Lunch by the Zambezi River
After an hour or two of silence, Freddy decided to speak up. “So, you...fell in love with my uncle-my eighteenth century uncle. And you accidentally turned him to a vampire.”
Alima sighed and said, “Freddy, are you still in disbelief or had you forgotten the story entirely?”
“Well I had to say something! The silence was so torturous!” Freddy stared into the sky again and saw that the sun was starting to go down. It was after noon. “How about another story?”
“Please,” Garai begged with her eyes shut. She lied down on her back and the waters easily carried her away. “No more stories. I’m exhausted.”
“I’m hungry,” Ally said. Her stomach rumbled. “We haven’t eaten anything all day!”
“Same here,” Victoria said and dove in the river. It didn’t take long for her to come up to the surface with a flailing fish in her hand. The fish was long, about a yard in length and had some seriously huge pointy teeth that snapped as it flailed in Victoria’s grasp.
Ally screeched. “What is that?”
“Tigerfish.” Garai said and nodded. “That will do. Just, please, don’t eat the catfish. Or at least don’t eat it in front of me.”
“Why?” Phoebe asked. Maria smiled grimly as if it was the most stupidest question she heard today.
Garai raised her tail out of the water. Her tail was long and scaleless and grey with a v-shaped fin. “As you can tell, I’m a catfish from the waist-down.”
“Right,” Phoebe said and she swept her wet blonde hair away.
Freddy raised his hand like a good little school boy. “But you girls eat fish all the time. Isn’t it cannibalism regardless of what type of fish you eat?” The girls shook their head at him.
Alima put a hand on his shoulder and said gently, “Dear, Freddy. You, my good human, have so much to learn about mermaids.”
But before Freddy could say anything, Phoebe clapped her hands and said, “Okay everybody. Let’s just get out of the river and take a lunch break.” And Phoebe assigned everyone a task. “Ally makes the fire. Freddy gathers kindling. Victoria, Maria, and Garai are responsible for keeping beasts away. Alima and I gather more fish. Agreed?”
There was a mutter of okay’s and sure’s. After that, everyone split up.
“I can’t believe I got stuck with kindling.” Freddy grumbled as he bent down to gather some twigs and logs to burn. “Why, just because I’m human I can’t do all the cool stuff you girls get to do?”
“Freddy,” Ally took the pile of kindling from Freddy’s hands and said, “I think I know what this is about. You’re upset because you think you’re bland. You’re not.” Ally said reassuringly. “Don’t take being human for granted. You’re kind of lucky.”
Everything coming from Ally’s mouth was true. If she had the opportunity to somehow become human, she’d take it. Sure, she’d only transformed to full mermaid form only twice so far but still, when she thought of it, just being a quarter mermaid altered her life-span. She’d probably age slower than Freddy. If she was fortunate enough, half as slow and not as agonizingly slow as her grandmom.
“Why?” Freddy asked and lowered to the ground again to pick up some dry grass. “I don’t get any powers or do magic. I’m just boring.”
“At least you’d die earlier. When you’ll be eighty, I’ll still be forty.” Ally said and shrugged. “One day I won’t have you to boss me around anymore.”
Freddy got up and hugged her. “Sorry sis, just forget what I said. I was being stupid.”
A grin grew on her Ally’s lips. “Yeah, you were acting stupid. And by the way, you’re not bland. You’re as human as humanly possible.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Kind, just, caring.”
“Okay, okay.” Freddy unraveled his embrace and they started to head back to the river. “I’ve had enough of this mush. Let’s go.”
“Ewww!” Maria said as she hid behind a boulder along with Victoria and Garai. They were watching wild animals from afar and it was their duty to make sure they didn’t get anywhere near their site. “That is disgusting.” They were watching elephants (at least that was what Garai had told her). The largest elephant was flinging it’s poop with it’s tail and the poop was flying in all sorts of directions.
“Oh grow up,” Garai said. She crouched low behind the boulder to insure that no poop would get on her. “It happens. Animals poop.”
“How long do we have to watch them?” Victoria said and cringed. “This is totally gross and boring. Plus, you said elephants are typically peaceful. And since there’s no other animals in sight, we could head back.”
“No.” Garai said. “We need to be sure. This area is also known to have lions.”
Maria laughed nervously. “I have never heard of these ‘lions’ and I do not intend on meeting any.”
“No problem.” Garai made herself appear confident. She remained firm and sure. “As long as I’m here, no lions will hurt us.”
“Oh, that makes me feel all warm and tingly on the inside.” Victoria said sarcastically. Just then, a flying poop was heading towards her. With a wave of her hand, a block of ice encased the poop and it drop downward onto the earthy floor and shattered.
“Nice,” Garai said and shivered. It was the first compliment she had ever given Victoria. “Listen, when we get to my village, I have a place we can stay. But I must warn you, there is one room I absolutely forbid you all in going in. No questions asked.”
Maria itched. She really, REALLY, wanted to ask. Maria hated when people kept secrets. She needed to know. Maria decided that she will find out what lied in that room regardless whether Garai liked it or not. Victoria, however, was the complete opposite. She merely shrugged.
“Whatever.” Victoria said. She sighed. “Let’s just head back. We’ve been here for-I have no idea how long-but I know that there’s obviously no dangerous animal here so why don’t we just leave and__” Victoria’s sentence was cut off short by a grunt. The girls turned around slowly to that same hippo from earlier. It’s black beady eyes fixed on them and it looked angrier than ever. It’s purple belly jiggled and it’s huge cankles stomped the earth. But that hippo was just one problem. The other problem was that it brought even more friends than the last time. There were at least thirty hippos behind it.
