Mermaid Island – A Fisherman of Halicarnassus Story
“Oh,” I said, “come and wake me up before dawn. See that suitor over there? He’s in my dreams. Let’s be there before dawn.”
“Yeah. They call it Mermaid Island. I’ll wake you up at night.”
It’s been years since I went there and fished. If I were to die this minute, and as I die I were to review the events of my life that have left their mark on my soul, all the events that I thought were happy because I had made so much money, or bitter because I had lost so much money and position, all of them would diminish, leaving only the memory of the day I fished on the shore of that island, a shining memory of my whole life, full of the most assured living.
As my eyes grow twilight, that memory will be the last light I see and the last my heart tastes.
The sun’s sister, Eos (the Archipelagic dawn for short), was dawning on the horizon, embracing the rose-colored light. Line after line of pink lights were her fingers. The rows of horizontal clouds were like the strings of a harp. They began to moan with light. The sea and the sky were radiating pink clarity and light. To Mehmet, who was rowing next to me,
“Why do they call it Mermaid Island?” I asked.
“Mermaids come here in the moonlight. I didn’t see them. Only one or two nights, in the moonlit shadow cast by the island, I heard them singing the sea to the sound of their voices. It was like a ghostly bleaching floating on the waves. A ringing laughter sent a strange shiver down my spine. I lie if I say I was scared, I lie if I say I wasn’t. I felt like laughing too. I went for the oars in case I lost my mind.”
“Why? Do they drive you crazy?”
“My grandfather saw him. He wasn’t a man who loved money. But he fell in love with one of them, and something happened to him after that. My father used to look at this island from afar and tell me what my grandfather said. (Mehmet took a drag on his cigarette, it was obvious he wanted to talk; I was provoking him.) My father used to tell me. There wasn’t a bay or a gulf in the Sporadic Islands that my grandfather’s boat rocked there like a cradle. He lived on land for very few of the twelve hours of the day and night. When a storm would break, he would pull his tiny boat, shaped like a walnut shell, into the caves, which were palaces of silence during the storm. He was a lonely traveler of lonely shores. He lived all alone. He told my father,
- The playmates of my childhood were these small islands, the screaming seabirds, the leaping dolphins, the waves with their similarly clapping hands. But the crown jewel of my life was complete silence. I would lie down on the soft sand at the bottom of the cave, the blue seas becoming clear emerald as they approached the shore, then foaming white like the whitest cloud in the purest sky. The golden, green and blue reflections of the water would walk on the ceiling of the cave. The waters would thus give me their colors, while the water dripping from the stalactites would sing in different notes and give me the sound of water. There was never a blushing summer evening when I was not on my boat sailing along the green shores and white beaches. The sound of the shepherd’s pipe, unraveling and swaying like a bridal veil from hill to skirt, would be in the clear air, as if calling from incalculable distances. There was not a day that I lived that I did not watch the red of the dawn overflowing into the sea, wide awake and upright. Why the bed sheets like shrouds, the sleep-deprived burred eyes? While my nets were drying on the gum branches of the shore, I would lay my fish of various kinds on the grass and feed the poor villagers with the most delicious fish of the sea…?”
“Will the crazy heart never settle down? I was longing! My heart could not and would not be fooled by these beauties. He who drinks sea water becomes thirsty the more he drinks. We eat food and digest it; the food we eat becomes us. I was lamenting why I could not take in this beauty and make it my own. I was saddened that I could not wander at the bottom of the sea in a similar way as I wished. When I looked under the sea, the face of the sea seemed narrow to me. That’s why, when I was alone in a bay, I would undress and immerse myself in the depths. I used to beat myself up, wondering why I couldn’t take the smooth glide of the clear and soft waters on my chest and knees into my lungs. Why couldn’t I breathe in those crisp colors. Sir? There would be days when I would forget fishing altogether, dive out, and spend ten out of twelve hours at the bottom of the sea. Like a bird spreading its wings in the morning light, I would test my will in the darkness of the bottom. Why do I need to tell you about the Aegean bottom, son? You are a fisherman; you know it as well as I do. In the high domes of the bottom, which resembles an inverted abyss, lights cut the emptiness wire by wire with their fan-like rays. There is an innocent pink shining on the silver face of the pearl. Ridges are set up from rock to rock of the jagged hills. The ribs and masts of sunken ships glow in the darkness. At the seabed, wine jugs that have been home to octopus and fish for centuries breathe fish and green droplets from their lips. Colors flow into the realm of the bottom plain with the easy flow of the hourglass rivers, spreading across the dark plain. I wait in the dark silence! What? The ringing of a scream!
Anyway, while I was struggling day and night to get used to the bottom of the sea, I arrived at the black dungeon of love itself. And I was imprisoned there. I became as if I could guess what the Lover Strange was looking for. I saw him shining white in deep and dark emerald waters. Her cry rang in my ears and even inside me.”
“The mermaid! If love were the body and bone of the word or feeling of love, I could say that I loved to the very bones, to the fiery marrow of love. I dived! I chased! It became night. He was running away, shining brightly. He dived. I dived. He swam; I swam. He swam; I swam. I don’t know how many times we circumnavigated the island. He was laughing freckles and freckles. It was a biting and playful laugh like sea salt. The moon rose. What a huge moon it was; my eyes widened. It was white! I didn’t know whether it was me or him, the moon or the island. I was embracing it as much as I could, as if I had grabbed it or was grabbing it. As he looked back at me, I saw the moonlight in his black eyes. His body was the moonlight in the churning moonlight. Now it was crumbling, disintegrating, then reuniting like mercury. I released my arms, wrapped them around her waist, pulled her into my bosom and she melted. It was the moonlight I embraced. I saw him further away. I swam! I swam! I swam!… My heart spun and spun, clinging to her freckle-screaming smile, the moon and the island; I passed out in a whirlwind. But after that, the moonlight always found me there…?”
The sun was setting as Mehmet was telling his story. The rocks and crevices of the island jutted vertically out of the sea, and amidst the redness that enveloped the universe, the pipes of a giant-like organ resembling pillars of fire howled. A wave thirty miles wide, acting as if it had traveled across all the oceans of the world, spread the thunder it had carried in its flaming foam on the shores of the island. The island, shaking to its most mysterious caves, gave its music to the skies in a crimson cloud. Processions of seagulls fluttered over the island like sparks. Both Mehmet and I were filled with endless enthusiasm. We thought we were making the ocean sing like a harmonica as we sailed up and down like a piece of garbage in that tiny boat. We tried to come to our senses.
Mehmet’s hair suddenly stood on end:
“There’s the mermaid!” he exclaimed and pointed his finger at the suitor.
I looked down at the island and saw a seal emerging from the foam onto the rock:
“You are right, you are right, Mehmet!” I shouted.
No joke; Pan was a native of these places.
Fisherman of Halicarnassus
(Cevat Şakir KABAAĞAÇLI) (1886-1973)
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