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Aqua....the Ape and a Fish a Love Story

Sudha madhuri dash is a published author of many novels. Along with photography she loves horse riding and practices odissi dance.

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AQUA... THE REVENGE


Summer was a time for plenty…time for life to unfurl itself in various forms. The nascent earth was enjoying its youthful adventures among its various creations. The windswept grasslands bordering the ice were rich in dividends. Not far from this very undulating plain where the ground was still frozen in places under the tall grass, a herd of basking deer was seen grazing; a small rivulet that gurgled and fell into the valley below formed a large water body. It was bigger than a pond, yet smaller than a lake. A short stunted tree stood at the very edge, it was the only lone witness to what happened on that day. An incident would occur, which would change the course of human evolution and sow the first seed of thought and independence in the mind of Eve…and the beginning of an age-old enmity.

A pair of glowing eyes sat stealthy and quiet behind a large rock, watchful and alert, their strong body coiled with tension, ready to spring. The ever-consuming glow of those eyes watched the herd grazing, the mothers were alert and edgy whereas the young frisky as ever, hopping around among the elders. They on their new-found legs were testing the Mother Earth’s patience and resilience. A young mother inexperienced yet in the ways of life had strayed to the edge of the herd and as she grazed hungrily upon the luscious grass that grew plentiful around this time of the year, she seemed to have forgotten the simple rules that had kept her alive till now.

Her little one, just a few odd-hours-old, was still struggling to find its feet. The glowing eyes that had been following them missed nothing. The beast had decided to make its move. It turned around and looked at the rest of his group; slowly the members of the group started spreading out. Catching and killing would not be so easy; they were fast and while protecting their young, could land vicious kicks that were fatal enough to split open skulls. The dire wolves slowly started closing upon the young mother who had strayed even further away in her zeal to feed.

The old patriarch of the herd stood alert and on his guard. He was feeling uneasy; a sixth sense seemed to be warning him of the impending danger. The rush of icy winds carried the smell of danger to him. He hoofed the ground and snorted twice…alarming the herd just in the nick of time, who began to sprint. Their path crisscrossed across the vast plains, but as they neared the skull-shaped cliff, overhanging the west end of the water body...they found lurking in the tall grass another type of danger from which there never was an escape.

They came in groups…organised…well planned, often with strange weapons that could kill and maim from far. The dire wolves were steady hunters who never gave up on their query but the loud fearsome cries mingled with the sound of sharp stone-tipped spears being thrown at their query, drove fear even into the hearts of such fierce predators. This made them flee the very same way they had come. They were afraid of the new predators…who walked upright and held the glowing orange globe that could singe and burn. The one with glowing red eyes watched the new breed of predators rejoice; the smell of blood mingled with torn flesh was as heady as the sweet dew that dropped from the branches of the tall trees in the forest far below the black mountains. They moved away as silently as the stars in the dawn. They would get their turn another day. Today, it was wise to run away and live.

The hunt had been successful; the patriarch had ensured the safety of his herd by laying down his life; the great beast fell alarmingly easy under the hale of spears. The young mother could flee to safety with her young at her heels; today, she had learnt a very important lesson of her life. The hunters laughed and jostled each other…the females were already at work as they flayed the dead beast, separating sinew from bone. After many days, would there be food to eat and the children would sleep happy. The young hunter with a black feather in his long hair looked around, but she was missing; he would again get a smaller share than the others would and would also have to forgo his share of the skin and the antler. The young hunter stood tall with spear in hand, anger and frustration writ in his every feature.

Back at the cave, sat a young woman, all of twelve suns of age. Her long black hair was like silk and flowed down her face as she sat looking into the rippling waters of the gurgling brook that flowed by the side of the cave. There were unshed tears in her eyes. Her back was raw and bleeding from the beatings and with no food touching her lips since the last few moons, she knew she was starving to death.

