And so, that is the story on how the boys got back Piscine in their life. But what they don’t know is, Piscine has a secret from them.
Piscine ran away from home.
But with the blessing of her immediate family so it’s not really running away from home but perhaps, you can say that she’s ran away from the Freedom clan.
This is not the first time this happened. Many who have tried have met different grim fates.
Will Piscine meet the same fate?
Piscine is twenty-three years old. Tall, lean with green hair and multi-coloured eyes. She has a very charming smile and a very tooth grin. Piscine is one of the many children in the small clan of Vember, one of the many groups that form the almost mythical Freedom Clans. If you look back to the very beginning, when the world started to change, you will find that the Freedom clans are made up of a diverse group of people, and with prominent occupations. Among the ancestors are pirates, scientists, navigators, ship builders, teachers – talented geniuses, they all sound very promising but the one thing that the people of the Freedom clans did not excel on is cooking.
Not one of their ancestors cooked. Or learnt how to.
It’s not that they did not try. They did.
They have tried very hard and once, they managed to burn an entire city – just for trying. They can make chemicals, mix them and be quite successful but cooking among the Freedom clans is unheard of.
Hence, they eat all their food raw.
Their diet consists of seaweed and seafood that is not cooked.
This would probably explain the toothy grin. Over time, evolution will play its part and their teeth change over the course of hundreds of years, stronger and able to bite even the toughest leather in whatever land that is left in this new world that they know.
Piscine has an ordinary Freedom clan family. Piscine has an older sister and nine brothers that followed and then, there was her. They are all two years apart in age. But it was not like she felt left out with them. The siblings were actually close, rare these days in this new world where sibling rivalry runs nigh. The clans even gave her brothers a group name. They call her brothers ‘The Nine’.
Her sister’s name is Mer. Her brothers are named, Un, Deux, Trois, Quatre, Cinq, Six, Sept, Huit and Neuf, in that order.
Her parents have very ordinary names of Ariel and Eric. One of the best things about her parents is that you can see that her father clearly adores her mother, another rare display of affection among the almost indifferent ways of the clans. Once in a while, their father would sing her mother a song about kissing a girl ever since she can remember. Her mother loves to sing. She sang old songs from the old world which was passed on from her ancestor. There is never a time their household didn’t sing. The Nines like to sing a song about being men and Mer’s favourite song about being crazy in love.
Most of the Freedom clans love to sing. It was a way of life.
When Piscine saved the twins the first time, it was out of curiosity. Or perhaps, it was finding another person, at that age, not knowing how to swim – at that age – that got her curious in the first place. She just turned ten years old and she is finally allowed to swim out of the perimeter of the ship docks. She also got a new pair of safety goggles which was large enough to cover half her face. She swam faster than the fishes around her and even if this was the first time she is outside, she knew where everything is around them. It was the last hour of the swim and she knew that they will not go back to the calmer Warm waters for another few years. Just as she was heading back, she saw an odd boy falling down like dead weight and turning clumsily, swimming the other way, down to the deeps, instead of the surface. At first she thought that the boy might have just made an honest mistake and will double back and swim back upright.
But he didn’t.
He kept kicking and going deeper.
She thought that he’d be fine – he will eventually realize it.
She turns to swim back home but she felt compelled to look back and when she did, she saw bubbles around the boy.
He is drowning.
He was in so much trouble.
But she can’t save him.
It’s forbidden. She will get into so much trouble. The clan will disown her. Her parents may even disown her.
The clans have no contact with the cities whatsoever, not even trade.
But then he will die if she doesn’t do anything.
She can’t and she starts swimming back.
He will die. He will die. He will die.
He is a baby.
She turns around again and she sees a second boy, swimming down, towards where the boy was falling.
Someone is going to save him, he will be okay.
She swims towards them, just a little bit. She noticed the ‘rescuer’ is slowing down. She saw the bubbles and she knew.
He’s going to drown too.
The next thing she knew, she was swimming towards them as fast as her legs can take her. She goes for the first boy she saw. When she reached him, he was unconscious. She grabbed him and shot straight towards the second struggling boy, grabbing his chin as gently as she could. She held them close. She will rescue them, there is no turning back.
When they resurfaced, the second boy gasped and gasped for air.
‘Slowly…Slowly…’ she tells him, surprising herself. She’s never talked to a person from the city before. She wonders if they speak the same language, if he didn’t, she could always try the ten other languages she’s learnt over the years.
The boy looked at her, still dazed and very confused. She smiles at him and she looked at the first boy to check to see if he’s alright. She blinked. She turned to look at the second boy again and turned to look at the first boy again. They look the same, she exclaimed. She’s never seen anyone like this before. Is this normal for the city people?
She swam towards some rocks by the island’s pier. She had to be careful – she knew she was very close to a city. No one should see her. She let the second boy climb up the surface and checked the first boy as he did. She told him that he need not worry about his brother and she gave him air.
Soon, the first boy started to cough. She felt relieved. He will be okay and she felt great. The first boy started crying and ran for his brother. They hug each other and that’s when she realized that she had to go back. If she was late, they might ask her too many questions. She started to swim back and she felt that it would not be nice if she did not say goodbye. So she turned back, watching the brothers with new affection. She told them to be careful and called them water babies because babies from her clans swim like them. She waved to them, because it is the nice thing to do.
The second boy asked her for her name which genuinely surprised her. She did not assume anything nor did she not think that they would ask her for anything, let alone her name. This made her feel good. She told them her name. Then, she heard the second boy asked for friendship as she dove into the water, swimming back home.
When she got back to the ship, her family was anchoring out and ready to sail out. She was glad she made it on time and that she did not have to explain herself in any way. Her sister, Mer, is showing her mother some items she’s salvaged earlier and the Nines are comparing things they’ve salvaged nearby. Her father mentioned about going to the other side of the ocean. The clans are meeting there and there’s something about some Ark. The details were not clear because all she could think about is how she has to pretend that nothing happened to her. She had to act natural. Nothing happened. Talk to your sister. Help with the ship checks. Talk to your brothers. Talk to your mother. Help your brothers. Help with the engine room checks. Talk to your brothers again. Help around. While she was doing this, she’s practicing on how she would tell them how her swim went. All she did was swim. And salvage. Snacked on some fishes then salvaged whatever she can and swim some more. She practised as she checked the barometer. She practiced as she sang with her family about a whole new world. She practiced as they ate the large fish they caught for dinner. She practiced as she got ready for bed. She can do this, she can do this, she kept repeating to herself and she felt as if her heart is going to escape from her chest.
It’s not that Piscine didn’t love her family. She loved them with all her heart.
She just did not like lying to them or keeping secrets. There were no secrets in the family. But no one asked her about the swim so there was no need for her to lie.
All was well.
As she lay in bed that night, their ship flying towards to the other side of the ocean, she could not hear the loud snores of her brothers nor the waves of the water nor the winds whistling or the creaks of the boat. She could hear echoes of the boys’ voices.
‘What is your name?’
‘Let’s be friends!’
It was all she could think about and she fell asleep to the memories of their voices, singing in her head, replaying the moment all over and over again. She hopes they will meet again one day and when or if they do, she will ask them for their names. And they will be friends.
(Written for 2013 NaNoWriMo.)