The second time they saw her, it was four years later. The boys were eight and their swimming skills have greatly improved. Their parents were relieved that the incident did not sway them from learning the basic survival skills that they need. In truth, the boys wanted to see Piscine again and they wanted to show her that they can swim better and faster – if they ever see her again.
The boys were sitting by the rocks where Piscine left them, watching the sunset, Alder absent-mindedly throwing small pebbles on the side and Oak doing the same on the opposite side when they saw a silhouette not very far from them. They couldn’t see who it was because the sun was in their eyes but the figure swam closer towards them.
‘My water babies! How much have you grown?!’ the figure says as it swam closer.
The boys stood up from the rocks quickly, looking around the area for anyone.
‘Piscine!’ they both call out. Piscine swims closer to them and she’s changed quite a bit the last time they saw her. Her hair is much longer, her goggles look more industrial and she certainly doesn’t look like a child anymore.
‘Piscine! You didn’t stay the last time!’ Alder tells her as she sits by the rocks next to them.
‘We…we didn’t even know where to find you!’ Oak tells her, blushing so much, he can’t even speak properly.
‘I’m sorry. I had to leave because my family was already moving and I had to catch up.’ Piscine says as she squeezes the water from her long, thick green hair.
‘Moving?’ the boys ask in unison.
‘I don’t live around here,’ she tells them, smiling at them. They notice that her teeth are small but sharp which would normally scare anyone but she saved them – why would she want to eat them? ‘Did you tell your parents about me?’
‘We wanted to but Alder said that they wouldn’t believe us anyway.’ Oak tells her a little defensively, not sure whether she was relieved or offended that they did not tell their parents.
Piscine shrugs. ‘As a matter of fact, they probably would think you both were just in the water too long.’
‘Are you mad at us?’ Oak asks, sniffing.
‘What? No! No, why would I be mad?’ Piscine laughs.
‘Because we did not tell them about you,’ Alder answers.
‘Oh, my water babies! It is better that they do not know of me. I feel better that they do not know anything.’
‘Really?’ Oak says, wiping his face.
‘Yes. Truly. What are your names, water babies?’ she asks them, braiding her already dry hair on one side of her head.
‘Alder,‘ pointing to himself, ‘and this is my younger brother, Oak,’ he says pointing to a much stockier Oak who is giving her his biggest smile.
‘I finally know your names!’ she says excitedly. ‘I wasn’t sure if you are both still going to be here. I’m not very accustomed with the ways of the city. My people stay away from the cities and we don’t associate with anyone outside. Maybe now, except me. I wasn’t supposed to be here but here I am!’ she tells them, her arms flailing around.
‘Will you get in trouble?’ Alder asked, quite seriously.
‘If I get caught, yes, I will get into heaps of trouble,’ she replied coolly. ‘But I wanted to see if you are both okay. It’s been a while since we passed this area.’
‘How long are you going to be here?’ Oak enquired.
Piscine thinks for a moment, absent-mindedly cracking her abnormally long fingers. ‘If I remember correctly, father mentioned that we will be here for three sunrise and three sunsets, just like the last time.’
‘Where will you go after?’ Alder asked this time.
‘I don’t know,’ she lied. ‘We know how to go to places but we just never stay too long at one. My family think it is better that way. All Freedom clans move around all the time.’
Piscine knew very well where they are going but she would not want to get the twins in trouble. She’s already caused too much trouble.
‘Is that what you or your people are called?’
‘Yes. That’s what we are called. Sea or Waters Nomads – sometimes they even call us water sprites because we can disappear very quickly in the sea. The sea is our home.’
‘When you leave again, how long will you be gone?’ Oak asked sadly.
‘Perhaps another four years or longer, it depends on the destination or the salvage…’ Piscine looked at the fascinated faces of the twins with amusement but sadness because they are unaware of her journey. ‘I’m sure you’d love to go out there and do some exploration but believe me, there are days when I wish I was just in one place, probably in land. But you know what? I can tell you about the stories! I have many stories! I wish I can show you both what is down there, it’s a whole different world altogether,’ she says with a hint of sadness. Piscine looked up at the night sky, now completely littered with stars and the Milky Way prominently in view. She sees a falling star and pretended to catch it. She holds up her closed hand closer to the twins and opened it slowly to reveal a large white pearl. The twins gasped, amazed by this. Oak pointed to the sky and to the pearl and to the sky and to the pearl again. Alder couldn’t keep his mouth closed. Whatever she did, he wants to know how she did it.
