be a she, mubbe we had travel cross she path as she was leading she young. Dat’s de only time dey used to attack. But dey ain’ use to make ink neida.
’Cept now everyone hungrier, meaner. De sea changing and we all changing wid it.
I reach for me knife too, dere in de inky darkness, me eyes stinging, chest burning. De bubbles from we expel breath scenting de water wid fear. Me knife not as sharp as me need but me plunge it into de manatee mama’s thick skin and use it to hoist meself higher up she body, being flung ’round like when cyclone does strike. Me feel Amilo, or somebody, on me side tryin do de same and me hope dey don’ plunge me before me get to stab out she eye, before me pass out from no breath. Before me see who hurt, who dead.
Rappo, Fon, and Mandrin meet us as we halfway home, de smell a we distress, fear, and blood tainting de water. We cries vibrating de sea. All de way to home. We ain’ see nobody on de way, not a fish or a crab, de plants closing up and shrinking as we approach, bringing de scent a de crazed strange manatee, shedding small wisps a ink from we skin and hair, trailing blood, trailing we dead.
Sosal, Keat, Labadini, Boto, Wayli, and Fo. Alla dem dead. Amilo holding Fiss close, kicking for both a dem as Fiss can’t move he legs or one a he arms. Amilo holding onto me too, holding me by de hair, same way I holding Sosal, by de hair, dragging she body back to Mama Willa, on Sosal own birthday. QueQue circling ’round us each in turn, spreading she arms wide, like a hug. She small, but she had fight too. Loosing she poison in de manatee’s cuts.
De party we had plan and try prepare turn into a mournful wake and a court a judgement same time. When de truth come out, same same from every mouth, some a de elders watch me wid anger and hatred. I feeling like is my fault in truth. My idea, my desire, always to go visit de island reef, to prepare a home for dose a we who want to try a new ting. If t’wasn’t for me, some a de very people I love de most wouldn’ta been dead. I feel like me body shrinking, me heart beating so slow, so slow dat I notice me hands dem opening in helpless begging and closing in useless fists wid de irregular thumping. QueQue resting on me collarbone and I could see she whole body quiver each time.
Amilo sitting behind me, arms and legs wrap ’round me, he head resting on me back a neck. I feeling he body shuddering as he crying. I could feel he tears on me back as dey hotter dan de sea dat surround us.
De people dem bubble and hand talk fast ’round me, but me ain’ take in de words. Mommy musta drag me to she home, me childhood home, me and Amilo too, ’cause when I wake to breathe is dere I find meself.
On de water surface, me tears come again. I retching as if I had swallow water, but nothin coming out. From since yesterday me body tryin to spit out me soul. Or de soul a de one I carrying inside me.
I facing Night Hope and swinging ’round to Day Being. Both a dem in de sky same time. I in de in-between. In between night and day. In between guilt and hard stabbing sorrow. In between determination and fear. I determine to escape from de horrors me know so well. Not only dem giant groupers and de sharks, which is de normal sea dangers, but de new tings too. Like manatee dat does ink like squid and attack. Horrors new since me Mommy been alive. De bone disease, caused by de noise. De black oil dat does clog up we pores. De coral dem losing color, slowly dying out, and de coral is one a de hearts and lungs of we sea creatures, big and small does benefit from dem. De water hotter dan before and Mommy say it change, is more biting, more piercing, stinging to de eye and de skin. More a we getting skin sickness, more a we can’t see far, can’t hear well. More a we dying young or in distress. De cyclones coming larger and more often. De fish and all leaving.
And too besides, I believe we hiding. I understand why de first MotherJumper had come. I wish I woulda do de same. When a ting unbearable, t’ain’ to be borne. And we safe. For three hundred and fifty years we was safe from de enslavers. But now? Now? We not safe again. Now I feel, like de first MotherJumper, dat I must trade de horrors I know for new horrors I must find new ways of surviving. Or not. Mubbe I die dere on de land, dry up like a piece a driftwood for true, me and me baby and me schupid dreams, dry up, crackling in de dry brown sand. We flesh mubbe eaten by land creatures me know nothin about.
