A Fair Fish

Mulei tastes the salty sea breeze and knows he is at home. He exhales, bows down and stretches up, arms leading his body. A greeting to Aurog, lord of light, who smiles generously this morning. It will be a warm day. Mulei yawns, washes the sleepgunk from his eyes with the cool seawater. It might be early, but fish he must, or his little brothers and sisters will not eat because dad still sleeps.  

The seaweed he has gathered is laid out to dry, well beyond the reach of the waves that want to claw it back into the sea. When he has caught his fishes, it will be dry. Mother will be pleased.

Mulei wades into the clear water, and steps around the seagrass, weary of the urchin’s sting. Fearless fish scurry in all directions, like the people on his village square on a trading day. The water is still cool from the night and he shivers, but wades in deeper 

Waves break on the beach, timing the beats of his waterchant. A song he uses to attract fishes. Mulei learnt it from his mother, who learnt it from her father. His own dad, Arlek, always scoffs at the tale of how Mulei’s great-grandfather learnt the chant from the godess Narú herself. 

Perhaps dad’s bleak view of life comes from his lack of faith. 

It is only one of many, many things dad does not like. He follows different teachings, brought by strange men who pretend to be kind, but leer at mother when they visit. Which they do too often. They call villagers ignorant when they believe nobody listens. But Mulei hears them. These men with sagging guts cannot catch fish, only sit and talk and drink and belch and sleep. 

He looks back at the empty beach. Before the sun has fully risen, he will share a meal with Narú. Then he will be free to craft his canoe. When it is done he can trade with other villages along the beach. Mother will be pleased! 

Fish use the water to hide in plain sight. He cannot blame them. Often he wishes he can hide when mighty storms swath the beaches. Already a stone in the sand has broken one of his spears, and he has not even a damselfish to show for his effort. A fat fish, covered with orange stripes and yellow spots, swims slowly towards him. Mulei holds his breath. That one will feed them all for the day. He waits. It comes closer. He thrusts hard and fast. Disturbed sand turns the water murky. He feels the woods strike stone again and pulls a snapped shaft from the water. He cries out, flings the brokens spear to the sea and strikes the water with his fist, splashing salty water into his nose. He snorts and spits, wades back to the beach dragging empty hands through the waves.

“Why do you curse me, Narú?”

Something splashes behind him. 

“Why is it that men always believe we have cursed them when they suffer ill fortune, yet believe their good fortune is of their own making?”

He turns, but sees nobody. Now it moves by his feet, tickles his calves, but it stays out of sight.

“Who is there?” Mulei says.

“A friend, young splasher.”

It must be his brother making fun. “I know it is you, Suleb—”

A pleasant laugh fills his ears. Like water sprays from a geyser, a woman bursts from the wavy sea. She lays a wet hand on his shoulder. Her eyes are translucent green, like a leaf held before the sun. 

“Do I look like Suleb to you, Mulei, son of Arlek?” she says.

Narú. He falls on his bottom into the water, hands sinking into the mud. Her hand comes to rest over his rapidly beating heart.

“You are loyal to me, so why do you believe I have cursed you?” Naru says. 

“I.. I do not… please… I meant no offence.”

She smiles. “There is no need to fear me.” He immediately feels more at ease.

“My brothers and sisters will not eat if I do not catch anything, Lady Narú, and all of my spears broke this morning.”

“Why do you attack the water, when you can just ask it to provide for you?”

“This is how I was taught to fish, Lady.”

Narú humms and Mulei sighs a breath he held without realising. She looks upon him like his mother often does before she explains something.

Her hum turns into song. A melody rises and falls like the waves rushing the beach. He knows the words, and sings along. All doubt is squeezed from his mind, out through the tears that flow as she dances in and upon the water in a majestic spectacle, drawing forms with her arms that flare like flint struck to light a fire, then sink into the water and disappear. 

Suddenly she stops moving, and foot before foot, glides up to him. Mulei looks around, and it is as if the water is pushed away. He shivers, suddenly outside of the sea’s warm embrace. Fish flop helplessly in the mud. With a finger she touches his forehead and he convulses as her voice fills his mind. “May this song serve you, young splasher.”

“They will cast me out. Call me mad!” 

“They will sing you praises for you will keep them well and safe.”

“You must let me honor you for this,” Mulei says, kneeling before her with his head bowed low. 

 The water begins to flow back to him. Narú cocks an eyebrow and looks down at the fishes. Mulei ducks and grabs as many fishes as he can, their flopping bodies slap his chest and chin as he he wades onto the beach. When he turns, the water is as it always has been and Narú has disappeared. 

The rush of the waves and the singing gulls overhead make the chorus to his song as he walks back to his village. Mulei smiles. At least today, his brothers and sisters will eat well. 

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