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The Little Mermaid - Part 4

posted Mar 2, 2012, 6:46 AM by Madhuri Sen

The Bombay Times was spotted with drops falling on it in fast succession.  Surili stared at the headlines even as her tears reduced them to a blur. She was immobile, as if made of ice. The only sign of any movement were the tears streaming down her cheeks, her eyes lowered, transfixed on the newspaper headlines, ‘Jaisinghania scion to wed Grewal heiress’.  Yash was smiling into the camera, while the girl’s face was averted.

Yash had always told her that he was only grateful to Misha for saving his life when he had fallen overboard at his last birthday party. He felt a sense of obligation and she loved him desperately. He’d said that he did not know how to tell her that he didn’t love her, that his heart belonged to Surili - but he would tell her soon. It had been a blissful six months since the time they had danced that first night. There were times that Yash stayed with her for a whole weekend at her newly rented apartment. She had felt she could now afford the luxury of her own apartment, besides which it simply made it more convenient for Yash to be with her.

But those weekends came too few and far in between to slake Surili’s thirst. He had asked her not to call unless it was an emergency as he was always very busy with his company’s affairs. There were times that she did not hear from him in a couple of weeks and then he would drop in without a call one fine day, like a happy dog glad to return home. She had found him waiting on the steps outside her apartment as she came back home late at night, on more than a couple of occasions. She had started to get back home earlier and earlier; starting at every ring of the door bell, at every sound of a step outside. Sometimes he would rush in an out in an hour that seemed to pass by in seconds. Surili had beseeched him to at least let her know his whereabouts and when she may be seeing him next. But he pleaded hectic schedules and work overload to be able to do that consistently. There were moonlit beach walks, candlelight dinners, crazy evening when they laughed themselves silly over nothing or watched movies lying entwined quietly after the storm of their loving was spent. These made her forget the times that she pined for him between his visits and calls.

Her doorbell rang. Who could it be at this time of morning? She opened the door to Yash. Her face was still streaked with the hastily wiped off tears, the newspaper still help limply in her hand. He kicked the door shut behind him and pulled her into a tight hug, cradling her head on his shoulder, “Oh my poor, dear, darling, sweetheart. I am so sorry you had to read that in the papers. I got here as quickly as I could, hoping I could make it to you before the papers did.”

She stood in his arms stiffly, her arms hanging by her side. Finally she found her voice and asked, “So why  Misha, if you don’t love her, as you said. You are mine. Why marry her?”

“It’s not Misha. This is the best match I could have made for my family. She is Mehak Grewal, the heiress to the largest fortune in the country; larger than even ours is. I am doing my duty by my family. Some of our businesses have taken a hit through the recession. We need support to recover.” He quickly added, “That will change nothing between us. I am only marrying her. It’s you that I love. You know that.”

Surili stared back at him. She said slowly, “So this is not Misha?  Wouldn’t she be hurt now? All this time that you could not find it in your heart to tell her that you loved me. Now what? Is this a better way?”

Yash’s face took on a hard expression, “She will be well taken care of as well. How do you care anyhow? She is a sweet girl. But you always reacted to the bare mention of her name as if she were your worst enemy.”

Surili stared at him incredulously. He said nothing would change between them. But the day he got married, the promise of the potion meant that the day he lawfully wedded another, she would become one with the foam in the sea. Not even her soul would remain, as without getting the unconditional love and wedded hand of a human, she as a mermaid had no immortal soul.  How could she tell him? How long did she have to make him understand and change his mind? What could she tell? That she was a mermaid? That she would turn to sea foam as the clock struck the midnight hour after his wedding?

“When is the wedding date set for?”

“It’s two weeks from now. It’s a full moon night and said to be the most auspicious of this entire season.”

Two weeks! She had only two weeks before she would be wiped off totally.

The cackling laughter of the witched echoed around her barely furnished apartment. Only the candle in the corner lit the room, throwing deep shadows around. The witch said that she could not bear any more light than that, which is why she had come on the night of the no moon.  Continuing to cackle, she said, “So my darling, lovelorn, little mermaid, is your heart now satisfied and had its fill of human love? Don’t you wish you could return to the sea?”

“But I will now return to the sea, won’t I?” whispered Surili, barely audible, “as foam with no memory of this life and with no soul to be reborn to have another chance.”

“Yes you will. But you have it in your power to make a choice that would instead take you back to your mermaid form, so that you can be reunited with your family,” said the witch.

“You think I came here out of my kindness of heart or curiosity to see how you’ve been?” The witch started to laugh again, now sounding like a whinnying horse in her amusement. “You father paid dearly for my visit here to carry his message, as none of them can come ashore…. and this knife.” She pulled out a long knife whole blade sharply reflected the candlelight off its edge. “You see this necklace of teeth around my neck? These are his, carefully extracted as payment. I will replace my rotting ones with these as soon as I get back.”

“This knife will reverse the effect of the potion as soon it is plunged into the heart of him whose love you sought and failed. You have to make sure that its plunged deep into his heart and that his blood flows on to your hands and feet. When the blood flows on to your hands, I will know that the deed is done, when his blood touches your feet, you will get your tailfin back.  I will come to fetch you back to the sea then.”

She pressed the knife warmly into Surili’s hand as if it were a Christmas gift to a favorite granddaughter. “Do it as soon as you can, child. Your life in the sea awaits you. Your father and mother are losing their health, fretting over your wellbeing and happiness. Do not let them down. He should not have given up his teeth in vain.”

The knife lay in her lap exactly where the newspaper had been that morning. The candles were still flickering, the wax almost having given out now. There were soft sounds of distant traffic and from even beyond, the roar of the sea.  The knife glinted, picking up little golden speckles in her hazel eyes. Her hair wrapped her as a cocoon. She was softly humming a song that her father would sing to put her to sleep as a baby. She could not remember the words, just the soothing tune and her father’s voice singing it.  She rocked slowly in her seat. Oh, how she wished sweet slumber would come to her. She sat there, without even stirring from her position since the witch had taken her leave – until the early morning birds starting calling as the first light of the impending dawn started to brighten the skies.

The witch’s last words seemed to echo around the room, over and over again, “He does not love you, child. Try to see the truth of that. Time does not do anything for anyone. It just ticks by impartially. It’s you who have to make the choices; time does not make those for you. The more choices you make, the less you will have left, so choose with care.”