Mama Willa ain’ spit at me, but she make de signs for regret, for empathy, for sorrow and for anger, she two fingers pointing at she own eyes, den at me, over and over whenever she look my way. I had gone to she, de mother a me soul-bound friend, who I had get killed wid me wanderings, but she push me away. No love in she eyes. She had do de empathy sign once, really fast, but I had see. And understood. She know I hurting too. But she own pain too deep. De love we been ’ccustomed to passing back and forth between us since I had memory, gone. Boto, who was always so alert to danger, is she who had engage de manatee first, gone. Labadini, who had love Keat even knowing Keat love Fiss and who had love Mandrin too, even knowing he had love Rasa. Labadini, who ain’ yet find who would love she back. Boto, who was loyal to everybody, lover to none. Dead. Alla dem dead. Was a manatee dat kill dem, but t’was my fault. T’was me dat lead dem in harm’s way.
I was going back down, to me own home, de one I share wid Amilo, not de one me Mommy and Daddy—at least dey don’ seem to hate me—had bring me to last night. Me arms and legs so tired me couldn’t stay up surface no more. I drifting down, I could hardly say I swimming.
Near me home dey grab me. One set a hands on each a me limbs. I start to struggle. Is strange how wid de so recent deaths a so many dat I had love so well, is now I still want to live. I struggle. I so shock t’was just instinct, but I so weak and tired dat me couldn’t keep de fight going all de time. Sometimes me will gone and I focus on de pain I feeling, not what I doing and it’s dose times when me attention wander from de now to de past dat dey make dey progress. I churn and strike and kick and scratch and pinch, and me feel me could get ’way. Find de who’s and why’s after I survive. Den I tink on dose dat ain’ survive and me blows turn useless again. All de while I fighting and I losing and I winning and I fighting and I losing, dey dragging me closer, closer, and closer to me own sanctuary. Me own safe space. Dey bongo juice breath bubbles breaking in me face. Grasping and tweaking and grabbing and spreading and pulling ’til dey packing and piling and pounding. De waters murky wid me blood and not enough a dey own.
“What happen to you, chile?” Mommy say.
I had come back home after. After de attack. De rape. After Rappo and he follow fashion friends, Fon and Canal and TooToo, had beat me and hold me down and tell me dat I must make chile for dem, all de while each a dem implanting dey seed by force. All de while dey yelling and berating. Den laughing and bragging. Den dey leave me, telling me, in fatherly ways, how is for me own good. How I must pay for what I done. I hear dem taking bets as to who child it gon’ be and wondering if dey gon’ have to do it again if it ain’ take. I feeling betrayed. And guilty. And deserving. And indebted. I feeling hurt. Me body and me mind battered. I feeling angry. At dem. And at me, for not being able to protect meself. For not being able to protect de chile already inside me. Is dead? Is alive? What kind a mother I gon’ be if dese is de first experiences me allow me child to have?
I push meself home. Back to me childhood home. Leaving de safe space I had create for meself from young. De space I was loving to share wid Amilo. De space where dey had choose to punish me and take what I ain’ want to give. I go home and just collapse by de front entrance, tinking to leave Amilo to sleep undisturbed for a little more.
Mommy come close and look at me. She nose holes opening, she eyes widening. She had count and catalogue every cut and bruise from when we had first reach back and she knew. Knew she was looking at, smelling, fresh destruction.
I tell she. Me eyes still streaming wid tears.
“Dey gone wid me,” I say, “dey gone wid me receiving and giving place. Rappo and Fon and two a dey friends from de band, TooToo and Canal. Dey said since I had kill—”
It seem like de right word, kill, but it tore me gills out to say it. I feel I need to surface again but I know ain’ really necessary. Is me mind and me spirit dat ain’ getting what me need.