Back at the hunt, stood the young hunter lost in his thoughts...the new life within her had made her useless to him. He knew, he would have to speak to the matriarch about it. She had come as a stray from a distant group, wounded and sick; she had been nursed to health by the other females. From the beginning, itself she had been different; she had no name. Her long flowing hair and sea-green eyes were complimented by a milky-white skin...she was just like the moon in the sky. A rebel who followed her own will and extremely daring...during the hunts, she would have her share of throwing the spear, never once faltering or missing her target. Her being so very different from the others had attracted him to her. Winning her had not been easy; all the eligible males had been after her. He had been a bit luckier than the others had been...she had liked him and he had wooed her with the best pieces of meat and fur from his hunts. All that had somehow changed with the beginning of a new life within her…she had changed and she would push him away whenever he went close to her. The matriarch, a dark, wide-hipped and hairy female had advised strictness on his part. He had reluctantly carried out the dictums of their tribe...she too had hated him for it. Now she was heavy with life and ready to give birth anytime now…

The young warrior stepped aside from the group, his young body tense and angry as he watched the women of his tribe fighting and quarrelling among themselves to get the best piece of the soft brown fur. This winter too, he would have to go bare foot on the hunts and with no cape to protect his back from the icy winds. He would have to starve or depend upon the others; his mighty pride would not allow that. He was the best hunter of his tribe and it was his spear that brought down the prey often enough.

40,000 years ago, predators like sabre cats and dire wolves were at the top of the food chain. Icy winds from the distant snow-clad mountains favoured none. The earth hesitated to meet the heavens, evolution was at its peak and the forerunners of modern-day human beings had emerged. Their ape-like characteristics were now less evident, but the wild side of humans does take a while to die. The land itself was undergoing changes...just like that virgin on the brink of womanhood…such new and vast changes that it had become unsure of its own body and mind. The humans were trying to make a foothold for themselves on land and those who found the dangers on land a little formidable, shifted their glances upon the sea. Those at sea, were the hybrids born of ancestors that had ruled both the land and the sea. They lived in caves bordering the seas and the oceans. Among them too, was a young hunter: ‘Yaktak’, a deadly marksman, in his own homeland...the sea. On one such hunting trip he strayed far away from his pod and the stormy sea carried him far away...the others searched for him but after many days of search, gave up all hope of ever finding him. His coming and landing so close to our hunters was not without a reason...

Whereas, back at the hunt stood our young hunter angry and defiant; he was a land dweller. He was the son of the patriarch of a small band of hunters. Under the tall snow covered peaks in the green stretch of the forest, that bordered the swampland, they lived in caves. Primitive and still evolving, they were high-browed and dusky-complexioned, with strong stout bodies that supported their hardy life as hunters and gatherers in this vast hostile land where the survival of the fittest was at its prime. We know them now as Neanderthals. Our young hunter was one of them. The patriarch, his father, ruled the group with a strong hand. He was an old man of forty-odd years, who had seen many seasons of hunts. His experience in life was like an open book, to be read by the others. Time is like a shallow pool of water that shows us mirages, makes us dream and then poof! All of it gone…in a wink of a second.

Often during those days of ‘kill and eat’, like male lions, hordes of disjointed men who chanced upon each other often clung to each other, forging a friendship of uncanny dependence. They banded together to hunt and live in shared quarters. The women that they managed to abduct or those that strayed in from other groups were a commodity, to be shared around. Often strays and stragglers attached themselves to a group; the more the number of members, the easier were the hunts. Larger animals such as mammoths or the woolly bison were deadly adversaries and difficult to bring down, hence stragglers and drones were often encouraged to join the tribe. They were called the ‘fodder’, something, that was necessary in any successful hunt. Losing a good hunter would cripple a group; hence, the extras came in handy while cornering a prey. The ‘fodder’ lived off the thrown bits and pieces; they slept in the open and had no stake upon the women of the group. Sometimes-which was rare-the older women who were no longer able to please the alpha males would be discarded and given to the stragglers. Starved of normal desires, these stragglers would almost tear the women apart while entering them leaving them, thus leaving them seriously injured-almost at the brink of death.

