I stand on the cliffside watching the dawn glow over the ocean, the weary watcher of the sea. Though watcher isn’t my title, not today. Not ever, and I have many more things that I’d like to do than to watch because in this world, there are watchers and there are doers. I turn and hurry down my collection route.
Today, I am visiting a small coastal town in the Caribbean, so small that the name is insignificant to me, for soon, I will be at another small coastal town, maybe somewhere in the Pacific; I am a happy slave to the tides. I slip into the first house at the first rays of sunrise, no need for keys or force. Even though nymphs can get into most places easily, this town seems to have a no lock policy, which means they are also very generous with their offerings at the altar to their ocean god, whichever name they honor.
The dog, the protector of the house, lifts his head in welcome to allow me safe passage. Animals see me; I’m grateful that they usually like me too. Collecting would be an inconvenience if they didn’t. On the altar near the door, I see a photograph of children on the beach playing in the shallows, a plate of some vague, homemade baked good smelling of banana, and a small scroll with a standard prayer to the ocean, asking for peace, tranquility, and abundance. Although somewhat generic, the ocean accepts all kinds of love. I grab some of the banana bread, place it in my fishing net bag, and pat the dog on my way out.
The ocean and I have an agreement that despite whatever names they call it, Nāmaka, Poseidon, Tangaroa, to me, it is the ocean. I deliver its offerings, and the ocean takes me to new places every day. It was the same agreement with my mother, her mother, and every mother before, always to the aid of the ocean god.
My mother trained me for this role, to be the deliverer between humans and sea god alike. We live for a long time, but not forever. Nearing the end of one life, the mother would choose and teach one child of her litter of hundreds, and by sending the rest away, would turn them little, invertebrate nymph insects. I remember the first time I visited land in the wake of my mother’s aging form. There was a gathering, with many men and women on the beach wearing light, elegant jackets or flowing fabrics. I tugged on my mother, but she left me behind, hissing at the prospect of watching a human ceremony. So I, invisible and curious, walked up to the front, right onto the trail of the woman in white. Airy and light, I weighed nothing more than the sea breeze of the early evening, but she didn’t even notice. She was captivated by something in front of her. I looked over to see a man with scars all over from fisherman’s hooks. Yet she glowed, transcended the sun in its last hurrahs of sunset.
She was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. Brave and courageous. I vowed to find something that will look at me the way she looked down the aisle. But for now, I was a grateful watcher. The fisherman she married was a happy man.
Mother hated that. “We are to ensure the safe and constant delivery, not fool around,” she’d say. When she died, I was glad. Not because she was dead. She was a hard nymph because she had worked tirelessly since her mother had chosen her to be the deliverer. We don’t get time off. Should their offerings not deliver or the people not give, the ocean will storm their houses and ravage their lands.
Every time the ocean brought me back to the same small coastal town, I checked up on the Beautiful Woman in the shrouded cover of night. She and the fisherman were happy. They had a few children and grew very old, yet she still glowed. Sometimes when I visit, she is wearing white. I wonder if the Fisherman ever notices that.
I return to the cliff sometime in the afternoon after visiting many more homes and many more dogs. At the top of the cliff, hundreds of feet above sea level, there is a sacred space marked by humans with a small pile of stones and a conch shell overlooking the endless waters, a small temple to the ocean god. There are other markers up there, a large stone table and a rope coiled at the base, both rarely used nowadays.
The wind rushing up the cliff, toes curling over the rocks the thrilling feeling of the edge. My hair, long and kelp-like flies wildly everywhere as the wind wraps every inch of my naked body. I laugh. The wind holds me there in its embrace, and I say in nature’s language, I am not yours. I am of the sea, but I thank you for safe passage. I can tell they laugh too, the mischievous wind. Always kicking up skirts of women or stealing important papers from the businessmen on vacation in outdoor cafés. I reach for the conch shell and blow a long sonorous note, and below me, the tides rile like animals at the feeding. I replace the shell, check the fishing net bag on my shoulder, and jump.
I feel the salt water meet me at the bottom, and I disturb the pattern of a nearby school. In the water, I carefully swim to the ocean floor. I empty the bag of children’s notes, food, and handmade sculptures into the abyss cracked into the ocean floor since before humans began to walk. I dare not swim below, it is territory only for the gods, but I sing my own prayer to its watery depths.
I head back to the shore for the start of the evening. The ocean gives me sunset to sunrise to wander wherever I please. Usually, I would take this time with the wind god or running amongst the woodland nymphs if there is a nearby forest, but tonight, at the small coastal town of the Beautiful Woman, I seek out her fishermen family. She has long since passed, two generations ago, but her son’s son’s sons are out tonight around a campfire on the beach on this festival evening. It is the first blue moon in a few summers, and I see the ocean god pining for the moon god, tides wild and high.
