The Mermaids In The Delta

I heard this story in Sulina one night, while waiting for a plate of golden herrings about to come out of the oven, as a boy about 10 years old was running towards us from the direction of the sea and shouting at the top of his lungs: “Rusalfa! Rusalfa! I’ve seen a rusalfa!” “What did he see?” I wondered, not understanding him. “Rusalfa means mermaid in these places,” a local man enlightened me. “These kids see fairy tales all around!” “But this is not a fairy tale at all!” protested an old fisherman who was holding a bowl full of herrings fried “on cardboard”. “I saw one myself two days ago. She had white skin and blond hair.” “Sure, she’d just come out of the hairdressers’,” the local man winked at me. “Getting old makes no difference to you, Artimon.” “Why wouldn’t he see one?” I asked, happy to have finally found the pretext for the article I was going to write. “Ulysses saw Sirens in the Odyssey, didn’t he?” “Maybe in the Mediterranean Sea, where water is warmer…” “Andersen saw the Little Mermaid in the icy water of the North Sea,” I challenged the local man who would not believe in fairy tales. “Vikings were convinced mermaids existed, Germans named them undines, Poles and Russians – rusalka, the people from New Guinea – Ilkai, Ri or Tama Ri. Moreover, recently a scientific expedition was planned to confirm the theory of the great Austrian scholar Hans Haas, who came to the conclusion that man is descended from fish. And there’s this American paleontologist who saw that Darwin and Haas’ theories did not rule each other out, but complemented each other, as if Darwin got on the ‘tram’ at Ape Stop while Haas got on at Fish Stop.” Later on, I became convinced of this truth when old Artimon told me a true story about a dolphin: He was born far away, in warmer waters, but as he was a fair-skinned dolphin, had felt the coldness of those around him. His mother may have been the only one to show him a little love, protect him, and teach him who his friends and his enemies were. All the others – dolphins, jellyfishes, the fish, even the sharks, his fiercest foes according to his mother – would shun him. Only later, when he was no longer a baby-dolphin, did he realize that, although life among the wonderful waves was beautiful, being a white dolphin wasn’t easy. One day, while he was sadly going with the waves, he met a man. At first he felt scared, and only when the man approached him with gentleness and started to talk to him did he refrain from running away. It was the first time someone wouldn’t keep him at a distance. The man kept coming back to that place and they were getting along very well: they were swimming together and talking, and one day the man asked: “Will you come with me? “Where?” asked the dolphin. “To meet other people.” “What, you’re not one of a kind?” His friend laughed, and the dolphin liked it so much that he learned how to laugh too. They laughed and laughed, until suddenly the man saw black clouds coming from out at sea and, worried, he said: “A storm is coming!” “So? I’ve known it for some time,” the dolphin laughed. “Why didn’t you tell me then?” the man frowned. “I thought you like storms too.” “I don’t, storms are a man’s enemy.” “Are they like sharks?” “No, worse!” “I didn’t know that. I’ll protect you, I’m not afraid of storms.” Whipped by the furious gale, the sea waves rose as high as houses, and the man’s boat tipped over. “I’m drowning!” he cried desperately. “What’s ‘drowning’? Why are you afraid?” the dolphin wondered. “Just hold on to my fin!” The storm only subsided late at night. Exhausted, the man was kept afloat by the dolphin, who was towing him slowly towards the shore. “Why don’t you speak? You can speak so nicely, and now you keep silent. Are you mad at me? I thought man likes storms too. I didn’t imagine it could harm you. You were so strong… you would scare away even sharks!” At dawn, when the fishermen’s boats were getting ready to set out to sea, one of them saw a big, white creature dragging a man to the shore. Amazed and frightened, he sounded the alarm, and together with the other fishermen he pulled the castaway out of the water. Although the dolphin was at first scared at seeing so many people, he realized that they were all like his friend, so he stayed close, hoping to see the man he held so dear again. This is how the “white dolphin” was brought to the arena of the Constanta Aquarium. There, other people taught him to dance, slide down a chute, leap through circles. He feels good in the company of humans, he loves children especially, as they laugh and laugh, as only children can. But he is still missing that man, the first man he ever met, and is convinced that the man is waiting for him at the place known only to the two of them. Recently he has learned a new figure: the high jump. On his very first attempt he jumped so high that he could see, over the edge of the pool, the frothy waves of the sea. It even seemed to him that he had seen the man who couldn’t have forgotten him and was certainly waiting for him in his boat, laughing. And he felt like crying. Because, if man taught him to laugh, crying he learned, just like man, by himself.

by Iuliu Raţiu (1930-2009)