The females were larger than the males...their deep-set eyes and high brows were set in a strong-jawed face. They had no say in the group; the patriarch would set all the rules which they all had to follow. These rules were necessary for the survival of the members of the group. The female that the patriarch favoured would often become the dominant matriarch and she would set her own rules for the others. The females were the workforce; they were the primary child-bearers and the secondary gatherers of roots, berries and grass. During hunts, the females would wait on the sidelines…every hunter would get a share depending upon his and her contribution to the hunt. Often during such expeditions, they would band together for protection against the predators that prowled the land looking for easy prey, small children often accompanied their mothers, making the group weak and vulnerable. The loss of adult females to predators brought about no mean reaction, but the loss of an adult male meant…the loss of a hunter, making the group weak and vulnerable.

It had been many days now. The figure was petite and weak. Her face was gaunt with pain. Hunger had taken its toll on her. Her sea-green eyes were now dulled with sadness and pain and had no more tears to shed. She had put as much distance as possible between herself and them...him.

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Her face had a sense of brooding determination as she looked across the vast landscape. She wore a few torn ragged pieces of skin and fur that hardly covered her young body. Her long, silky black hair was matted with dust and blood. Her feet, bare and calloused, bled at places, making her limp as she walked. The white god was approaching and she could feel it in her bones, which ached with a feverish pitch. She had not slept for many a day; alert to any danger, she was on her guard. She had never been out alone…at least not so far from the cave. The ground frost was still clinging to the blades of the grass; the sun had lost its charm, it reminded her of the vigorous manhood of youth that was now all gone with his melting years. It had become bleak and a pale shadow of its former self...just like herself...on the brink of death.

Time was running out fast like the melting snow of the mountain peak. She limped on; hunger was eating away her innards. Alone and sick, she had very little chance of getting any kind of food for herself or survive in this hostile land. Small game animals and large herds of mammoths...was something she could see grazing in the valley below. Might be, she could still catch a sharp fish from the small rivulet that gurgled down into the valley.

The landscape was open and more like a swampland, frozen at some places whilst at other places, there was to be seen an abundant burst of nature at its best. She entered the fast flowing shallow depths. The bone-chilling cold slowly travelled up her spine, creating a shock in the inside of her head. She rubbed her forehead, trying to make the dull ache go away. Dry flecks of blood came off on her palm…the sight of them brought back painful memories. The matriarch had snatched the baby from her arms, still covered in mulogu (blood of birth). Carrying the wailing infant, the matriarch had entered the depths of the fast flowing stream. The matriarch was considered the mother of all hunters. She made all the laws, which the other members of the group had to follow. She decided upon the fate of all the members.

She had put up a fight but the woman had been too strong for her; aided by two other mature females, she had left her wounded and bleeding outside the cave. She had struggled up as she heard its last cries; she had been too late. The matriarch had held the baby under the water until it had stopped moving. Why had they killed her innocent baby? She would have worked harder and foraged for more meat for that extra little mouth. The men had returned from a successful hunt; he saw her, yet he never even bothered to come to her side, as she lay fallen…broken…and sobbing. She had watched him in the light of the flickering flames of the fire as he spoke to the matriarch. Without even a glance, he had entered the cave. She had been asked to leave…go back to where she came from. How could she? She had no recollection of what she was or where she came from.

As darkness had descended upon the cold hillside, there came the sound of happiness and laughter from within the tall mouth of the cave…that day the hunt had been good and the meat would see them through many a sun-lit day. The flickering flames of the fire outside the mouth of the cave had started dying down. She willed herself to get up and drag her broken soul to the safety of a tall tree. She already could hear the whisper among the leaves…a soft footfall. A low growl…the smell of her blood had drawn the predators. Dire wolves were pack hunters and capable of bringing down large prey. They were relentless in their pursuit of prey and would often follow the prey for days together before bringing it down. The wolves had followed the hunters to the cave. She hurriedly scaled up a tall tree whose branches overhung the gurgling stream. The sharp-edged bark cut across the skin of her thighs, leaving it raw and bleeding. She spent a long sleepless night as the predators circled around like a pack of vultures. Help, however, had come from unexpected quarters. Another group of hunters, who lived just across the mountains, had come to trade fur. Their steps heading her way had driven the predators away. She waited for the hunters to leave; then, she left stealthily. For seven moonlit nights she walked; she wanted to go away as far as possible from those terrible nightmares.