“What? What dey say?” Mommy stroking me hair and I crying harder. She wait for de words.
“Dey say since I had k-k-kill off all de young women I must give de pride children. Dey try take what is mine for dey own. And, and, and dey get it.”
“Diyo,” Mommy say. And she gone for de place she does keep she knives and tuck some a dem up in she hair, calling out for Daddy as she doing so.
“Markili,” she bawl out, “Markili, come quick, follow me.” And she gone from de space, not waiting for a answer.
Daddy come out to find me still dere crying on de floor a we ship home. I stroking de same space on me head where Mommy had touch me. One a de only places on me body dat don’ hurt. A place where I had feel love. But I ashame to be crying. Shame, as I feel I deserve all of it. Every pain and degradation ’cause me friends dead and t’was my fault and yes, I is de only one left who could multiply de pride. Shame, ’cause I still want to go. Go live on Oma. Stop hiding here in de sea. We not from here. We adapt to it and what was good ain’ good no more. And who was good, was at least tolerable, ain’ tolerable no more.
“What happen?” Daddy say, sleep still on he face and in he eyes.
“Nothin,” I tell he, “nothin,” but he scent de water and follow after Mommy.
Mommy and Daddy find Rappo and Fon on de surface. Dey was sleep breathing and still drunk. Mommy slice dem up good wid she knives. She slice and jook and plunge she knives, both hands swinging wild wid fury. Arms, legs, and faces, especially faces, she mark wid she punishments. Daddy help she, not knowing all de details, but knowing if Mommy take up weapons is only in defense. Yet, he know it ain’ defense. Not now. Now is vengeance and retribution. But still, he hold while she cut, is how he tell me later.
Rappo and Fon had make a big ruckus, tryin to fight, and everybody wake up. So dey ain’ die. And nobody sleep for de rest a de night and on into de day. Is talk talk talk. As if talk could make any difference.
I tell Amilo I was already pregnant and he watch me closely. De only one who coulda mubbe convince him was Sosal. Sosal had know even before me. She had study bodies and health and she had know, but I had ask she not to say nothin. Now she never will.
Alla we in a bad way. Twil and Lano still wasting away, no matter how much shrimp and dulse and whale plaster. Whadeer and he whole family crumbling under de weight a so much loss and helplessness. Hardly anybody talk to or share wid Mommy and Daddy. Even dey friends said dey shoulda not gone after Rappo and Fon but bring it to de council as we usual way. After de new moon come and gone, Mandrin spend more time wid Rasa’s pride, feeling to get ’way from de sadness and pain. Mama Willa take sheself ’way from Rappo and was just wandering de sea, sleeping wherever she find safety. She daughter dead and she mate a rapist. Fiss could move he arm again, but not he legs. Canal and TooToo keep deyself scarce, coming ’round only to bring food to share wid others, saying how dey had just get swung wid de current and dey ain’ do no permanent harm. We thirty-six split, like a wave coming to de surface in a storm, water forming into bubbles dat break and disappear.
Three moons later and I still dey dey, staying wid Mommy and Daddy, holding on to life ’cause it’s what I suppose to do. Not feeding we baby inside me any joy. Just alive. Amilo right by me side, same sad as me. I see de hope in he eyes, dat I turn to life again, but de whole place morose wid divisions. Everybody eyeing me swelling belly. Boto had tease Keat she was gon’ have a hundred babies at once like a fish. But I is having two.
Is de day Twil and Lano die—de two a dem de same day, Twil only a little while after she sister, same like dey was born—dat I say I going. We returning from de burying ground, weak and exhausted from grief wid not even de music a Rappo and dem to send de dead off and comfort de living. I stop by me ole safe place. Only de third time I been dere since de ting happen. Amilo and Mommy and Daddy watch me as I pick up de green vessel Mandrin had give me. I yet to widen de mouth a de ting to catch de rain.
But I will.