Monique van Maare
I built a shelter on the island’s highest point. It’s not much for comfort, but it keeps me dry. When I moved up here, I could still see the reefs and the other atolls in the distance. Gulls would screech and brace against the strong East winds, swooping in to forage in the scattered bays. Now, there’s just water everywhere.
I am the last one here. When the tourists stayed away, the young and adventurous among us packed their bags and sought out the cities. Then, when the first terraces flooded with sand and seashells, families gathered up their young and headed for the mainland, too. Slowly, the frothing white web lines connecting our little islets faded, as one by one the fishing boats and water taxis were left behind at their wooden docks.
I stayed, out of a deep love for the turquoise of our waters, and the giant sea turtles that stop here every year on their long journeys to nest. Perhaps, too, out of love for the wind-beaten shape of her palms, the long empty stretches of her windswept dunes.
She was always our provider. Pine, coconut and figs featured richly on our plates, and hollow coves protected the crops of hatching fish. Even now, there are hibiscus flowers growing up here that I can braid into wreaths, like we used to do on festive days. We’d dance on the stony beaches, and honour all her winged, leafed and finned species. I made one yesterday, but it unraveled from my head with my first sway, translucent yellow petals raining softly on my leathered skin. I can sense the day getting closer. I must remember to collect those nervine herbs I saved.
The day the water reached the old graveyard, I cried until the purple dawn. I thought of the bones of our great-grandfathers and -mothers, our uncles and nieces and the little ones that died too young, roused roughly by the incoming waves, their spirits roaming the outstretched peninsulas and lifting angrily into the sky. Will they find peace again? Will the wind remember their stories, and strew them to our scattered hearths?
Soon, porpoises and dolphins will nibble in her valleys. Sharks will mate in the shallow hollows of her ponds, which will no longer fill with lilies. The waters will get darker and wider, and the fierce pull of the currents will be deeply foreign to her soil. The nereids, with their bleached coral crowns and white silk robes, will swarm in and laugh at her discomfort, and at our hubris, our folly, our devastation.
I feel I owe her this, to be with her as she is consumed by the waves. When the time comes, and my last sanctuary here disappears in the waves, I will grind my feet into the shifting sand of her last dune, and hold on to her with my curled-in toes as long as I can.
When the cold water reaches my knees, and the gales pick up, the bones of our ancestors will call my name, tell me it is time to let go. I will remember how Perseus came for his sweet Andromeda, perched on her rock in the sea, but I know that he never held such promise here. My body will be thrown off the sand by the bashing current, and she and I will become one. Even if, against all odds, the wind guides his winged Pegasus to these waters, what else will he see but an endless blue-grey expanse of deeply heaving sea? AQ