The cold water gnawing at her tired and bloody feet jolted her back to the present. The sharp tooth were known to be carrion feeders. Her torn and bloody soul was a feast for them. Night was drawing near; this land was a stranger to her…she needed to find a place of safety quickly. With the darkness, arose icy blasts that was picking up pace…she made one last attempt…they were too quick for her, slimy and sharp finned, they left fine tears upon her palm. Tired and weak, she dragged on, there was not a single tall tree to be seen; the ones nearby were twisted and stunted, their attempts to survive this hostile land had turned them into dwarfs, with sparse and spiny leaves.

She knew it would be suicidal to spend a night out in the open, for the predators were strong and she would be an easy meal. She looked down into the valley below; from the edge, she could make out a large depression covered by shrubs, which offered a place of safety. Her long nails dug into the soft mushy ground as she struggled and clung onto the walls of the cliff side. The gradual fall of the wall aided her, and slowly but steadily, she made her way to the depression. It was not very big, yet wide enough, to accommodate her frail form. It was the nest of a ‘wind catcher’. These large birds of prey were often known to swoop down upon the unwary from the blue expanse above. She found a few discarded eggshells and hunger forced her to gnaw at these thick bits. The moss lining the pit was dry and soon warmed up to her shivering form; she chewed some of the dry twigs and applied the juice on her wounds. It was bitter, and stung as she rubbed it into the deep gashes on her head. The shrubs surrounding the rim of the depression was thick enough to keep out the cold wind. She heard the howling from the valley below as her eyelids became heavy upon herself. She had thought of dying, but alone, she learnt to live again...this time on her terms and her ways.

As she gathered roots from the ground, she kept a sharp lookout for the hunters and predators alike. Her wounds had healed and her hollow gaunt former self had disappeared. She was gaining her former strength. The spear that she had fashioned out of a long mammoth bone made all her hunts with the sharp tooth quite successful. The flesh was soft and salty. She would often sit next to the rivulet, finishing off her catches. One day, while out in the valley below her, she came across a dead carcass of a mammoth. The scavengers had picked the bones clean, but she found large pieces of skin that had naturally dried to soft mossy velvet. She collected these, for she knew that the bits and pieces upon her body would not offer much protection against the bitter cold that was to come. The hours of daylight were becoming shorter. She spent her time hunting and piecing together the pieces of skin with twine lengths that she had torn off from the dry branches of the shrubs surrounding her nest. Soon, she had fashioned for herself a small cape to cover her bare body. She outlined the nest with more dry moss and twigs for a better protection against the elements of nature.

She loved her freedom: the decisions were hers to make. She dug deeper into the ground, fashioning a small cave out of the depression. She built a roof out of grass and spiny leaves, and then reinforced it with bones and stout bits of sticks. At night, she would listen to the cold wind howling in the valley, its fierceness often mingled with the hungry growls of the predators. A number of times she saw groups of hunters out in the plains. Afraid of being caught, she would wait for them to leave before she would hurry to collect the bits of leftovers from their hunts.

She started hoarding roots and seeds in her small cave. With the white god lying thick on the ground, it would become difficult to source food. The mammoths were hardly seen; even the large predators had holed up against the cold that was bitter and sharp. Her stock of roots, berries and seeds were serving her well. Sometimes she would break the surface of the water and try looking for a sharp tooth, she knew they were there but the water was too deep for her in places.

A short blizzard had started and she decided to go back…the dead carcass of a large grass stag lay frozen stiff and she was only able to reap off a few chunks of meat. The horns of the beast…she would come back for them later. Already the snow upon the ground had started to harden. She slipped many a time as she tried to find a foothold on the cliff side. She somehow reached the sharp turn that would lead her to the small stunted tree…the only one above the small rivulet, now a frozen expanse of white. The snow had increased its mean pace and was now falling in thick sheets…bending low, she hurried on, taking forced steps against the icy cold wind. Just as she reached the short stumpy tree, she stumbled and fell. She was quite used to the terrain, very familiar with every layout of the land. She knew her way blind- folded; this sudden hurdle was strange to her and alerted her every sense.

