In my country we have a legend about a beautiful mermaid that haunts the seas. When she encounters a ship, she asks the sailors if her beloved Great King is still alive.
If they answer that he “lives and conquers the world” she will calm the waters and bid the ship farewell. If sailors make the mistake to tell her that her dear king is dead – which is the truth – the beautiful mermaid will turn into a fury. Enraged with grief and anger, she will stir up a terrible storm, dooming the ship and every sailor on board.
Either the story made a strong impression on me when I was a child or the heart of a widow is like the stormy sea… Whatever the reason, I am now like the mermaid in the legend. Only I don’t haunt the sea, but the graveyard at night when the spirits of the dead appear. I don’t need to ask if my husband is alive – I know the answer. I lost him suddenly and now I miss him so much—
“Have you seen my husband? Do you know where I can find him?”
I wish that spirits were as talkative as the sailors are with the siren in the legend. Sadly for me, spirits just mind their own business and keep ignoring me night after night. They won’t even deign as much as a gaze or a comforting word to me. It is as if I don’t exist for them.
How does the damned mermaid manage to stop ships in the middle of the sea while I cannot get the attention of insubstantial entities made of light and air?
Maybe this is my fault – maybe it is the way I am dressed. I am in a black corset with a long tail that shows my legs in black stockings over the knee. My red hair is loose on my shoulders and I wear a black hat with a veil. I know that this is not a decent outfit for a widow that visits the graveyard at night. But I have to keep wearing what I had arrayed myself in when I lost my husband in order to see him back. This is clear to me, never mind how irrational it sounds. Also, I doubt that my sexy lingerie shocks the spirits. Most of them just have a gauzy long robe on and it is so transparent that they could be naked. Others are dressed in colored rags as if they were attending a masked ball for cartoons. No, I don’t think they care about my attire…
“Hey- you…??? Could you please tell me if you’ve seen my husb…???” I don’t have time to finish my question. This spirit just whooshes by and vanishes. Yes, some spirits do this.
The older spirits are sitting in a lotus position above the graves and emit a soft light while meditating; they look like giant firefly Buddhist monks. Lost in their thoughts, they don’t care about my presence. The younger spirits wander among the graveyard stones. Some gaze at the stars as if they were somehow exchanging secrets with them while others close their eyes as if to enjoy a divine perfume – or just the scent diffused by the flowers in the graveyard. Taken in their strong sensations, they don’t pay heed to me either. I go behind them and I ask politely in a soft voice, I beg, I shout, I swear, I cry. All is to no avail – nobody cares about me.
Before the twilight all spirits vanish into thin air, leaving the graveyard empty and me, bitter, alone and angry. If I had the magic powers of the mermaid in the legend, I would cause havoc in the sea of the spirits and ruin their annoying silence. As it is, my soul, alone, is agitated like a sea in tempest. Every night brings a new deception, a new frustration. And yet, I return night after night to start it all over again. I don’t remember how I go back home in the morning. I only know that I sink into a sound, dreamless sleep until time comes to return to the graveyard.
The doctor said that I am too upset; that I cannot accept the death of my husband. He gave me pills and he told me to follow a therapy. I did not comply with his advice. I think that the pills might have done some good, yet I don’t want to take them. If I do, they’ll make me sleep and I won’t be able to go to the graveyard. I need to be close to my love, even if I cannot find him for the moment. I try to keep my courage; I know that I must not give up. But it is so difficult!! Night after night, I return at the graveyard; I stand beside the gravestone without a name engraved on it and I keep asking the spirits the same question. I wish they would answer – if only they were not so selfish and absorbed into their own whimsical tasks! They stay silent and indifferent to my anxiety; only the moon watches me with sympathy and sends her silver compassionate light to comfort me. Under the moonlight, the spirits seem so peaceful and satisfied in their quietude… Why cannot I be like them?
“Hey – sister…”
What a beautiful surprise!! One of the spirits stands beside me and actually talks to me. I am so happy I almost want to hug her. But the question has absolute priority.
“Have you seen my husband? Do you know where I can find him?”
She is very young – almost a child. Her white dress seems made of moonlight-silk and her blond waist-length hair is bedecked with flowers. She reminds me of Ophelia on romantic paintings or of beautiful fairies on fantasy pictures. She locks her beautiful blue eyes on me and looks somewhat lost. Maybe I have embarrassed her with my impatience and my dry tone of voice…
“Don’t be afraid, dear. Please tell me whatever you want to say.”