The Storyteller gathers the children around the fire and throws his shadow against the base of the cliff to start his story. “You better beware,” he starts eerily, and the children fall into an awed hush. “The sea witch is out tonight.” There are a few whispers in the young crowd. “Her hair is long, green, and made of seaweeds. She carries a fishing net and a spear to catch young children!” There’s a loud gasp from a small girl. I look and sit cross-legged next to the gasping one among the children, invisible to the Storyteller and spectators.
“Don’t wander on the shore at night, else she drags you down to her underwater cave and eats you up! Years ago, there was a big storm, and a young girl went missing. The people of the town searched everywhere, high and low, to find her, but a week later, after the storm, the coast guard found her on the shore, arms with big, long cuts, her white dress stained from the sea.” The Storyteller was skilled; he leaped and crouched around his audience, stalking around them to heighten the atmosphere. He checked the audience reaction and elaborated. “If the sea witch catches you, she’ll use her long talons–” The Storyteller grabs the closest toddler by the torso and holds him out facing the others. He grabs the child’s pointer finger and points it above the heads of the captivated audience, “Longer than your finger! So look out if you see any monsters about or else she might,” he paused for dramatic effect, “GET YOU!” The Storyteller shouted as his brother jumped and howled from behind the children. They all jolt and laugh, but I sat still. My claws aren’t that big, I thought.
They’re much bigger.
I remember the girl; she wasn’t lost. The town chief took it upon himself to find a virgin sacrifice to appease the ocean god and the storm. He took his own daughter, dressed in white, and tied her to the table against the edge of the cliff. Most of the cuts on her arms were from rope lacerations on her sensitive skin, but I remember when she fell in. I found her at the bottom, calm and beautiful. I would have kept her for my collection, but the ocean did not keep human sacrifices, not anymore, so the ocean pushed her back to shore a few days later when the storm calmed.
I sigh, lost in melancholic memory, and jump up, heading towards the festival. Lights and sounds, things I have seen many times over the course of my relatively long life. Dancing is always a sight; humans imitate the movement of fish or the motion of riptides, though they may call it salsa.
Through the sound and the humidity, humans bask in life. They feed each other meat on sticks and grandmothers ask grandsons for a dance, but there is a young woman is sitting to the side in a doorway, her white dress dirtied by the dust from the ground. Her heart is broken, I can see that much. A ring lays on the cobblestone at her feet. I recognize her too, I’ve been to her home, collected from her altar. I know that she wants children, but I have also seen her love visiting the house of another. It is not my job to meddle, but I have watched.
She stands, broken but resolute, and runs away from the lights, and I leap, ready for the adventure. I see her courage, and I want more of it. Past all the vendors and stray dogs barking madly. She wanders to the edge of town, up the cliff, before she stops. The girl eyes the sacrificial altar with the rope still coiled neatly beneath the table. She has always been devout, gave her offerings, said her prayers, but now she seems to be at a loss. Never has she felt more alone.
I want to be able to find someone who looks at me the way the Beautiful Woman smiled at the Fisherman.
I can see in her eyes the thought of paradise with her God of the Water, fanciful and without age or end, so easily forgetting her love for her religion. She overlooks the horizon as the sky begins to lighten.
I step back, watch her fall, and on a whim dive beside her. I grab her arm, excited that she has chosen to live underwater. She is beautiful, but I see her face, and she is beautifully confused. Instantly, I feel her resisting, she’s frightened for a new life under the sea, and once we hit the water, she sees me in my form. Her eyes widen as she screams, losing air. Quickly, I begin to drag her to safety, to my cave on the ocean ground, but she struggles, white dress tangling in the reeds. I try to dance with her to cheer her up, flowing like the seaweed that swirls around us, but I look at her face, and I no longer see the brave woman who left the steps of the festival. I do not see the glow of love around her. I do not see any glow around her. I see stillness.
I do not know much about humans; I don’t understand why humans stay in their tiny little homes with novelties such as clothing and electricity. I believe in love and beauty, and not letting anything stop you from finding that. I have watched generations and generations of human life, and they allow things like time and coins worry them too much. But they call me sea witch and fear the likes of my kind. We are not kind, we are not gentle. We do not get days off. I am not a god or a witch. I am a nymph, and I am the Deliverer.
But I do like pretty girls in white dresses.
I lay her in line with the others, those who have also tried to join me over the cliff side over the generations. It has been a long time since the last from this small coastal town in the Caribbean, but she will not be the last. I kiss her forehead and swim up to the shore to get one last look before I head off to wherever the ocean takes me next.
Maybe somewhere in the Pacific.