Black Pearl

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Fayruz Means Turquoise

Alima sat at the bottom of the tank, curled up in her black tail and her long black hair blanketing her body. Alima knew where she was. She was at her old workplace, the aquarium. The tank she was in was meant to sustain a single shark. It was only big enough for her to swim in one place. And although the water itself was closely monitored by a machine, it still felt cold to her. She pressed her hand against the glass. Of all the parts of the tank, the glass was the worst part. It was a one-way mirror. She couldn’t see anything through it, only a vague shade of sickly green. Alima had been here for six days and had become a prisoner of alienation.

A creak came from above and she saw that it was the roof of the tank that had been opened. Abhilash’s head poked through and he said, “Alima, your breakfast.” He dumped a bucket of dead fish into the tank. The fish slowly sank to the bottom and stayed there. Alima didn’t lay a finger on any of them. Her appetite was dead.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” Abhilash asked, his voice echoing throughout the tank.

“It’s been six days of sardines.” Alima said and sighed. “I’m sick of it.”

“What fish do you want?” Alima was surprised that she didn’t sense a hint of irritability in his tone. He seemed patient.

“I don’t feel like eating.”

“Are you sick?” Abhilash squinted at her from above which made her feel extremely uncomfortable. Of her days of captivity, she learned that captivity was far worse than she’d originally imagined. It was dehumanizing. Although Alima wasn’t a human in the first place, she was a person. And being trapped in a container for all eyes to see was humiliating along with being told when to eat.

“I’m a prisoner. Why would I want to eat?” She grumbled.

“This didn’t didn’t need to happen if you’d just agree to cooperate. Are you ready?” He eyed her intensely.

“Yes.” Immediately, Alima felt the weight of her defeat. It shamed her knowing that she would be betraying her entire species. She would be revealing secrets to human ears. Alima knew it was wrong but she couldn’t take it anymore. The tank was driving her crazy.

It didn’t take long for the scientists to take Alima out of the tank. She had to swear to not hurt them. After that, they used a crane with a fish net to lift Alima up and out of the tank. A woman rushed over with towels to dry Alima’s tail. With time, her tail morphed into human legs before them and they watched in awe.

“That’s incredible,” said the woman. She was elderly. The skin on her face was creased with lines and wrinkles. Her skin, which Alima could tell was previously sun-kissed tan was now dull in color. And her hands were shaky. Yet her eyes were still hungry with curiosity and excitement like a child. She ran her hand down Alima’s leg and said, “Every single scale is gone, just like that.” Alima cringed. She hated being touched. The woman dashed to adjacent lab table and scribbled some notes on her clipboard.

Abhilash snapped his fingers and said, “Get her some clothes. After she gets dressed, we can finally get some answers.” The woman heeded the order and ran off again and came back with an oversized white lab coat.

“This is all that’s available.” Alima took the coat and put it on. The woman’s awed expression hadn’t changed. She stared at Alima, jaw agape, breathtaken. “Can she speak.”

Alima rolled her eyes at her and snapped, “I’m a siren, not a chimpanzee.”

“She’s irritable.” The woman said to Abhilash, even though it was Alima who had spoken to her. “Has she been fed?”

“She’d tired of sardines,” Abhilash said and turned to Alima. “We have questions.” He looked around the laboratory and saw the many scientists eyeballing them. “I know there are a lot of eyes in this room. If it makes you feel any better, we can take a little stroll down the beach and have our conversation there. What do you say?” The scientists eagerly awaited Alima’s answer.

“What if I try to escape?” She knew asking that may have been equivalent to begging them to trap her back in the tank with hammerhead sharks to guard her but it slipped out anyway.

Abhilash reached in his pocket and took out the same remote that shut down Alima’s system a week ago. Alima’s eyes widened. “The chip’s still in.”

“Right…” Alima let out an exhausted breath.

“What do you say? A stroll at the beach?” Abhilash said with a gleam in his eye.

