The Fisherman’s Daughter

The sun blazed high above her, making its slow glide to the horizon, where, a few hours later, it would sink into the sea. And she’d stand and watch it. Like she had many years ago, holding onto the Fisherman’s hand. They’d watched every sunset together. Two people who’d been bonded by the sea, sharing the one thing they loved apart from each other.

As she stood there a decade later, she felt, saw, and heard it all over again. The sea breeze against her face, pulling at loose tendrils of hair, luring the ends of her dress into a dance. The cries of seagulls above as they dove to find their next meal. The sweat trickling down her forehead — a testament to the sweltering heat. The crash of the waves against the sea — that loud hiss of foam that lasted for just a few breaths, just a few seconds. The briny smell of the saltwater. The seaweeds floating on the surface, some heading to lay themselves down at her feet.

It was just like the day she’d been brought here. Except that it wasn’t.
Then, the golden sand was clear, a long stretch of brown cluttered with dead sea animals unlucky enough to have been washed ashore. Now, a cigarette butt lay at her feet and, close by, several food wrappers. A can of malt. A used straw. And dozens and dozens of jellyfish and starfishes washed ashore.

She moved her feet in the sand. Yes. It was here. Right here. This was where she’d risen from the sea, brought by the wave, and gifted to a lucky fisherman who’d woken up early to fish. Right here, she’d stepped into a new reality without any recollection of her old. Nameless, unknown, without knowing who she was or whose she was.

And then she, the Nameless, became known as the Fisherman’s daughter.
She’d eaten at his table for years. Learned his language — silence. Gestures. The tiniest shift of facial expressions. Gradually, her world had been enmeshed in his. Because she’d forgotten who she was, she eagerly took on the new identity she’d been given. Here, she’d had a home. She’d run barefoot on the sand, her childish giggles as carefree as her friends’.

She’d scooped up dirt with her small hands, moulding sandcastles, watching them grow, her hands becoming more skilful as the years ran by. Here, she hadn’t been the Girl From The Sea. Here, they’d called her Khanya. Because, as the Fisherman had said, she’d brought light into his dim world. And she’d made other children laugh. She’d consoled them when they cried. She’d been a gift to him and the little world on the shore.
Around her, memories of a decade ago were being recreated.

Less than a mile away, the eager shrieks of children caught her attention. She looked up, watching the past and present play out before her eyes. A little girl ran barefoot, leaving child-sized imprints in the sand. A fisherman rowed his boat to shore, his face aglow with the victory of a good catch. The little girl stood before him with her arms outstretched, waiting for him to carry her. Her excited shrieks as he swung her into the air made Khanya’s lips curve in a small smile.

Khanya knew by the child’s bearing that she wasn’t just another child on the beach. She was the Fisherman’s daughter, just like Khanya had been.
Until she’d decided to reclaim her old identity.

Years after she’d been washed ashore, she’d decided to find her identity: whoever she’d been before the sea had carried her to a new life. In those days, when she’d stood at the shore staring at the horizon, holding the hand of the Fisherman, she no longer marvelled at the red-orange display of sunset. She no longer imagined the sun sinking into the sea, turning it into hot boiling larva. A sea of fire. She stopped dipping her toes into the water, hoping it would be just a little bit warmer.

All she thought about, was that maybe – just maybe – somewhere beyond the horizon, she’d find her identity.

Gradually, her hand slipped from the Fisherman’s. She stopped speaking to him in the silence. She blinded herself to the pain in his eyes when she rowed away, farther and farther from the only home she’d known. On a journey to find her identity. To find her own way home.

Now here she stood, ten years later. On the same shore. Watching the same horizon. The sand felt the same between her toes. The air smelled briny, just like it had always been. And yet everything had changed. She held a hand out, but all she met was air. There was no hand to hold her. Beside her, there was nothing but empty space. Empty space. Empty space. And the presence of faraway strangers.

She took a step forward. Her scarf slipped completely from her hair, swaying in the wind. The water parted. She kept her eyes on the horizon, waiting for that moment when the sun would touch the water. Maybe, in that brief moment, she’d again return to what she was; who she’d been.
The sea welcomed her in, parting ever so slightly. The water rose higher as she continued, soaking through her clothes, carrying her deeper. A tiny shiver ran through her spine. She kept her eyes above the water, never looking away from the setting sun.

The seconds passed. She took a step, then another. Eyes above the water. Feet firm on the ground. The water lifting her arms.
And when the sun kissed the water, she felt it — that warmth.

For the tiniest moment, she went back to being that little girl whose world was the shore, the sea, the tiny hut. The Fisherman. His face loomed in her mind’s eye, clearer than she’d ever pictured him. As his image became clearer, so did his words.

“You’re Khanya,” the Fisherman had said in his silent speech. “You bring light.”
The water closed above her.
“You’re Khanya,” the Fisherman said now, louder than he’d ever spoken. “You bring light!”


She broke through the surface.

She swam back to shore, her ears ringing with the words she’d never truly understood. She’d spent years searching for who she’d been. Years that had taken her far from all she’d loved. Years spent looking for what she’d never lost. Then she’d returned to the home she’d abandoned and discovered what ten years of travel hadn’t shown her.

Darkness welcomed her as she ran from the shore, away from the sea that had almost swallowed her whole. Excitement pulsed through her with every step. The wind rushed at her now, blowing her dress around her feet. Her scarf was nowhere to be found.

How had it taken her so long to see? She wasn’t just The Girl From The Sea, The Fisherman’s Daughter, or someone who’d lost her identity. She was who she’d always been. She was Khanya. The light.
And that was all she ever needed to be.

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