Copyright © Joyce Chng 2010-2011
Novella website: http://jolantru.wordpress.com
A Sea Of Waves
Waves One - Fourteenth
A Tree of Branches
Appendix & Commentary
Daughter Of The Sea
I am the daughter of oyster-divers and pearl-gatherers. I am the descendant of the first-wave immigrants from old Terra Firma, the ancient Earth planet the grandmothers of the village speak so kindly of. I am the daughter of a line of women who risk their lives to dive for the treasures of the sea, the rough-shelled bivalves that give us food and beautiful orbs of beauty.
I have my hands cut and sliced by the sharp shards covering the shells; my skin has bled and merged with the fresh salty juices while I learn the craft of opening the oysters. My grandmother says that once the oyster has blooded me, the sea has claimed me as Her own. She then holds her hand and shows me her scars – she too is a daughter of the sea. I laugh and swallow the sweet briny oyster flesh whole, letting it slide down my throat, a delicious flood of salt-copper-water.
The women dive every early morning when the sea is calmer and when the tides are less torn and conflicted than a woman in childbirth. They slip on the black skins, snug close to their bodies, and adjust their breathing apparatus while they gossip about their husbands, children and household chores. This ritual has not changed for generations. And when they are done with the preparations, they slip into the clear-green water and swim into the depths while the oysters lie, baskets in toll. A good harvest would yield basketfuls and we know that they would fetch a good price at the fish markets near the City. A poor harvest would feed our households and nothing else.
In the afternoons, the women wade waist-deep in the pearl-oyster pools and gather the mature pearl oysters. This time, they wear thick gloves and pry the tight shells open to remove the pearls, glistening in the sun like tiny rainbow-tinged moons. I sit often with them – my grandmother, my mother and my aunts – as they shell the oysters, feel for that tale-tell bulge and fish out the perfect spheres out of the tender slippery folds. The pearl oysters can be as hard-hearted as their ocean cousins; our hands have been lacerated by the jagged edges of the palm-sized shells.
I am the daughter of such diligent women. They dive in the morning and swim in the afternoon, all because oyster-diving and pearl-gathering are already in their blood, in our lineage. I am proud to be one of them and I often wish that I could be as good as my grandmother or my mother. Yet I know I am a bit different from the rest of the women: my hands curl light and this is forbidden, as it is men’s magic.
I realized I could curl light when I was just five. I was playing, as children would be, with my cousins on the beach, next to the shallow tide-pools where the water teemed with tiny sea-creatures. We would go fish and look for little crabs and shrimps living under the rocks. The water of the tide-pools was a delicious cold-warm and we enjoyed ourselves, laughing under the sun, dipping our toes in and watching the shoals of silver fry darting about. Suddenly there was a yell, a frantic shout. Someone had fallen in.