Chapter 1: Perfect Mayas and Smiling Pirates
I failed to comprehend how small fish can stand being in the ocean. It's terrifying. Imagine being a small, miniscule fish in a vast and seemingly endless ocean, whilst majority of the larger inhabitants are trying to eat you as part of their daily nourishment. Imagine being so annoyingly insignificant that you could and would be forgotten in a matter of a few seconds. Imagine living in a dark abyss, which can only be likened to space in its search for a worthy opponent.
I fear the ocean. More so than normal people. I fear its size, its larger inhabitants, its depth and its darkness. But mostly I fear the horrors it is capable of holding within itself. Perhaps that's why I can stare at it endlessly. We always watch the objects of our affection and our fear with equal interest.
It was nearly six in the morning. Almost time to leave the beach and go back to the new house and start getting ready for the new school. The new house was cozy. It definitely had potential. Potential to become a home, given the right set of residents. I'm not sure my family – my recently widowed, grieving mother, my six year old sister - and I were the ideal occupants.
During my last few minutes at the beach I thought about love. I'm not sure what prompted the thought, perhaps my mother's recent loss of her one and only lover, or perhaps the absence of a better topic. Nevertheless, love was the thought. The last time I felt anything close to love, I lost out to a pretty, and somewhat sweet, cheerleader. My boyfriend, Jason, cheated on me with her. At first I was devastated, I did not take the loss of love lightly, but eventually I forced myself to fall out of love with him. It was hard. But not impossible. Perhaps it wasn't love to begin with, but extreme infatuation. I could not say. Jason apologized, and so did the cheerleader, both blaming their inebriated state. But the damage was done. The mess was made. The relationship was dead.
Jason often declared his love for me. And he still cheated. I decided in that moment that I didn't want love anymore. Nor did I want infatuation. Love is a joke. A myth that our parents coax us into believing. A perfect illusion. The ultimate illusion. The ultimate maya.
I stood up and dusted my pants and begin to walk away from the ocean, all the while watching it over my shoulder. I feared it would swallow me whole when I wasn't looking, and I would be trapped in its depths for the rest of time.
"Shelly's waiting at the breakfast table. Alice has made pancakes. You Dad and I are leaving for work. Have a nice day, sweetie."
"You too, mom. Bye."
Michael hurried down the stairs and took his place at the breakfast table. The cook, Alice, placed a stack of pancakes before him and walked out to yell bloody murder at the gardener for stealing her pies, and then to sneak a quickie behind the rose bushes with the aforementioned man. Their affair was a secret one, and the daily routine of quarrelling was a sufficient cover up. Michael smirked in amusement as the first few rifts of their argument made it over to his ears. He was pretty sure Alice hadn't even made any pies today.
He picked up the morning paper and began to skim through it. He was checking out the close up photograph of the latest winner of the Miss World contest before he was interrupted by Shelly.
"Yes, Albert?" Michael asked, without taking his eyes off the paper.
"Do not call me Albert!"
"I like Albert. It fits."
"Just because I'm smart like Einstein, doesn't mean I have to adopt his ugly ass name."
"It stays." Michael said firmly, as he spared her a glance over his newspaper. "Honestly, it's been ten years now. Get used to it already."
Shelly fumed as she buttered her toast. She hated pancakes. Michael loved pancakes. These were the days she regretted eating breakfast at her best friend's house. But he was her ride to school and since her parents left for work early, if she wanted any sustenance in the morning, this was her one and only option. She also hated the name Albert.
"If I knew you would be referring to me as Albert for the rest of my life, I would never have come over ten years ago to introduce myself to your family." Her parents were always busy with work and since they couldn't be bothered, she'd come down next door to welcome her new neighbors in their place. Their only son, Michael, went to her school and the friendship was instant and long lasting.
"And then we would never have been friends." Michael said, almost wistfully.
After a couple of minutes, Shelly broke the silence again.
"Yes, Albert?" Shelly almost chucked her toast at him, but then decided to eat it instead.
"There's a rumor going around the girls in school."
"Is it about me?"
"Why else would I bring it up? You know I hardly ever gossip."
"Ah. So it is about me!" Michael looked pleased.
"Well you are the sole object of affection of almost every girl of our grade. Personally, I think it's your attitude, family wealth and social standing and not your looks that attract the female section of our educational institution."
"Yes, Albert, I am well aware that you think Parker is better endowed than me in the looks department."
"He is," Shelly said, letting out a dreamy sigh, "and don't ever let anyone convince you otherwise. Anyways, back to the rumor. Tara told me that you told Natalie that you really like her."
"I know that."
"What's your point?"
"Just that. You don't like her. It's wrong to tell her otherwise." Shelly hated having to point out the obvious to him, but someone had to do it.
"I told her what she wanted to hear."
"She wanted to hear the truth."
"No, she wanted to hear that I really liked her, so that her conscience would let her sleep with me. I told her what she wanted to hear."
"She's sweet, Mikey."
"Please let her down gently."
"Anything for you, Albert."
Shelly got up to deposit her plate in the sink. Alice was probably busy with the gardener.