“D-Do we run?” Maria said, her breaths shaky.
“We split up,” Garai said, this time all her confidence was stripped from her, leaving her nakedly scared and insecure.
“See you two at the site.” Victoria said. “Now excuse me, I have some hippopsicles to make.”
And they ran.
“Ah-lima.” Phoebe said as she dragged a vundu fish out of the river and sliced it’s head off with her nails. She threw the now limp fish carcass onto the dry grass bed. “I need you to know why I’ve assigned both of us to work together, privately.”
“I al-ready know.” Alima said as she punched a tigerfish. The fish went limp and she threw it on her the pile of dead fish. “You wouldn’t think I’ve forgotten you, right? I know it’s been a few centuries since we’ve last met but I never forget a face. By the way, don’t waste a fish head.”
“Really?” Phoebe said and grabbed another fish out of the river. She gripped the flailing fish with both hands and whacked it on the earth. She threw it into the pile. “Why didn’t you say anything about it? I was kind of expecting, oh hi Phoebe! Why are you here? I thought you were supposed to be ruling over my people responsively like I’d expected and not let them starve and stuff!” Phoebe said with the hurtful expression Alima knew all too well.
“I…” Alima took a deep breath. “Honestly, I was too shocked. I never thought I’d see you ever again. I’m sorry.” Alima took a moment to look her in the eyes and went back to nabbing fish out of the river.
“You’re sorry?” Phoebe said. Her eyes were wide. She was hysterical. “I should be sorry. I was a horrible excuse of a ruler. My people left me. Alima, for centuries, every siren in our pod was waiting for you. For centuries!”
Alima winced. This whole time she thought they were all doing fine without her. Alima thought she chose the best replacement-her former best friend.
“Alima, for centuries, I thought you were dead. But turns out, you went all starry-eyed for a boy, a human boy. And you swam off without telling your people, and me, good-bye.” Phoebe’s shaky hands turned into fists. “That hurt Alima. It hurt a lot.”
Alima said quietly, “And now you know where it got me.” Alima laughed bitterly and said, “Are you happy now? I hurt you and my bad choice led to misery and heartbreak. Are you satisfied?”
Phoebe shook her head. “Why would my best-friend’s pain give me satisfaction? You’re crazy.”
Alima trudged up the river to her and awkwardly took her in for a tight hug. “I know sirens aren’t supposed to do this but just let me.”
“You became so human, Alima.” Phoebe said, but she didn’t pull Alima off her.
“I know.” Alima ended the awkward hug session and they looked back on the pile of fish corpses that lied on the grass bed.
“We’ve got enough.” Alima said and took the fish off the ground. “Let’s head back.”
“Yes.” Phoebe said. “And Alima?”
“I really need to tell you something.” Phoebe spat out her words fast like her mouth was on fire.
“I’m....I’m stepping down as Queen of the Sirens.” Phoebe said and flinched as if expecting Alima to throw a punch at her.
“YOU CAN’T!” Alima shouted. “Sirens are meant to hunt in pods! How will they survive if you ditch them?”
“I’ve got no choice, Alima. They’ve kicked me out. Why do you even think I’m here? Because I love tail-kissing some other queen? I wanted to earn back the respect of my siren subjects! It’s pointless. I can’t do it. I’m not a leader, Alima. It was always you!”
Alima shook her head. “No, no, I can’t go back. I’ve already started my life anew, here, on land. I can’t go back to the old days as a killer…”
Phoebe sighed and looked at Alima helplessly. “I’m sorry. I really am. I’m really sorry to put all this baggage on you but to make it up, I’ll stick with you on this mission to the very end. When this is all over, you will decide if to reclaim your crown and rule in your rightful place or forget this all happened.”
Phoebe pulled her long greek dress out of the river and twisted it so that the water would dribble back to the river.
“I’ll see you back at the site, Alima.”
And she left Alima there, paralyzed.
At the campsite, everyone ate silently. No one said a word about anything. No one asked why Maria, Victoria, and Garai were out of breath and looked like they were chased for their lives, or asked why Ally and Freddy seemed more closer than before, or why Alima’s eyes were darting back and forth as if she was having a daymare. When lunch (or now dinner) was over, they all hopped in the river. By the time the sun fell and the moon rose to take its place, they had reached a village-Garai’s village. They all trudged into Garai’s small house. It was a traditional Zimbabwean house. It’s roof was made of weaved twigs.
Garai had told them there were only two rooms in the house and had told them they all had to sleep in smallest room. Amazingly enough, everyone managed to sleep in a jiffy. Everyone was asleep except Maria, who was anxious to know what lied in the mysterious forbidden next room, and Garai was no where to be found. Maria crept out of the first room and went to the next room. There were no doors in the house. Everything was separated by beaded doorway curtains. Maria took a deep breath and moved aside the curtain and stepped into the room. There in the room was a very, very, old man that lied on a small flat bed with his head supported by a dusty pillow.
The old man was shrivelled like a raisin with lots of lines etched in his face and all over his body. Strangely, though the old man had his eyes closed, Maria could tell he was very much awake. He spoke in a language Maria could not understand.
“Garai? Garai? I iyo iwe?”
Maria was speechless. Before she could say something, she heard a voice behind her.
“Whoa, old guy.” Maria turned around and saw it was Victoria.
Maria was relieved. She thought it was Garai.
A stern voice came from behind Victoria. “I thought I told you two to stay out of this room?”
It was Garai and it was clear she was anything but happy.
“Garai.” Victoria and Maria said simultaneously.