She quickly scrambled to her feet and put as much distance as she could between her and the figure lying prone on the ground. She shifted the snow with her stone-tipped spear. The snow shifted easily, revealing a figure dressed in strange skins. She poked at him, hesitant at first; seeing no reaction at all, she poked even more sharply. Looking at the pale listless face, she knew for sure that he was dead. Gathering up her small bundle that consisted of some bits and pieces of meat and bones left behind by the hunters. She turned to leave, just then she heard a soft groan-almost a whisper-above the sharp wind that was howling in the windswept grasslands below. As she tried to raise him, he suddenly opened his eyes...they seemed to pierce into her very being, shaking her up, they resembled the turbulent depths of the raging ocean, ‘Strange deep eyes’, she thought. In the twilight, they lit up with a light of their own, as if the ocean was rolling within them.

He was heavy and it took all of her strength to drag him down into the cave. She could not have left him there to die.

The winter was almost ending. Yet, it was still cold with the rivulet frozen. All her stock of food had been used up, but she had nothing to worry about, ‘Yaktak’ was a skilful hunter. Every day she slept with her belly full of food and in the warm circle of his arms. His strange deep eyes would change to a grey blue when he was making love to her, raising her to heights of passion. Though he had the strength of many men, he touched her with gentleness. She had not experienced such feelings of love and being loved when she had been the young warrior’s woman. His language was different and she knew none; he started to teach her his ways…he spoke in clicks and long-drawn screeches that sounded more like moans. Yaktak was extremely observant and soon picked up her way of hunting with a spear. Every moment of the day, was a journey of discovery with him. She would wait at the water’s edge, she could make out his shape in the shadowy depths; he swam swiftly, hunting for the quick-witted sharp tooth. He could remain under the water as long the fish. The webs in-between his toes and fingers, helped him to swim as swiftly as the others.

She loved sitting at the water’s edge, watching him fleeting past. He was different from her…she knew that…he was somehow different from all the men that she had ever seen. Yet he was more human than any that she had ever known. He had given her a name “Yashi”, which meant ‘Yaktak’s heart’. Time passed swiftly, a new life was growing within her, the hurt and pain that was in her past often haunted her dreams and troubled her soul, but she was stronger now, and the new life to come was all that she was waiting for.

The season was for rejoicing and enjoying the warmth of the heady sun that seemed like a young man at the peak of his manhood. The all-giving warmth brought back life into the grasslands below. The night was star-studded and the predators were on the prowl in the windswept plains below. There were many easy preys to be found at this time of the year when the earth offered abundance in the form of new life. Yashi felt Yaktak’s protective arm around her and felt safe for now. He would make love to her gently, and with loving care. She loved running her fingers across his strong frame, feeling his strengths and weaknesses. One night, they must have slept off, for the heavy quietness in the air woke her up. She lay still…she could make out the burly outline of Yaktak’s figure and sense the tenseness in his every sinew. He seemed to be listening, but for what? The gills behind his ears vibrating with life. What he was listening to was beyond human ears. He swiftly picked up his spear and signalled her to move. They had hardly reached the stunted tree, when Yashi could hear the familiar cry of war among the hunters, she picked up the tall familiar figure that was coming straight at Yaktak with his spear raised. Yashi’s heart sank with fear; she recognised the young hunter-he never missed. She pulled down Yaktak to the ground as the spear whizzed past above their heads. Yaktak picked her up and ran down towards the valley; she clung to his broad chest, fear running in her heart like a lunatic gone amok.

How could they have known where to find them? She and Yaktak had been very careful and cautious. The attack came swiftly from all sides; even in her state, she was not shy of a fight. Yaktak pushed her down among the tall grass and covered her shivering form with bearskin. Throwing off his sealskin cape, he picked his two edged-harpoon...a deadly weapon that had never ever missed its mark. Yaktak was a man of strange elements-he could be so gentle that his love for her could turn his eyes rivulet grey, but in anger, they could resemble the stormy sea.

