I wrote this short story more than a year after 29 September 2009. Everything in it is probably true. I wish it weren't. I have not viewed the burnt DVD for a very long time. It hurts so much...
A little house at the bottom of the sea
A few years ago, my father came home one Friday evening with a video camera packed in a bag. I always called him Papá, as he came to Australia from Spain. He had borrowed the camera from work because he needed to practise; or so he said. The next day he filmed me and my twin brothers in the backyard. I saw the movie a few times after that day. It was fun and cool to see and hear myself and my brothers singing. Then he said he would burn a CD, but I didn't see the fire. He sent it overseas, to the place where he was born, for my Spanish relatives to see.
He does not want to see it too often these days; it makes him cry.
The movie is not too long, just about seven minutes. We run around the backyard while he‘s doing his best to focus and frame us. There is a moment I just lie on the dry browned summer grass and do something silly. “What on earth are you doing?”, he asks in Spanish. "Soy un aballena", I say. (Papá laughs at my mistake in Spanish.) “I‘m a little whale, I live in my little house at the bottom of the sea”, I chant in my shrill girl Spanish voice. “Get off the ground, you’re getting your clothes dirty”, he says in the stern voice he reserves for when he does mean something.
I did get up, eventually. I was only three years old.
We’re finally here after spending a couple of days in Apia. The sea dazzles; at noon the heat is quite intense yet bearable, there are a few clouds around but it does not look like it will rain. We flew across the ocean for about seven hours. I said to them: “We will arrive yesterday”. They looked puzzled, of course. They thought it was a joke. I guess the mix of tenses doesn’t go down well when you’ve just managed to learn to speak, and that the language mix at home may make things particularly complicated sometimes. Yet in a manner of speaking, it is true that we have travelled into the past: We left Australia on Friday afternoon and arrived in Apia on Thursday night.
Just five nights ago we were at home, practising the numbers in Samoan: tasi, lua, tolu, fa, lima… We think it’s worth showing you make the effort when you visit another country.
We’ll be staying here for a couple of nights. In one of these fales, metres away from the water. Behind the resort is the steep hill, dense with vegetation, mysterious yet inviting. The water is so clean. There is another smaller island about half a mile away, green, majestic. For thousands and thousands of miles around us, there is nothing else but water. On the horizon, the permanently white line of the reef. Hardly any waves make it to the shore. Perfect for children who are still learning to swim. They will gain in confidence.
After lunch we take a walk along the beach. Later we all put on our swimmers, make sandcastles and splash about. Everybody is having a great time, but she seems to be enjoying Samoa more than anyone else. She looks radiant, beautiful, so full of life. Her skin has quickly tanned under the Samoan sun. It’s taken just a couple of days for her to go very brown. She has my Spanish complexion.
My twin brothers woke up early – they still do. No rest for the wicked. Mummy said we wouldn’t get breakfast until nine, so she gave us fruit to eat. I ate my pear on the sand, looking at the beautiful blue water. I finished it and then Papá gave us some biscuits. He said they were from Chile, from across the water, and he pointed to the west. Then suddenly the ground started shaking. It was quite strange. The fales were rattling for almost a minute. Mum and Papá looked at each other and talked briefly. They looked at the other tourists. They looked at the local people, the ones who ran the resort.
We then went for a walk along the beach, like the day before. I saw the local kids on the road, wearing their school uniforms. I asked Mummy why they were going to school. She said they weren’t on holidays. We were on holidays. We had come from Australia for a holiday. On the beach I followed Papá, I was skipping on the sand, carefully putting my footprints on his. It was fun but difficult. He has such big feet I could not stretch myself long enough.
Suddenly Papá shouted: “Corred, corred”. He sounded very serious. We ran. We crossed the road. We were barefoot but kept on running. Papá was again yelling, but this time in English: “Run! Everybody run!” His voice sounded really scared. We just ran. We ran past a house. A woman was on the ground, crying. There were a few piglets, trotting around. They seemed scared, too. I turned around. I did not understand. Why was there no sky now? What was that water coming towards us? And that roar?
I was still holding Mummy’s hand. So was my brother Om. My other brother, Jay, he was with Papá. We turned and kept running for the hill. Then the water came. The water. So much water. It was so strong I immediately lost Mummy’s hand. The water dragged me up and down, it swirled me around. I hit a tree or something else. Lots of different things hit me: bits of coral, pieces of wood, rocks, tree branches… they hit my legs and my arms, they hit my back and my head. I could not come up for air.
I stayed at the bottom, like the little whale of my silly singsong a couple of years before. I think I became a whale-loving mermaid.
But Mummy and Papá cried a lot afterwards.