Old Man Rufaro
“Yes, it’s me.” Garai said and slowly walked up to them both, Maria and Victoria. Her pace was steady and slow as if she was secretly plotting how to kill them both as she took her time to go towards them.
While Maria was rummaging for answers, Victoria scoffed and said, “So this is your big secret? An old man?” Victoria knelt beside the old man’s side and studied him. “My, he is old.”
The old man turned from side to side in his bed anxiously. Maria and Victoria could not understand him because he spoke in Shona but he said, “Garai, are you here? Who are these people?”
Victoria gasped and faked her excitement. “What do you know, the old man’s alive!”
Garai glared at Victoria and said, “Shut up.” She pushed Victoria away and took the old man’s hand in hers and said gently, “Rufaro, I’m here. Go back to sleep.”
Suddenly, Victoria’s taunting and jeering smile faded from her face. She never got to see this side of Garai before. The expression Garai wore on her face was almost a stranger to Victoria. For a moment, Garai had the most sweetest voice and the warmest eyes. Victoria almost felt bad for teasing the old man.
“Garai,” Rufaro said in his raspy voice. His raised his shaky stiff hand to touch Garai’s face. “It’s been so long...how are you, child?”
Garai shushed him and said, “Please sleep, Rufaro. We can talk tomorrow. Sleep and gain strength.”
Rufaro nodded and shut his eyes. It didn’t take long for him to doze off again. When Garai was sure that he was deeply asleep, she tucked him in and kissed his wrinkly forehead. Garai took a moment to watch him sleep. She sighed.
Victoria and Maria felt like they were ghosts. It was as if Garai had completely forgotten they were even there.
“Garai?” Maria whispered. “Who is he?”
Garai left the bedroom and gestured for the girls to follow her. In the living room, Garai made them tea and they sat there in silence for a bit and sipped tea out of small wooden cups.
Garai inhaled her tea deeply and said, “That is Rufaro. He was once my lover but now my friend.”
“Lover?” Victoria said and winced. She was finally aware of how loud she had been. She tried her best to lower her volume.
“Yes.” Garai nodded. “But I’m a mermaid.” She shook her head and apologized. “Sorry, we’re mermaids. We age a lot more slower than humans.”
“I see,” Victoria said. “But have your feelings changed?” She twitched uncomfortably. “You’re not still in love with the old man, right? He’s...old.”
Maria couldn’t help but agree with Victoria. Also, human and mermaid relationships never worked, even if they lasted as long as Garai’s. Alima and Matthew were an obvious example.
But Garai didn’t seem phased. She smiled and said, “Once we find this troublesome princess, the queen can finally grant me the elixir of eternal youth. Rufaro will be young again and we can be happy together for eternity!” Garai’s eyes sparkled as she envisioned her dreamy outcome. Maria and Victoria exchanged nervous looks.
Maria said cautiously, “Garai, I know it seems like the perfect idea but...mermaids don’t live for eternity. Even if he does take the elixir, he’ll outlive you.” That seemed to snap Garai out of her fantasy.
Garai’s smile dropped. “T-That won’t be until centuries.”
Victoria nodded in agreement. Maria added more. “And Garai, I’ve studied magic before, where I came from.” Maria’s lowered her voice. “You need an essence of a siren. Where do you think the queen is going to get that?”
And then, the Garai did something that scared the living crud out of Maria and Victoria; she snapped. Without meaning to, the wild winds flew through the open windows, knocking chairs, and flipping over their table. Maria had to spit her hair out of her face. Victoria thought she was going to be knocked over herself.
“Shut up you two! Just shut up!” The winds swirled around Garai. Maria thought she was going to be whisked off. “Do you have any idea how much I need this? Well do you? None of you know how hard it was for me!” Garai’s voice broke. “As each day went by, I watched him break down before my eyes. He just kept aging so fast! Now, all he can do is just lay there in bed. There is no way I’m letting her rot there. I’m going to save him! He’s my family.” The winds grew harsher. Maria couldn’t see. She heard footsteps. Ally and Freddy came down as well to witness the chaos.
“You’d do anything to save your family too, right?” Maria didn’t understand what Garai was talking about until it finally occurred to her that she was speaking to Freddy and Ally.
Freddy took Ally’s hand in his. “I’d do anything for her!”