“It’s a deal.” Alima lowered her head and stared at his shoes.

“Excellent.” Abhilash headed towards the exit door and gestured for her to follow. “The beach awaits us.”

Even though Alima had been held captive for only six days, her sense of time had been cut off. It was no wonder she was confused that it was late night instead of day. The salty ocean spray lingered in the Floridian air. The ocean waves were unusually calm. And the night sky was mildly cloudy with peaceful gray clouds. Alima took a moment to appreciate the outside world. She never thought she’d miss seeing the changing sky and the metronomic effect of the constant waves. Too bad she would have to say goodbye to it all soon.

“How much of what you said was true,” Abhilash said and turned to her.

“You’ll have to be more specific.” Alima said.

“On our date.”

Alima felt her face heat up. She was angry at herself. She felt stupid. She ended up going on a date with her future captive. When did she become so careless?

“Alima,” Abhilash said after she hadn’t answered for a while. Alima tried to think. So much had happened in such little time. The mission, the girls, all the adventure and hardships they faced together...it was hard to remember to something as meaningless as her failed fishy date. Then she remembered.

“I really am from Arabia, but my father is not a merchant. I have no parents.” Alima looked back at the sea and watched the tides and how they came and and crashed against the wet sandy shore. Waves were so unique. They clawed some sand and dragged it to the endless ocean while depositing something back in return. Usually it was shells, sand dollars, trash, seaweed, etc. everything most humans took for granted. The ocean was giving. “I rose from the sea, long, long ago. I can’t tell you much about it because even as old as I am, there are things I don’t even know and can’t explain.” She looked back at Abhilash and made a short laugh. “Aren’t you going to write down some notes?”

“I’m recording everything.” Abhilash said and patted his pocket. She guessed the tape recorder was hiding in there. “The world is so mysterious. I wonder how many things are out there.”

“Many.”

They walked some more and let their eyes wander. The conversation was less intense than Alima had anticipated. She was grateful for that.

“I still have more questions,” Abhilash said as he nudged aside a heap of seaweed with his shoe. “But this one is more personal. How are you feeling?”

“How am I feeling?” All the bitterness she had bottled up inside of her started to leak. “My friends had traded me off to a mad man. How do you think I feel?” Alima didn’t realize her voice was wavering. Abhilash answered her plain and clear.

“First of all, I’m not a mad man. I haven’t even hurt you yet. I’m just a man seeking knowledge. And I’m certainly impressed with your sense of emotional depth. I didn’t think sirens were capable of trust.” He said in his smooth voice.

“I am a siren,” Alima said proudly. “We are not monsters. We are certainly not savages. We bleed if you cut us. We are capable of love.” Alima was breathing hard and sweating. “We are people just like you.” A part of her couldn’t believe what she was saying. She’d changed. She wasn’t the person she used to be, cold, distant, a loner. Alima checked Abhilash’s expression and saw that it finally shifted at last. For once, he was speechless. They continued to stare at each other until Abhilash recovered from his state of shock.

“Next question, what’s the difference? You seem like any other mermaid to me.” Abhilash eyed her cautiously.

Alima growled a little bit. He acted as if nothing had happened. Alima took a deep breath and answered him. “Long ago, the goddess Hera set up a singing competition between the muses and the sirens. This was when we all had wings of birds, not tails of fish.” It was one of the earliest memories Alima had. If only Alima had been wiser like she was of now, but back then she was very young and overconfident. “Hera was the judge.” Just thinking about the goddess made her blood boil.

Abhilash shook his head. “The greek gods are real? That...that can’t be!”

Alima went on, ignoring him. “Any way, we lost. The muses plucked every single feather of ours until we were stripped bare naked. They wore our feathers as a trophy.” Because Alima was a queen siren, only she was able to regrow her feathers, but not her people. “We could no longer fly so we grew tails and blended into the sea as mermaids.” She turned to Abhilash who was listening intensely. “And now you know.”

