Bar Beach is home to a lot of things.
Every year it brings people from all over Lagos and there’s dancing, singing and all the usual merriment.
What most people don’t know, however, is that just off the shores, in the water that is dark and blue, wide and salty, there are Mami Watas there — mermaids who have been there since before Lagos was even inhabited and wished that they had at least been given a memo:
In a few years your area is going to be overrun by these little human thingies. They walk on two legs and all, you may have seen them. Just between us, they’re not the best conservationists so you may want to move, just ask the mermaids in the pacific.
Terrible phenomenon, those humans.
But there was no notice, no memo, and so they were very surprised when they all woke up one morning to find plastic cans of Fayrouz and Malt being dropped into their space along with a lot of other obscenities. But they shrugged at this. They just took one of the humans every once in a while and called it even.
It was a good arrangement.
Coal and Star got out of the car as they reached the beach and left their shoes in the back.
“Have you ever seen one before?” Star asked Coal as they walked down the sand.
“Yes,” Coal said, “but it was a long time ago.”
“Was she nice?”
Coal thought on this. “Yes, she was. Until she tried to eat me.”
“And then she wasn’t really as nice.”
Star nodded. “Understandably.”
“But it was good, before the whole eating me part sha,” Coal said. “It was fun.”
“Wow,” Star breathed. “Mermaids.” She looked at the dark water as the moon reflected its light on it and the water rippled, waves rolling weakly to the shore. “Wow.”
They left footprints in their wake as they approached the water. The water wet the sand they were standing on and Coal stopped, then so did Star.
“Here is fine,” he said as he looked at the waves lap on the shores.
He dug into his pockets and came out with a pearl that glowed faintly in the dark. He held it in front of him as he looked at it for a while then he threw it into the water as far as he could.
Star watched him do all this and then she looked at him, “So, what now?”
“Now,” Coal said, putting his hands in his pockets, “we wait.”
Per Star’s request, they were now building sandcastles in the dark with Coal’s phone as a light. She had found bottles of soft drinks in the sand which Coal helped to cut and they were building what she had dubbed, “The Greatest Seaside Attraction Evertm”. Coal was about to tell her why and how their sandcastle was just not structurally sound when Star pointed to the ocean. “Look,” she said.
Coal looked and saw the water bubbling on the surface and he stood up and sighed, “Finally.” He dusted the sand off his clothes as he stood up and strode to the shoreline, while Star followed, waving goodbye to “The Greatest Seaside Attraction Evertm”.
A head came through the bubbles, then a pair of shoulders, then a chest with a seaweed bra, then a scaled abdomen, a tail poking far behind her, until a mermaid with dark hair and angry yellow eyes was staring back at them.
“Oh gods, you can’t be serious,” Coal said under his breath.
The mermaid looked at Star, then at Coal, at which point she did a doubletake. “Wait,” she said, “…Kolawole?”
Coal waved a little. “Hi,” he said, “it’s…me.”
The mermaid moved further and it was like the water was aiding her passage, shifting and churning to propel her through. She was close to them now, just on the border between land and sea when she squinted and gaped at Coal. “Kolawole?” she said again.
Coal winced. “Nissa. It’s… Coal now.”
Nissa laughed and then she stopped when nobody else joined her. She looked at Star, “Oh my Gods, is he serious? That’s what he calls himself?” she said. “‘Coal’? Like the black thing you humans use that destroys your air, but you still keep using it?”
“Yes,” Star nodded. “That.”
Nissa folded her arms and looked at Coal. “Well, Coal. You said you’d call back.”
Coal scratched the back of his head. “Well…” He began.
“Well?” Nissa said.
“Well?” Star added, her arms folded too.
Coal glared at her before continuing. “My phone…my phone…”
“Your phone…” Nissa said, beckoning him to continue.
Coal’s eyes ran across the whole plain until he answered, “It broke!” Then at a more conversational volume, “It broke. My phone broke.”
“So, what’s that?” asked Nissa, pointing at the phone lying in the sand, the torchlight still on.
Coal cursed under his breath.
“Language.” Nissa glared and then she bent down to look at the girl that was standing close to Coal. “Hello, little one.”
Star waved. “Hi.”
“So, what brings you to someone like — ” she jerked a thumb at Coal.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Coal asked.