He knew his fight well…he kept guiding her to safety while silently ripping off throats with his razor sharp teeth or impaling the foolhardy who dared to take him headlong. For two full moon-nights, they kept moving without stopping; in her state, it was becoming difficult for her. She could feel the nervous flutter of her child and the fear of losing something so precious, put her in a state of constant fear. The hunters broke up in groups, and started hunting them down like animals. Yashi knew what the hunters were doing...they used the very same technique to bring down mammoths. The constant stalking forced them to move frequently. Yaktak must have realised too that they were tiring them out so that the kill would be easy. Often in the sea, while on a hunt, he would use his dolphins to bring in the giant squids. Difficult to hunt and extremely dangerous...the dolphins would tire out the animal before he moved in to kill. He would often leave Yashi well-hidden then take a detour and find the hunters...finishing them in small groups was easier. Hunger and anger would sometimes overtake him and for him, forgetting his human side was extremely easy on these occasions.

The mangled bodies hardly looked human and the hunters were no longer feeling that confident. The tall hunter looked at the bodies; they had been torn apart...limb to limb. The state of the bodies drove fear into the hearts of the hunters. They were now afraid...the tall hunter stood looking worried...such an adversary they had never come across until now. He wondered to himself, was this creature human at all...what did she see in him? The old tracker pointed out to only a single pair of footprints. The footprints though human yet looked a bit strange. The hunters remained mystified...and afraid.

Yaktak would often leave her well-hidden, and then go to look for food or water. There were times when she feared for his life and her unborn baby...she knew them well-they were vicious and merciless. After having turned her out, they were now begrudging her even her survival. She lay weeping. Her only protection was Yaktak, against all those who had destroyed her ‘all’. Now after all that she had gone through, she was again at the same crossroads of her life…where she stood to lose everything. She looked heavenwards and raised a prayer to the star, shining brightly in the corner...she always had been told to pray to this light of the heaven...but she had no recollection of who had told her that.

The day had been long with no breaks. Yashi was weakening and Yaktak was worried. As she lay hidden under a shrub of corn spines, she suddenly felt a mild pain starting to build up in the small of her back. She knew her time was near; she looked at Yaktak sitting next to her, his strong muscled body alert like a tightly coiled spring...the gills under his ears opening and closing rapidly, filling his lungs with air. Yashi could see his eyes-they were dark grey. His jaw was clenched with tension. Tears rolled down without a break-she was the unlucky one, and her ill-luck had touched him too. The low whistles just a whisper above the wind, was getting closer...Yaktak’s hands clenched upon his harpoon...the one that he had fashioned out of the long bone of a human skeleton he had found in the plains. The upper and lower jaw still had strong rows of teeth-he used them as clappers to smash skulls-while the pointed stone tip at the other end was used to impale his enemies. Humans were weak; their necks were like matchsticks when under his grip.

He glanced at Yashi...he could smell her pain and fear. Anger flooded his whole being. He knew she needed to rest. There were too many of them-he would fight to the end to protect the love of his life. The hunters had already spotted them. Yaktak was ready...I think that most probably God who created us, happened to make His presence felt on that fateful day-a dust storm swept across the expansive plains. His eyes well protected by the extra membrane in them, she walked blindly behind him, following his lead, as he led the way confidently without any hesitation. The hunters, blinded by the storm, slowly started to fall behind…the storm erased all their tracks. They fled to the north-his home was what he had said-when he had guided her across the forest of pine and Wollemia. Across the black mountains, over the silvery plains of sand and glitter, over the river that snaked in and out of the rolling sands, they walked to the end of the earth. After seven nights, they reached the blue-green pristine sea that welcomed her warmly. The sea was like a swathe of green silk and their home was among the caves that dotted the shoreline. His people were called the Mers and they lived here in peace and harmony. There were men, women and children. Everyone welcomed her…she was different, yet she never felt any different. Her birthing time was drawing nearer. The pain was unbearable. Yaktak took her in his strong arms and stepped into the gentle waves of the ocean. Mers are creatures of the sea and all Mer babies take their first breath under water. The waves lapped around Yashi with a strange gentleness. Yaktak supported her with his strong arms while she floated; the female Mers formed a protective circle around her. The hunters swam on the outer periphery keeping guard…the sea had its own dangers…the Mosasaurs were vicious hunters growing to massive sizes and they were swift swimmers-they could cut a man in two. They would often come very close to the shores looking for easy meals. The smell of blood from the birthing would often draw in such predators, but the Mers knew the ways of the ocean and how to deal with them. The hunters accompanied by trained dolphins and killer whales would form an outer protective periphery. She felt the baby slipping out from in between her legs; the female Mers at once dived. She put her arms around Yaktak and drew in a deep breath as he dived down with her. She saw her minute-old son swimming strongly under the protective guidance of the females. Yaktak looked at her and smiled, then with one swift movement he took her up to the surface.

