River Mumma, the graceful brown-skinned mermaid with jet-black hair that cascaded down her glistening back, was the talk of my village after the ‘pastor’ incident. The village pastor, a white missionary from England had come to settle in rural St. Elizabeth after marrying one of the local women he’d become ensnared with. Outwardly, everyone adored him. He was the epitome of what a man was supposed to be according to the local women. High-coloured with a thick Queens-English accent and carefully enunciated words that grasped the ears of anyone who stopped to listen to him preach the word of God. I, quite frankly had no interest in him as to me, he was a mock-up, a counterfeit man of God who beat his wife into a miscarriage and cut the face of his son for trying to defend his mother. When the news of his untimely disappearance spread across our tiny village. I knew it was she; it was river Mumma who had been watching his sins in our village.

The day it happened. I was sitting on the veranda of my tiny home, my hands greased with beeswax that I coated my four-year-old sister’s coils with. She had her grass doll in her hands, mimicking my actions as I had delicately plaited her hair into four parts and finished it with colourful bubbles, signifying her innocence.

“Pastor drop inna di riva, him dead!” my grandmother had screamed at me, beckoning me with tear-filled eyes.

“Wha happen mama?”

She didn’t respond. Instead, she turned back in the direction she was coming from and ran. I immediately followed behind her into the town square where a group of village-people had gathered, murmuring and shouting loudly over each other.

“Me sure sey a her. The river mumma! It’s been sixty-years since she come back yah! That demon woman!”

The murmuring continued as I attempted to push through the crowd to get to the front of the chaos. My little sister held on to my neck, almost choking me from the fear of the screaming people. Sitting on the platform wrapped in a sheet was Gloria, the wife of the pastor. She was completely silent and her light brown eyes were wide with terror. Holding on to her hand was her youngest son, Alfred tightly curled into her lap. I could hardly see his face as he had it buried in his mother’s chest and his free hand over his ears in an attempt to drown out the crescendo of voices. Suddenly, the crowd hushed and a loud voice took over the air.

“There is no need to be so rambunctious citizens. What happened to our dear pastor was a tragedy. An unfortunate DROWN-ING” said the village lawyer, Peter.

He emphasized the drowning with a hack.

“But this Ri-ver Mum-ma nonsense has to stop. It has to stop! Our beloved pastor DROWNED. He was not kidnapped by some fable, folk tale mermaid that we have no proof exists. Even his wife said that the current was high. Right, Gloria?”

Gloria looked up and nodded but anyone could see that she was just agreeing to get out of the chaotic situation.

“It is pointless to search for him in the murky river. Even our best swimmers couldn’t get past ten feet! If his body resurfaces, we will give him a holy burial. If not, we will have his memorial. What we need to do now is to help support Gloria and her family who just lost a loving husband and father.”

Gloria didn’t look the least moved or shaken by this. In fact, I thought I saw her smirk, and chuckle under her breath. The village lawyer adjourned the meeting and we went back to our homes. Everyone was murmuring about what Peter had to say about River Mumma. Everyone, from children to great- grandparents knew it was no fable.

 

The next man to go missing was unsurprisingly, Peter. You see, River Mumma never liked when people deny her existence. It is said to make these spirits fade when people stop believing in them. I had read it in one of my father’s books before he left and never returned from the river himself. It was said that the Greek God Pan of nature, shepherds and nymphs had faded and with his last ounce of life had reached his voice to a sailor, Thamus to let everyone know when he reached Italy that the great God Pan had died. Peter’s bed was found wet to the touch and filled with muddy footprints leading in the direction of the river. His boots and coat were found by the village-people later that morning while some of the swimmers attempted to locate his body.

 

When I saw both Gloria and Peter’s wife a month later. They were riddled with happy faces and eyes skipping hand in hand down the road at night, silently. In public, they played the role of the grieving wife well but I knew they were happy to finally rid themselves of abusive husbands. The village people had stuck long poles into the water in an attempt to lure the River Mumma and men would take shifts in watching the river for any kind of disturbance, to no avail of course. The women, on the other hand, were secretly content as I heard in their women’s meetings in hushed voices and tones for their husbands not to hear their secret thank you to the spirit. The men found no trace of River Mumma, the bodies or as if anything had ever been in the river. It was always silent and eerie, even in the supposed moonlight she was to come, sit by the rocks and comb her hair in.

 

The last man to go was Fredrick, a miner from the village. He had publicly proclaimed his love for her, the River Mumma and after the men had left to the bars at night, he would swim in the river and call out for her. The village people mostly ignored him at that point as they had grown tired of trying to find her and she had slipped back into being a memory in everyone’s minds. Some men still believed they could find her and watched as Fredrick swam naked in the water calling out to her.

“Riverrrrr Mummmma, your darling is here! Come for me, come take me away and let me comb yourrrrr hairrrrr!”

That night, I had slipped out of bed and hid behind the bamboo stalks by the river. The silhouettes of the other men in the shadow of the moonlight. Suddenly, the river began to gurgle and spit, the black water turning a light blue and twirling around in an elegant, slow dance. Fredrick began to scream loudly, flailing his arms and legs in the air as the water began filling his lungs. When it stopped, he sunk into the river slowly, the blue of the magical water still faintly glowing. I stepped forward without realizing and immediately, I was grabbed by the man closest to me and a machete held to my face. The rest of the men stepped out of their hiding places, armed with various tools and instruments. It was silent for a moment then a face popped up out of the water. They were followed by two, three, four, ten more faces and all began laughing. Finally, a woman emerged from the water and sat up-top the rocks. She was glistening in the now glowing blue water of the river and had her eyes fixed on the men who surrounded her. Her jet-black hair did nothing to conceal her vivacious brown breasts, curves and beautiful face that the men began to gawk at.

“We, We- We want back our men! You demon woman!”

“Men, your men? The moment they ‘fell’ into my river. They became mine!” her voice lashed at them, venom in every word she spoke.

The men began to murmur among themselves, terror lacing each one of their eyes. The spirit looked at me and began to smile.

“What do you plan to do with this woman? Throw her into the river as bait?”

The man at the front raised his machete as if to challenge her.

“Yes. We are going to kill her and throw her body into the river River Mumma!”

“River Mumma?”

“Yes! That is what you are!”

“I am not River Mumma”

The men looked perturbed and began murmuring among themselves. The leader of the group raises his machete to her again.

“That’s impossible. You must be her! You have been leading the men to their deaths here. You just took one of them”

“I haven’t stepped out of this river in decades. In fact. I just take what is sent here by the real River Mumma.”

“And who is that?”

The spirit smiled and averted her gaze to me, longingly.

“Why, she’s right there”

Immediately, I burst out laughing. Laughing till tears ran down my cheeks. The man who held on to me immediately dropped his machete. I turned around to the crowd of men and began smiling and then I bowed, as actors and actresses do when they have finished their performance. I jumped into the water; my body enveloped by the blue of the river. A little girl with bubbles and plaits swam up to me, wrapping her hands around my neck as the glowing water began to fade.

 

 

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