"Mikey," Shelly said, as she watched him drop his plate in the sink and go to get his car keys from the foyer, "when will you stop sleeping with random girls?"
Michael turned back to reply, "When I find the one."
"That's terribly cliché."
"Let me finish," Michael said with a quiet smile, "When I find the one worthy of my obsession."
"That's creepy. You should be looking for the one worthy of your love."
"Love is overused, Albert. Someone as passionate as me looks for an obsession." He flashed her a quick smile as he walked out of the kitchen and headed towards the car.
The town looked familiarly quiet as I drove to school. I had lived here ten years ago with my parents. We had left town because my father got a better paying job elsewhere. After his death, we moved back here, since mom couldn't bear to live in our old house. Moving back here was my idea. It was a small peaceful town and its silence comforted me.
My new school was large and impressive. After parking my car, I walked to the principal's office to be welcomed and pick up my schedule.
Twenty minutes later, I walked out of the principal's office towards my locker, books and locker combination in hand. The books were getting heavy and my hands were growing tired. Out of nowhere a boy appeared and before I could swerve, he walked straight into me. The books I was holding went flying out of my hands and crashed to the ground. I bent down to pick them up and after muttering a quick apology, he did the same. After collecting majority of them, save the last two which he held securely in his hand, we both stood up. He handed the books to me and repeated his apology. Such a nice boy, I thought. I flashed him a genuine smile and turned to walk away. As I did, I felt a hand grab my arm and pull me back. I glanced up at him, confused, and found him staring at me. As I stared back he leaned slightly forward and looked into my eyes. A flash of recognition flickered through his eyes and he pulled back and smiled. I looked at him questioningly.
"When you smile, you get a twinkle in your eyes," the boy said, amused, "and your smile holds secrets that others cannot begin to comprehend. As if you're going to devour them of all that they possess. It's borderline evil even. Pirate's smile."
I gasped in recognition. Michael.
Ten years ago, when I was seven, I sat at the beach, mourning the upcoming move. My dad had found a better job. We were leaving. The town that I called home was no longer going to deserve that title. I sighed as I continued to build my last sand castle at the beach.
"You know, if you build your castle this close to the water, it will be washed away soon."
I glanced at the newcomer. A boy of about the same age as me stared at my castle with interest.
"I know that," I replied, "but I'll be long gone before that happens."
"Why?" he asked, while sitting down opposite me, the castle resting in between us.
"I'm moving out of this town." I wondered if he caught the sorrow and resignation in my voice.
"Oh. I just moved into this town" He looked up from the sand castle to me and then the ocean.
I went back to building my sand castle. A few minutes later, I glanced at the setting sun. Almost time to leave.
"Does the ocean scare you?" The boy asked me quietly.
"No. What's there to be scared off?"
"Do you know how big it is? Very big. So big, that millions of sea animals live inside it. Small ones, and really big ones that eat the small ones. Like sharks and whales."
"That may be a bit scary."
"Let me finish. I want you to imagine that you're a fish. A small, tiny one. You live with your happy family. You love them. They keep you happy and satisfied. Then one day a big, hungry shark comes along. It takes one look at you and your happy family and decides that you would make a very good meal. So it begins to chase you. You and your family, run, like the prey you are. Or swim. Very fast. But the shark's faster. You find a rock to hide behind, but you family is not that lucky. Little by little, piece by piece, the shark tears every single member of your family to shreds. There is blood everywhere. Blood of family members. But there is nothing you can to do to help them. You're too small. Too tiny. The shark is about fifty times your size. The ocean is getting darker with blood. Then the shark spots you. Slowly it comes towards you, and before you can swim away it catches you in its jaws. You can feel its sharp teeth sinking into your little body. You can feel pain. Unbearable pain. But there's nothing you can do. Slowly you're eaten like the rest of your family, and the last thing you see is the large empty black ocean, which will not remember you."
I stared at him, horrified. Was the ocean really that terrible? Was it really that big? Did something like that actually happen? I voiced my questions.
"Something like that happens everyday in the ocean. My uncle told me that. See, now you're scared of the ocean." He exclaimed, almost triumphantly.
I nodded fearfully. We sat in silence for a little while, staring straight ahead at the water. I couldn't take my mind off what he had just told me. When, I finally stopped thinking, I realized it was time to go. I made to get up, the boy held out his hand.
"My name is Michael. What's yours?"
"Kaaya," I shook his hand and smiled.
He pulled me closer and stared at me. My smile disappeared. "What are you staring at, Michael?"
"When you smile, you get a twinkle in your eyes, and your smile holds secrets that others cannot begin to comprehend. As if you're going to devour them of all that they possess. It's borderline evil even. Pirate's smile."
I smiled at him again and started walking away. I looked back one last time to stare at the ocean. He sat there, his front facing the setting sun, the ocean stretching out before him. I remembered his story and shivered. From that day on, I was terrified of oceans.
I looked at the boy standing before me disbelievingly. It couldn't be.
"Michael?" I stared at him, wishing him away.
He appeared pleased that I remembered. His lips curved in a smirk as he turned around to walk away.