The cave was her new home...it was large with musty brown walls; an underground river flowed from one end to the other then only to emerge out again on the outside to join the sea. Yaktak and the others would often take such paths to go into the sea. He would return home with a rich catch of fish, sea spiders and shells. Some of the shells yielded shiny and round beads that she would cleverly string into necklaces.

Yashi looked at her sleeping infant…a strong little fellow all of six months, he lay asleep well snuggled in a large seashell that was cushioned with moss and fur…he had fetched it from the deep and dark depths of the ocean. Her son in some ways was like her, but in many ways, was like him too. She ran a gentle hand across his ruffled mop of curly hair that hid the raised crest of his skull.

The walls of the cave were filled with ancient paintings; they depicted his ancestors who had always lived close to the shores of this very ocean. Large animals in the shape of which she had never seen earlier swam with men who had strange legs...more like tails of a fish. She knew that he was connected with the ocean in strange ways. There were others of his tribe…men, women and children. Some had strange skins that glinted in the sunlight and felt slimy to touch. There were still others, who had strange legs like the drawings on the walls of the cave. They were strange in their ways yet the love and affection that she observed among them was missing in her human counterparts.

At night, Yashi slept to the sound of the tall waves crashing against the walls of the cliff and the deep rumbling sound of the ocean that sang a soothing song of its own. He was often away for long periods; she would scan the shores for his return. The sun was already lying low in the arms of the ocean; she left her sleeping infant in the care of another older Mer female. Unlike them, she could not drink the salty water of the sea. Picking up a large bowl that she had fashioned out of a seashell, she went to the small stream flowing nearby to fetch fresh water to drink.

She had almost had her fill when she heard a low whistle just like a whisper above the wind. The bowl dropped from her hand. A cry of fear broke free from her lips. She did not expect to see them….it had been a long time now. She ran down the cliff screaming…trying to warn the others of the pod. They were armed and their shrill cry of war broke the peace and quiet of the place. The hunters came down in hordes…they came from all directions...Yashi could hear only cries of death from all sides.

The tall hunter had given clear instruction...she was not to be touched. He found her lying unconscious among the others. It was dark when Yashi woke up, her hands and feet were tightly secured like a captured animal. She was back at the cave. They had tied her to a tree, the night was closing in and she knew she would not survive the predators if they left her out here. She watched the matriarch speaking to the elders in hushed tones while the hunters stood alert and armed. The night passed in hopeless despair. She was never left alone; the stragglers were always there, chasing away the predators. Three light days and two moon nights had passed, with no food and water, and she knew she was slipping away. A tiny ray of hope still burned within her heart…

She lay in a swoon; she could feel her swollen tongue blocking her throat, with each passing moment her breathing was becoming laboured. Someone was cutting her bonds; setting her free…the cool water revived her and saturated her parched throat. She breathed in the salty smell next to her cheek…a smile broke free from her hurt soul. She looked up into those reassuring eyes with just one question on her lips, “our son”. He just gave a brief nod and smiled. She closed her eyes and rested on his broad chest. He picked her up and hurried away. She was alive and well, praise the god in the sea! He thought to himself. A while later, she stirred, strength returning to her limbs. She dug her nails into his chest to get his attention, and then with anger burning in her sea green eyes, she looked towards the mouth of the cave...he followed her glance.

She sat outside the cave supporting her aching back against a sun-warmed piece of boulder. She looked at Yaktak and the others of the tribe who now walked into the cave with purposeful strides. The horrifying cries that arose from within the deep walls of the cave brought a soft smile of satisfaction upon her lips….RETRIBUTION WAS AT LAST, HERS.

© 2022 sudha madhuri dash

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