There’s this little creek that just starts abruptly on the other side of the road. Some say it is an enchanted spring and interesting tales have been told about it, ranging from the mysterious to the downright absurd. I have never believed anything I cant prove but one thing is certain, that little creek never runs dry, not even during the drought seasons, when the riverbeds look like sandy deserts, water flows in the creek, it might reduce to a trickle but it wont run dry.
There’s nothing extra-ordinary about it, just a little creek that starts across the road flows beneath the tarmac via an unremarkable culvert bridge. If you can believe the mutterings of the old folk, a long time ago they tried to tame the spring put pumps and taps on it but the water would simply start coming out somewhere else. They tried several more times and after a discrete word from the local elders they stopped entirely, lest the spring stop all together.
I am city kid, I believe in the power of the internet, some things man was meant to know and for everything else, that’s why there’s Google. After a few days visiting the grandparents, away from the city, I was going stir crazy. I missed the internet, I missed electricity, I missed that irritating high pitched hum the TV made which gave me a headache, I am surprised I even missed that, just thinking about it gave me a headache.
A walk seemed like a good idea.
I was sauntering leisurely going nowhere slowly, thinking “Yeah, I had spent enough time visiting, that I could safely take my leave without seeming like I was a spoiled city kid who could survive a day in the country.” That’s when I heard a voice, singing, a strangely haunting melody, something a mother would absent-mindedly hum to her baby, long after the child had fallen asleep.
They say you can fall in love with a voice…..
I do not know about falling in love, but this one demanded all of my attention, reached deep into my chest and squeezed; my heart skipped a bit. Searching for the body behind the voice, I came face to face with a strikingly beautiful visage, looking right back at me.
The Earth might as well as have stood still and stopped turning on its axis, as time itself stopped; not until that is, she crossed her arms protectively around her bosom, did the realisation dawn that she was bathing in the creek and I was staring.
“Oh I.. I.. hadn’t realised” I stammered an apology “I am, so, so sorry.” I said averting my eyes.
I tried to take a step back and walk away but my feet had a mind of their own, they might as well as have been roots.
“You are new to these parts aren’t you?” she asked in that musical voice
“Yes, I am at my grandparents’ kwaMakaki” I said pointing in the direction of home.
“I could tell, I know everyone who lives here. So you are a grandchild of the Madyiras’?” she asked, referring to my grandparents by their clan name.
“Yes. I am sorry again for intruding. Well let me best be going” I said as I took my leave. She had settled in the creek and only her head was visible. Talking was a lot easier.
“Wait a bit, I know who you, are aren’t you going to ask me, who I am? Besides If you sit over there you can watch the road for me and let me know if anyone is approaching”
It wasn’t quite a request neither was it an order, what could I do, but mutely nod my head, as I ambled over and settled on the boulder she had pointed out. I sat facing away from her, and I could hear splashing sounds; as I imagined her frolicking about in the creek. I tried hard not to peek though I could see movement in my peripheral vision, remembering the old fable of why the owl’s neck turns almost 360 degrees, it spied on mother nature while she was changing and she cursed it so it could not move its eyes.
“You can call me The lady of the lake” She spoke suddenly and her voice near, that I turned around and she was an arm’s length away and her trilling laughter filled the day, as she splashed a handful of water at me.
“Naughty naughty” she said with the ghost of a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth.
“I am queen of this creek” she said scooping a palm full of water and raising her hand in a regal move that made the water spiral down the length of her arm. With the sun behind her head like a crown of sunshine, she did look like a picturesque silhouette royalty.
“You can stop gawking like a common cow herder and help me scrub my back, its not everyday I see royalty walks these paths.” She said throwing a sponge at me, followed by a fresh leaf blade of the aloe vera plant “Lather the sponge with this” rosing out of the water and turning her back to me, water sparkling in the sun as it dripped down the contours of her undulating figure.
I squeezed the juice out of the aloe plant and on to the sponge “What do you mean by royalty walking these paths” I asked as I sponged her back.
“You, silly boy” she laughed, even though she did not seem that much older than me. “You have forgotten the old ways, forgotten me….” she added with a faint trace of sadness in her voice but suddenly, brightened as she exclaimed;
“Fire and water! Who would have thought it?”
“Huh!?” I exclaimed, confused.
“Isn’t your totem, fire, is it not?” she teased.
“Yes__” I started to reply.
“What happens when an inextinguishable fire meets an unquenchable lake?” She quizzed, a playful edge creeping into a her voice.
“When a wha____”
The rest of my sentence drowned out, as I splashed into the water; she had suddenly turned and pulled my hand; dragging me, clothes and all, into the creek.
We floated inches from each other, water streaming down my face, from my drenched locks, she reached up and pushed back a few strands of hair. Her touch was warm and yet I felt goosebumps up and down my spine.
“I love your hair” she whispered “Though, its not as long as mine” she said flicking her thick locks which flowed from her head down past her waist disappearing in the water.
She drew closer still.
“Hey!” A voice boomed from the road, I turned to see uncle Jay, waving frantically at me. “Hey wena!” his voice boomed again “What are you doing?”
I felt like a child, caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing, like when you steal a spoonful of peanut butter and you are caught, you cant answer because the peanut butter is stuck to the roof your mouth, I felt heat rise to my face.
I turned to see how my newly met lay acquaintance, was taking all this and she was nowhere to be seen. I was in the creek, alone.
She had vanished without a trace.
Uncle Jay had got close enough to offer a hand to pull me out “Did you fall in?” he asked a little too calmly, as he pulled me out.
“I…I…I was, I mean there was someone here, a lady, didn’t you see her?”
“I saw no one” he answered tersely his eyes not meeting mine.
“Talk to me uncle” I pressed for an answer.
“I saw no one but you.” he begun “But there’s an old story, the Elders say there’s a mermaid that lives in this creek. Every once in a while, someone sees a lady in the creek and soon after gets taken and either never seen or heard from again or they become great healers and an oracle from the Gods”
As we walked back home I mulled over his reply, I had not expected that answer, but I could not explain where the mysterious had vanished to, I shivered a little, and stifled a sneeze, the sun was almost setting, I was cold and my clothes were wet, how long had I been in the water? I had laughed it off when she called herself The Queen of the creek maybe the was more to her than I had thought, but a mermaid? Her body from the navel down thanks to the water had not been visible.
“What happens when an inextinguishable fire meets an unquenchable lake?” a voice echoed in the back of my head like a voice from a dream, I turned to look back down at the creek, it could have been a trick of the light but in its murky depth, I could see a figure there, waving; at me……………