Mountains rise above the sea and dominate inlets rich in fish and coral. Small beaches shine white among dark rocks, coarse sand made of ancient shells and corals, crumbled and altered by Time. Only pinkish shades reveal the sand’s affinity with the submerged structures.
Most of the beaches can’t be reached by land as the mountains are steep and deserted, and there has never been any chance or need to build roads.
We used to go there on holidays and weekends. Those trips were a break in the boring working routine and a respite from the summer heat. We would anchor in a creek and each of us would go his or her way, to fish, swim or idle around.
I used to take mask and snorkel and swim away looking for solitude. I liked to spy the coral-coated boulders and cliffs on the bottom of the sea. They were, to me, castles with seaweed gardens and coral bushes, inhabited by a court of vain fish, dressed in crazily bright colours.
One day I happened to dive into a cold current, and had to make for shore to warm up. Just behind a promontory there was a tiny bay. I was sure I had never been there before. I swam towards the shelving beach, the water got shallower and warmer. Now I could stand up and walk to shore. I removed my mask.
She was there. A petite figure sat by the water-line, her feet dipped in the sea. She looked like a little girl. I went closer. How could she have got there? Where could her parents be?
Not aware of me, she was running sand through her fingers and picking out the shells not yet completely polished by the elements. When I was within a few steps, she raised her head and smiled.
She was not a child. She had long hair whitened by the sun and the salty air, a pointed face and sharp features but round eyes. She was wearing a worn out tunic, showing thin tanned arms.
Hello, said I as one always does when meeting somebody in a deserted place, but got no reply. She went on combing sand. I sat down and watched her. Squatting, almost naked, her chin between her legs and hair over her face, she was frenziedly digging the patch of sand in front, as if for buried treasures.
It was time to leave, the others would be waiting for me. I stood up and looked at the sea. As it often happens, the water was stirred by a shoal and some of the fish skipped over the surface scattering flashes of silver as they went.
As at a signal, she rose throwing away all the pieces she had been collecting and like a dart she dived. A splash, a shadow under water, and she was gone. The faint ripples left me with a dream-like feeling. I felt dizzy and couldn’t go back to the water. After who knows how long I heard my friends’ voices from the boat, relieved to have found me, worried to find me in such state.
On the way back I didn’t breathe a word. I never told anyone who, or what, I had seen. But I often went back, trying to find, and never managing to reach, the tiny bay behind the promontory. So I would bend down and look for shells or old coral pieces, in wonder of what treasures they might hide. I’d collect them, threading everything on a string the same colour as the sea. I started wearing the strings around my neck when swimming. I almost drowned once. I started living on a beach and got dark as the mountains around, bleached hair and mad eyes.
Now I live far away from the sea. Here I’m allowed to keep the strings on the bed posts and to pin seaside photos on the headboard. A doctor asked me if there were a place I wanted to go on my annual three-day leave and I replied: to the Mermaid Sea.
(image by Franco Blandino)