She still thinks for a while (in spite of my encouraging words). When she speaks again, her voice comes to my ears, soft and melodious, like the breeze caressing the blossoms of a cherry tree on a spring evening. “Sister,” she whispers in her singing voice, “your husband is not among us. You… You are the one who died. You have to accept this; you will be more peaceful. The elders say to leave you alone; they say that you are confused and you just need time. But I am sad to see you so upset every night. I thought I had to tell you…”
For a few moments, I stand motionless and wide-eyed like a madman’s statue. Is this their sense of humor? Well, I don’t like it. I won’t allow them to play their stupid jokes on me; I won’t let them laugh at me. I shout on the spirit that looks like a fairy. I curse her, I call her names. She shrugs and leaves. Nobody laughs while I keep shouting. They remain peaceful and I become exhausted.
Lonely, ignored and frustrated – I cannot take any more. I sit on the gravestone without a name, I swallow three of the pills the doctor gave me a few days back and I cry. I shed so many tears and I feel so empty and dark inside me that I am like a bottomless well.
One night, long ago, I dreamed of a demon that blew on a green prairie; his breath was cold and the more he blew the frozen the place became. I shivered in my sleep – the room was probably not well heated. Now the same unbearable cold is inside me. My heart is as frozen as the breath of the demon in my nightmare; my whole being is cold like the nameless gravestone on which I am sitting.
I hear a flap of wings. That is strange. Most of the spirits seem to glide above the ground; to float in the air, but they are wingless. I turn my wet eyes where the sound comes from. Not that I care; my gaze is just automatically attracted to that direction.
A raven stands among the flowers of the grave beside the one I am sitting on and stares at me with its black eyes. “Follow me,” says the raven to me.
I stand motionless with a vacant stare. I don’t like ravens. They make me think of that poem that made me feel so sad when we read it at school. It was about a man who had just lost his wife; a raven mysteriously appeared to him and told him he would nevermore see her again. A raven is the last thing I need now – and definitely not one that talks in a human voice.
“Follow me,” caws the raven in its coarse voice.
I obey – I get up and follow it. I don’t want to do this; it just seems like the only choice I have. Soon, we are lost into a thick mist. What else would you expect when you follow a dark messenger? I close my eyes and take a deep breath. The crow flaps its wings. We keep flying – now, this is weird. I’m supposed to follow the crow, but it seems that I have mounted it and I have no idea where it takes me. Finally, it lets me down. Reluctantly, I open my eyes and look around me. When I realize where I am, my heart pounds in my chest and I don’t care about the crow or anything else any more.
I am in a garden. Not in the graveyard – in the beautiful garden of the romantic cafeteria where we used to sit with my husband even before we married. Our place. And he is here, he sits at our table and he is waiting for me.
When my husband sees me, he rises; he steps toward me and embraces me. “You are late, darling,” he says. At hearing his voice, I forget everything – the graveyard, the spirits, my bitterness, my former sorrow have left my mind as though they had vanished into thin air. Feeling cheerful and light-headed, I sit with him. We chat and we laugh and we enjoy coffee and the flavour of hot chocolate and the freshly baked iced cupcakes I like so much. It is as if we have never parted; all the graveyard stuff seems like a bad dream.
He takes my hand in his. “I love you,” he says.
“I love you too,” I reply, my eyes filled with tears.
He approaches his face to mine and softly kisses my lips. “I will love you forever,” he whispers to my ear.
We kiss again. I am dizzy and filled with joy and the world turns so as when I was on a carousel when I was a child. I feel his lips on mine and I am so complete and happy now I am with my beloved; I love him so much that it is difficult to put in words. We will always love each other.
Am I the dead one? I cannot say for sure. What I feel right now is that in this zone the limit between life and death is blurred; love is the only thing that matters. In this place the living and the dead can meet. Maybe we are in a dream or in another reality. Do the dead dream? I don’t know. What I know is that I will definitely come back and see my beloved again. When and how often will this happen? I don’t know and I don’t care. I’ll wait. We just have to keep thinking of each other and that we will do.
For the first time since a very long time, I am peaceful and filled with positive and sweet thoughts. I can say that this won’t last forever. But now that I know about the zone I will no longer be as upset as I was before I came here – I hope I’ll be more quiet!! Is this knowledge that keeps the spirits so calm…? Enough! There will be plenty of time for doubts and questions later.
A soothing sound that reminds me of sea waves echoes in my mind. I think of the mermaid in the legend – the one who roamed the seas and asked the sailors about her beloved king.
Now, I know exactly what she felt when the sailors gave her the answer she expected: her soul was like the quiet sea on which the ship she waved good-bye kept sailing.