‘How did you…?’ Oak managed to finally ask.
Piscine giggled at their naivety, she thought the boys were so zheng, also known as ‘cute’ in the old world. ‘These are one of the things we find down in the waters but it’s too far deep for you both. It’s called a pearl. Back in the old world, they used to harvest them and make them into jewellery.’
‘Woah…if you actually deal in the cities, that would probably fetch a good price but then again, don’t. They always cheat.’ Alder tells her, disapproving of the ways of the Labs.
‘I can give this pearl to you both, and you can give it to your mother if you like, as a nice token.’
‘Really?’ the twins said in unison.
‘Yes, our clans like to give gifts. This one is for a proper token of our friendship! Piscine says to them, smiling. ‘Now you both have to hold out your hands and take it together.’
‘Thank you, Piscine!’ they both say as they take the pearl together. ‘Mamu will love this!’ Oak tells Alder excitedly. What the twins didn’t know was in the Freedom clans, tokens like this are given to men by the women who want to marry them. You would think that Piscine knows about this tradition as well but she doesn’t. She just thought it would be a nice gift. She always thought the idea of one man separated into two is magical.
‘Alder? Oak?’ she calls to them, the twins looking up in attention, ‘when I leave on the third sunset, please don’t cry okay? Because I don’t want to feel heavy when I go back.’
The twins look at each other and promised her that they wouldn’t cry or show sadness when the time comes for her to leave so she won’t feel heavy like a Chutah because the heaviest creature they know is a Chutah and Mamu. But they won’t say that because Mamu will stop feeding them and they love her too much to make her angry.
‘Now…’ she is going through her bag and takes out a triangle and a stick, ‘I have a few more moments before I need to go. Do you both know how to sing?’
So, in three sunrises and two sunsets, the old but new friends spent as much time together as they can before it was time for Piscine to leave. She taught them the basics of singing – which the boys find odd that they don’t have it. They find singing and music quite relaxing. Piscine tells them that music, a new word to them, is everywhere; they should follow its beat and follow the beat of their hearts. She taught them ways on how to swim faster with the currents and how to get an extra breath when you feel like you are running out of air while still far from the surface, how to lure fishes faster, what can be used as supplies, materials, and many more things. She told them stories of cities that used to exist in the old world, how fascinating it must have looked. She told them sometimes, she pretends to the waters weren’t that deep and she imagines people walking down those pathways, along with those metallic squares. She told them of monuments that are below the waters. Naturally they don’t know what monuments are and she drew how they looked like on the sand. Oak developed an even greater interest in history because of Piscine. He was already interested in history with Mamu’s fascination with history and maps. Piscine told them the Pyras, and she drew it on the sand. She told them where even older gods used to live and was buried, the Great Bridge of Chine which stretched so far that they found themselves in different charters in the waters. Piscine tells them that often, she thinks that the cities are just asleep below. That maybe one day the waters will eventually go down but she quickly dismisses it. The twins are obviously curious why she would take it back. They believe that she and Mamu would get along very well with their knowledge on history and maps but they don’t tell Piscine that because she might feel sad since they did not tell their parents about her. Alder and Oak look at each other in mutual agreement that they will somehow introduce these two ladies to each other. One day.
Alder and Oak’s imagination is in high gear thinking about all the things that you can see in the deep. How high up would they find themselves if the waters did go back to the levels of the old world!
Three sunrises and two sunsets felt like just one sunrise. When the third sunset finally came, the twins waited by the rocks for Piscine to come by to say goodbye. Piscine jumps out of the water to the rocks and shook herself dry.
‘This is it, my water babies. I have had a very happy three sunrises and two sunrises,’ she says, tearing up a bit.
The twins, beaming with smiles, look at each other, stood up and saluted at Piscine. Alder looking like a Y and Oak like an M. They switched positions and Alder now looks like a C and Oak like an A.
‘Thank you for saving our lives, Piscine! You’re our best friend forever! We’ll always think of you and we shall wait for you to come back!’ Piscine’s ears go red which doesn’t happen all the time and squealed with delight. Did they practice this, she asked herself, completely moved. She took the boys in her arms and hugged them tightly.
‘You are very welcome. We will be best of friends forever!’
At that moment, Piscine felt for the first time, what ‘warmth’ meant.
(Written for 2013 NaNoWriMo.)