Ally squeezed Freddy’s hand and said, “And I’ll do anything to save him! He’s my annoyingly responsible good older brother! I only have one of these!” Ally struggled to overpower the howling of the winds. “And as much as I’ll miss him after he’s gone, I’m not going to try to find a way to extend his life. Our lives end when they end, Garai!”
The winds started to subside. Ally stepped forward and said in a more softer voice. “Was he happy when he was with you?” Garai nodded, her breathing was shaky. “Then he had a full and happy life. And it’s all thanks to you, Garai.” Ally flashed her a smile and Garai broke down. She screamed and pounded her fist on the wall behind her.
“It hurts!” She coughed and screamed. “It hurts!”
Ally gave her a hug and said, “I know it does. You’ll do okay, Garai. You’re going to be okay.”
And as Garai screamed in pain, the others joined Ally’s circle of support and love. Freddy joined in first. Maria thought about it and she joined in too.
“Make room for me!” Maria said and wrapped her arms around Garai.
Victoria was still hesitant. Victoria suddenly felt a strange feeling in her chest. It was conflicting. For the very first time, her heart started to ache. And it didn’t ache for herself, but for Garai. Victoria later found out that feeling was called sympathy. At first, Victoria didn’t like Garai very much because she seemed so standoffish like she had a secret to hide. But turns out, she was just a lonely mermaid who needed a friend.
Victoria waddled awkwardly to the circle and wrapped her chubby arms around them all and said, “Don’t ever mention this again.”
And they all hugged for a very long time.
Alima was sitting casually on the stick-weaved roof. With a cup in her hand and a clay vase filled with drink next to her, she sipped and gazed at the stars. It reminded her of where she came from.
Alima cleared her throat and said, “You know, Matthew. I have an extra cup for you. It’s kids blood. And I mean the goat kid, not human.” Alima watched as the cup in her other hand disappeared and a gush of wind that followed.
“So,” Alima breathed. “How are you?” Alima didn’t expect a proper response but she talked anyway. “Listen, I know I haven’t talked to you since the day I...turned you.” For the first time in a long time, Alima struggled to come up with words. She couldn’t exactly say, how are you and your vampirish self?
There was no answer. Alima looked around, hoping that she unknowingly made eye-contact with Matthew for just a brief second. Alima looked back down at her drink and swirled her cup. “I’m just going to get straight to the point.” She made her voice louder and more clear. “I know that you killed those agents, Matthew. Um...you didn’t need to do that but thank you.”
Silence followed. Alima couldn’t take it anymore. She looked around her frantically, hoping he was in the trees or hiding behind a fence but she couldn’t find him anywhere. “Matthew, you were alive all these years and you’ve never bothered to visit me!” Alima cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted, “Answer me Matthew! Please!”
Alima thought she was going crazy. She took a moment to calm herself and glanced up back at the stars. The dark night sky calmed her. In rural countries like Zimbabwe, there was no light pollution. Billions of little sparkly stars illuminated the night sky. There were so many that Alima was able to spot out several constellations. Alima pointed to an alignment of stars and said, “See that, Matthew. It’s Perseus. I showed you him once. Heck, I think I met him. I saw him carrying his sword once as he marched out of Medusa’s cave.”
Alima eased herself into a position where she could lie down on the roof and watch the stars more comfortably. She talked more.
She laughed nostalgically. “I still remember when you told me that you wanted to ride a shooting star. I told you it was ridiculous. You should just ride on the pegasus instead.” Alima searched the night sky with her index finger and stopped at another constellation. “He’s right there.” Alima smiled sadly and said in a more quieter voice. “I really miss you. I’ve never got to tell you that I’m sorry.” She shook her head and droned on. “It’s okay if you’re mad. I understand. If only I’d given you my flesh instead of my blood, you would’ve been cured. You still would’ve been human. I’m sorry for being so stupid.”
Alima’s heart ached and it stung. Her nails shot out and she clawed the roof. “I’d give anything right now just to hear your voice Matthew. I...still love you. You don’t have to be afraid. Please?” She had silently prayed for him to come out. She just needed to see him one last time. To be able to touch his face again…
Alima waited, and waited, and waited. She eventually became so tired that she started to drift to sleep. But as the world around her began to fade away, she heard one last thing.
“Goodnight Alima.” And a another gust of wind passed away.