“I have a mermaid bone.”
My eyes widened. I wasn’t sure how to take in this piece of information, or how seriously. Erina stared at me intensely, expecting a reply.
She was a transfer student who came into my class not two weeks prior. She didn’t seem to fit in much, and was rather quiet. I wondered if there was something about her that made her not click with people, since I considered my class fairly welcoming to new members. I was one myself, not too long ago, and had made plenty of friends since then. I wasn’t even anyone impressive. I had no amazing scholastic achievements, no great figure, and no backgrounds in sports. I was just another secondary school girl, trying her best to study for high school entrance exam. Perhaps I would have been like her if I didn’t try to fit in. It was fortunate that those around me made it easy.
Maybe that was why I started to take notice. Erina was always keeping to herself, even though she sat in the middle of class. She was always quiet, but always seemed so distracted. During breaks, she just sat alone reading a book. I’m not quite sure what language it is; I only knew it read ‘Den lille havfrue’. It made me think she was a peculiar girl, but not unapproachable.
I caught her by the gate of the pier once, while walking home from class. It was one of those places where we were always told to not go near. It led down to an abandoned beach. Those with me advised against reaching out, so I didn’t. Still, I couldn’t help but notice her being there every time I passed by since then.
One day, I decided to go talk to her.
“Yoshizaki-san.” It took me a while to remember her family name. After all, this was the first time we’ve ever talked. She turned to look at me. “You shouldn’t be here. The teachers will scold you if they saw.”
“Here?” She replied with a quizzical bob of her head. I figured she simply didn’t know, since she probably only moved to town recently. “Is it dangerous?”
I was pleasantly surprised to hear her speak, since the occasion had never come up. I could sense an aching tenderness manifested her delicate, lifting voice. Her eyes alit with playful amusement, as if signalling the existence of a chaste shyness.
“I don’t know.” I truly didn’t, as I don’t tend to question adults. “But we’re told not to go down there, there must be a reason right?”
She gave me a tender look, and beamed. Her left hand slowly reached into her pocket, and pulled out a small ornament. She handed it to me for inspection.
“I found a mermaid bone.”
Her smile was luminous, and I was stunned. The object in my hand did somewhat look like bone, but it felt plastic. It was light and cold, nothing like what a human bone would be, from what I’ve been taught from biology class. What was a mermaid bone supposed to feel like? Erina did not seem like she was playing with me, and I could sense nothing but genuine sincerity from her radiant complexion.
This was the first opportunity I had to stay still and observe my eccentric classmate. Her hair was quite striking, tresses flowed a blonde river, sweeping at hip-level. Her features were round, heard-shaped, praised by a bright complexion. Her eyes were of dark, lustrous ebony. She wore the school uniform – bland and blank – same as I did, but like a glamourous dress, as if it was designed to match her willowy, shimmering contour.
“That’s amazing.” I finally found it in myself to utter a reply, seeing how candidly excited she was. “How did you get this?”
“I found it.” She pointed at the beach. “Down there.”
I looked at her, bemused. Did she really go down there? To call it rebellious would be blowing things out of proportions, but I don’t think she should be doing it either way.
“Yoshizaki-san.” I felt the need to advise her.
“Call me Erina.” There was no reserve in her voice.
I was taken aback by it, since it wasn’t something I was comfortable with. I certainly wouldn’t want people I barely knew to call me by my first name, especially without honorifics. At the same time, I was happy that she appeared so relaxed around me. It was then that I knew I wanted to become closer to this very curious girl.
“Is that ok?” I had discarded all that I wanted to say before.
She only replied with a sweetly encouraging smile.
A friend of mine came up to me the next day in class. She was with me until I talked to Erina the day before.
“So…” She held the back of my seat, and leaned towards at me. “What did you and the transfer student talk about?”
“Not much, we just watched the ocean.” I started to recall yesterday’s conversations, but they were rather blurry. There was just some sense of unnatural haze surrounding it all, but I definite had fun. “She’s not really weird, just introverted. I think.”