“I’m sorry.” His apology was genuine.

“Anymore questions?” Alima asked.

“Yes. How about habitual patterns? Do they live alone or live in a group? How about food? What do sirens typically eat? About how many of them are out there? In which regions of the world?” Abhilash was spitting out so many questions, it made Alima feel queasy. She faked a yawn and said, “I’m sorry. I’m feeling a bit sleepy.”

“Subject is diurnal,” Abhilash said aloud to his hidden recording device. He clicked it off and said, “Very well, let’s go back.” They were heading back to the direction of the aquarium until they were distracted by the haunting sound of a melody.

Come to me my love.

Abhilash’s eyes started to roll. He stumbled and fought to keep himself upright. “W-What is that?”

Away from this dreadful land.

To the depths we swim.

Under the moon so bright.

In the sea, we are free!

Free like the fish in the sea.

So come with me and we’ll go,

to a place laced in true gold.

Abhilash headed towards the sound of the song with his weak shaky knees while smiling an aching smile. It finally occurred to Alima that this was a siren’s song. Alima had to act fast. She didn’t like Abhilash but he needed to be protected. Alima sang to him too, hoping that he would choose her voice over the other.

Open your eyes!

Danger is near!

Don’t go pleaseeeee!

There lies a place not laced in true gold,

but a creature as fierce as the legends for told.

Abhilash snapped out of his trance and Alima quickly covered his ears with her hands, looked him dead in the eyes and whispered harshly, “Run.” Abhilash ran like a maniac and she watched him run until his body faded into the distance. Alima heard an agonizing short scream of a man. Alima made her way towards the direction of the sound to the far end of the coast. She spotted a young girl about the age of seventeen with long dark curly hair and murky brown eyes. Her skin was a golden beige. She had all the traits of an Arabic siren. Alima inched closer and saw that her mouth was smeared with blood. The air was tainted with the iron smell of it. She inched even closer and saw that the girl was hovering over a dead man. His neck was bent at an odd angle. Alima deducted that she had broken his neck. Alima got even closer but she forgot to look down and had carelessly stepped on a half-broken bottle, alerting the siren of her presence.

The girl spun around. She glared at Alima and said, “I’ll kill you too.”

“Relax,” Alima said and stepped forward. “I’m a siren too.” Alima averted her eyes away from the corpse. She didn’t want to look at it because she was afraid she would snatch the body for herself.

“I don’t share.” The girl said and continued eating her meal. She munched on a tendon and slurped it like spaghetti.

“I don’t care. Just be careful of exposure. Your hunting tactic is awfully risky.”

“Whatever,” the girl wiped her mouth smeared of blood with the back of her hand and took a good look at Alima. “I’ve never seen the likes of you before.”
Her eyes studied Alima up and down and her smug expression shifted to disbelief. “Funny,” she said with a nervous scoff. “You resemble our lost queen. I’d know because I was once her handmaiden. I was her favorite too.”

“Fayruz,” Alima went up close to her to find out the truth. She looked down at her neck and saw the amulet. It was a turquoise gem engraved with magic symbols.

“Alima?” Fayruz didn’t blink. “That’s impossible…”

A group of voices shouted Alima’s name in the distance. She cursed. “They’re calling me.” She turned to Fayruz and said, “I don’t have much time. They’re my captors. It’s a long story.” The scientists surrounded them both and pointed them with their complex weapons.

“FREEZE!” They demanded.

A mischievous smile crossed Fayruz’s face. “My name is Fayruz for a reason. It means turquoise.” The turquoise amulet around her neck began to glow and she whispered, “Good night.” The turquoise glow engulfed the scientists and when it faded, there were thirty-three sleeping scientists peacefully snoring in their sleep.

Alima tried to stiffle a laugh and said, “Fayruz, oh how much I missed you.”

Fayruz gushed and said, “Come with me. Your people are waiting for you.” The smile on Alima’s face faded and she nodded. They both jumped into the sea and left.

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