“We need one of your scales,” Star said, “for a spell.”
Nissa gave a look. “Mermaid scales are powerful items for magic. They’re translucent and can see through even your soul. The only spells that require them are…” she looked at Coal with wide eyes then and she moved back as the water parted for her, “dark magic spells. Kolawole, what is this?”
“Nissa,” Coal said, taking a step forward. “We need your help. Please.”
“Kolawole, Coal — I don’t even care what you call yourself,” she said, and there was fear in her eyes. “I want nothing to do with this, dark magic rots your soul and everything around it. It’s…it’s too dangerous. No, I won’t help you.”
“It’s for my mummy,” Star said. “Please, I need to bring her back. She died and I…I just want to see her again.”
Nissa looked down at Star, her eyes sad, but her voice decisive. “Loss is hard, little one. But…it’s life. And You have to let the loss have its way.” She pursed her lips and put a hand on Star’s shoulder. “Your mother is gone. Dark magic like this can, and will destroy you.”
Star slapped the hand away, tears running down her face. “I don’t care!” She screamed. “I just want to see her again. She did everything for me. Everything. And I will do anything I can to get her back.”
Nissa looked at Star. “Anything?”
“Even hurt me?” Nissa asked as she rose to her full height.
Star looked at her. “What…what do you mean?”
It was Coal that answered. “Mermaids have extremely powerful scales, but they’re also very fragile and if they don’t give the scales and they’re taken forcefully…”
“It can take months,” Nissa said, “of excruciating pain to grow back that one single scale.” She looked at Star with something else now, like she was challenging her. “I will not give either of you my scale willingly. So, you must hurt me. Are you willing, little one?”
Star froze. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just…”
“Want to see your mother,” Nissa said, wagging her head side to side. “Well, I’m the only thing now that’s standing between you and that. So, pick, child. Hurt me or lose your mother.” She bared her sharp teeth and roared, “Pick!”
Coal put his arms out as he walked towards Nissa. “Okay, Nissa,” he said. “Okay, you win.”
Nissa looked at him but said nothing.
“We’ll respect your wishes,” he said, and Star looked at his hand as he walked. His ring was glowing. “We’ll leave.”
He brought out his arms wide.
“A hug?” Nissa said, calmer now.
Coal smiled. He had a nice smile. “It’s been a while since I saw you. I want to say goodbye. Properly.”
Nissa blushed. “It has,” she said, as she brought her own arms wide and met Coal for the hug. They embraced the way two possible lovers would have, their arms tight with almost love and partial care.
That was when the scream shattered the night air and enraged the sea. It was a pure scream of malevolence and hurt. Star could feel it in her soul: it was the pain of betrayal.
Coal was running from the sea with bloody hands and he grabbed Star as they ran on the beach, trying to make it to the car.
“What happened?” Star asked as they ran.
Coal showed her his free bloody hand as they ran, putting his dagger in ring form. There was something shiny there…a scale that looked like a fish’s but was slightly bigger with a spectrum of colours that blended across the surface.
Star looked at Coal with an open mouth as the scream followed them.
Star could hear it now. The voice of the angry mermaid that blew the sand away, that turned the sea into a weapon.
A seashell plummeted from that sky with impossible speed and hit the sand where Star had just been.
“Keep going!” Coal shouted. “Almost there!”
Seashells, rocks and things were being thrown from the sea as they scratched and tore the skin of Coal and Star as they ran.
“Coal!” Another scream tore through the air and the glass on Coal’s Toyota shattered.
But Coal just jumped through the window and into the driver’s seat, beckoning to Star. “Get in!”
Star was wading through the sand when a shell hit the back of her leg and she screamed as the pain racked through her. She fell on the sand, holding her leg. It was bleeding.
“Coal!” Star shouted. And Coal saw, understanding and leapt out of the car as he braved himself against the killer seashells, and grabbed Star carrying her to the car mumbling about how Doreen would kill him.
He gunned the engine and drove like hell was on their heels and soon, Bar Beach was a speckle behind them. But Star could still hear Nissa’s screams.
She could still hear her words and somehow, she knew that the day was coming when she’d be forced to pick. But really, she’d have no choice. Or rather, she would, but all the choices would be bad ones.
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