Home > The Deep

The Deep
Author: Rivers Solomon


“IT WAS LIKE DREAMING,” SAID Yetu, throat raw. She’d been weeping for days, lost in a remembering of one of the first wajinru.

“Then wake up,” Amaba said, “and wake up now. What kind of dream makes someone lurk in shark-dense waters, leaking blood like a fool? If I had not come for you, if I had not found you in time…” Amaba shook her head, black water sloshing over her face. “Do you wish for death? Is that why you do this? You are grown now. Have been grown. You must put those childish whims behind you.” Amaba waved her front fins forcefully as she lectured her daughter, the movements troubling the otherwise placid water.

“I do not wish for death,” said Yetu, resolute despite the quiet of her worn voice.

“Then what? What else would make you do something so foolish?” Amaba asked, her fins a bevy of movement.

Yetu strained to feel Amaba’s words over the chorus of ripples, her skin drawn away from the delicate waves of speech and toward the short, powerful pulses brought on by her amaba’s gesticulations.

“Answer me!” Amaba said, her tone desperate and screeching.

Most of the time, Yetu kept her senses dulled. As a child, she’d learned to shut out what she could of the world, lest it overwhelm her into fits. But now she had to open herself back up, to make her body a wound again so Amaba’s words would ring against her skin more clearly.

Yetu closed her eyes and honed in on the vibrations of the deep, purposefully resensitizing her scaled skin to the onslaught of the circus that is the sea. It was a matter of reconnecting her brain to her body and lowering the shields she’d put in place in her mind to protect herself. As she focused, the world came in. The water grew colder, the pressure more intense, the salt denser. She could parse each granule. Individual crystals of the flaky white mineral scraped against her.

Even though Yetu always kept herself tense against the ocean’s intrusions, they found their way in; but with her senses freshly unreined, the rush of feeling was dizzying. This was nothing like the faraway throbbing she’d grown used to when she threw all her energy into repelling the world outside. The push and pull of nearby currents upended her. The flutter of a school of fangfish reverberated deep in her chest. How did other wajinru manage this all the time?

“Where did you go just now? Are you dreaming yet again?” asked Amaba, sounding more defeated than angry. Her voice cracked into splintered waves, rough against Yetu’s skin.

“I am here, Amaba. I promise,” said Yetu quietly, exhaustedly, though she wasn’t sure that was true. Adrift in a memory that wasn’t hers, she hadn’t been present when she’d brought herself to the sharks to be feasted upon. How could she be sure she was here now?

Yetu needed to recover her composure. She’d never done something that dangerous before. She had lost more control of her abilities than she’d realized. The rememberings were always drawing her backward into the ancestors’ memories—that was what they were supposed to do—but not at the expense of her life.

“Come to me,” said Amaba, several paces away. Too weak to argue, Yetu offered no protest. She resigned herself for now to do her amaba’s biddings. “You need medicine, child. And food. When did you last eat?”

Yetu didn’t remember, but as she took a moment to zero in on the emptiness in her stomach, she was surprised to find the pain of it was a vortex she could easily get lost in. She moved her body, examined its contours. She’d been withering away, and now there was little left of her but the base amounts of outer fat she needed to keep warm in the ocean’s deepest waters.

As evidenced by her encounter with the sharks, Yetu’s condition was worsening. With each passing year, she was less and less able to distinguish rememberings from the present.

“Eat these. They will help your throat heal,” said Amaba, drawing her daughter into her embrace. Yetu floated in the dense, black brine, her amaba’s fins a lasso about her torso. “Come, now. I said eat.” Amaba pressed venom leaves into Yetu’s mouth, humming a made-up lullaby as she did. Water waves from her voice stroked Yetu’s scales, and though Yetu usually avoided such stimulation, she was pleased to have a tether to the waking world as her connection to it grew more and more precarious. She needed frequent reminders she was more than a vessel for the ancestors’ memories. She wouldn’t let herself disappear. “Keep chewing. That’s good. Very good. Now swallow.”

Spurred by the promise of pain relief as much as by her amaba’s prodding, Yetu gagged the medicine down. Venom leaves slithered like slime down her throat and into her belly, and with every swallow she coughed.

“See? Isn’t that nice? Can you feel it working in you yet?”

Cradled in her amaba’s front fins, Yetu looked but a pup. It was fitting. In this moment, she was as reliant on Amaba’s care as she had been in infancy. She’d grown from colicky pup into mercurial adolescent into tempestuous adult, still sometimes in need of her amaba’s deep nurturing.

Given her sensitivity, no one should have been surprised that the rememberings affected Yetu more deeply than previous historians, but then everything surprised wajinru. Their memories faded after weeks or months—if not through wajinru biological predisposition for forgetfulness, then through sheer force of will. Those cursed with more intact long-term recollection learned how to forget, how to throw themselves into the moment. Only the historian was allowed to remember.

After several moments, the venom leaves took effect, and the pain in Yetu’s hoarse throat numbed. Other aches soothed too. The stiffness all but disappeared from her neck. Overworked muscles relaxed. Sedated, she could think more clearly now.

“Amaba,” Yetu said. She was calmer and in a state to better explain what had happened that morning: why she’d gone to the sharks, why she’d put herself in such danger, why she’d threatened the wajinru legacy so selfishly.

If Yetu died doing something reckless and the wajinru were not able to recover her body, the next historian would not be able to harvest the ancestors’ rememberings from Yetu’s mind. Bits of the History could be salvaged from the shark’s body, assuming they found it, but it was an incredible risk, and no doubt whole sections would be lost.

Worse, the wajinru didn’t know who was to succeed Yetu. They may not have had the memories to understand the importance of this fully, but they had an inkling. It had been plain to all for many years that Yetu was a creature on the precipice, and without a successor in place, they’d be lost. They’d have to improvise.

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