“Well she’s not talking to anyone but you. Are you going to talk to her at school too?”
“I don’t see why not.”
My friend never spoke of Erina again.
Since that day, Erina was starting to open up more, to me at least. She never was resistant to interacting other people, just unenthusiastic. I wished she would let others see the approachable side of her, because she would fit in so much better. She was a nice girl, and someone I was very glad to have befriended. That said, there was a little part of me that revelled in the fact that I seemed to be her only friend. It made me felt guilty. I tried getting her into groups, but she had never shown any interest. Only when we were alone did she bother to display her gleaming smile.
A week had passed by, and I noticed myself spending more and more time with her. She didn’t pay much attention to classes, or schoolwork in general; she just wanted to be around. As far as grades went, she sat right in the middle of the pack. We never talked about it either, as she somehow lead all conversations back to the sea, and made it incredibly enticing. Perhaps because her charm had captured me so completely, or I was just too excited a listener.
“Can I see the mermaid bone again?” We sat in the library, at a corner. She liked this spot purely for the sake of privacy, as she held no interest in studying. As for me, I was still mildly curious, since she always insisted it was the real thing, yet I had no reason to believe it was so. I did not, however, expect to receive a head shake in response. “I can’t?”
“I will show you, but it’s not with me.” Erina replied; her smile never faded. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. To my knowledge, she always carried it with her, except for today. I didn’t know if she was starting to think that I didn’t actually believe her. She may be right. “Do you want me to find one for you?”
That question caught me off guard. With how confident she sounded, I mentally prepared a very big surprise. I was still skeptical though, as I was taught. “Where?”
“Down from the beach entrance.”
Of course. That was where she got her original bone from, if her story was to be believed. It still sounded ridiculous to me, but I didn’t see the harm in trying.
Later that day, we walked back from school together, heading towards the pier again. Standing in front of the unlocked gate, I hesitated. I certainly didn’t want anyone to find us here, as we would get into trouble. However, the fact that Erina was with me, so very passionate about this, made me feel like I should just go along.
I found myself on the beach not long after, footwear discarded, just running atop the burning sand, looking for mermaid bones. Erina was doing the same. We laughed every time something we found turned out to be just another clam shell. I remembered it fondly as the most fun in freedom I’ve yet had. She occasionally dipped her feet in the water, her knees naively kept together. She would look back at me prowling on the sand, and blushed. I would join her, sticking my feet beneath the waves, and spraying about.
As the sunset exposed itself on the horizon, we stopped. I was tired, and so was she. Our backs against the concrete dam, we peered at the fiery globe at the end of the skyline. A group of clouds, vermillion shade and enigmatic in its movement, engulfed the sun like a blazing mist. It was beautiful, and the casting shadow served in highlighting her appearance.
“Can you lend me your shoulder?” she asked. I nodded, as her heads slowly descended next to mine. We basked in the flare of dusk.
“Hey.” My voice was vaguely slurred, a husky and quiet murmur dowsed in both doubt and delight. “Do you really think that there were mermaids here?”
“Maybe not.” She calmly answered, seemingly taken no offence. “Maybe there’s just no mermaid in this town.”
“We could always come back again.” Mermaid bones or not, today was truly wondrous. I would be lying otherwise. “Maybe one day we’ll find some.”
“Don’t tell anyone, ok?” Our gazes met. Those transcendent orbs stared at me, so sincere, pleadingly. “Forever.”
“Ok.” I replied without hesitation.
Her slim arms laced intractably, sensually, around my waist. I was happy. I was happy to be the only one whom she shared her secret. I was happy to be the only whom she spent any time with. Her fingers wrapped around mine, as we witnessed the daylight fading.
I never saw her again after that day.
I was told that she transferred out. The only thing she left behind was her foreign book, addressed specifically as something she left to me. It was an old Danish tale, of the mermaid who found her love on land, only to not have it returned, and so disappeared into sea foam. I still walked by the pier every now and again, looking out to the sea, admiring the falling sun.
I had yet to find anything but shells in the sand.