Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Fish Who Grew Legs

Folk Tales of the Sea People is nearing an end--this is the second to last story! A tale of hope and transformation.

The Fish Who Grew Legs, July 2014
The Fish Who Grew Legs

There was once a large fish. His name was Shui, and he had scales of blue with black stripes, and bright yellow fins. He lived in a sea not far from here, amongst others of his kind and close to a village of Nereids.
Shui envied the Nereids, for they were slender and fast, and had not tails but beautiful legs, which allowed them to walk upon the land, should they wish it.
When Shui watched the Nereids, he thought that he should be one of them. He, too, wanted to play in the water and visit the land. He wished he had legs to wiggle instead of his tail, and thought that surely he should have been born with them. But when Shui told his friends that he wanted to be a Nereid, they laughed at him.
“You cannot be a Nereid,” they said. “For you have no legs, and your face is that of a fish, and your body is that of a fish, and you are fish through and through.”
“My heart is one of a Nereid!” insisted Shui. “Though my body is that of a fish, I cannot change my heart.”
His friends laughed so hard that Shui swam away, sad.

It so happened that a Nereid boy found him. Though Shui was a big fish – bigger than the boy – the Nereid was not afraid, for he knew fish to be gentle.
“Why are you sad?” asked the Nereid.
“Because I have the body of a fish and the heart of a Nereid, and everybody laughs at me,” said Shui.
The Nereid patted Shui’s head. “They’re very mean,” he said. “You can be a Nereid if you want to be.”
“How can I go to the land without legs?” asked Shui.
“You cannot walk on the land without legs, but you can come and live with me and my mother and father and brothers and sisters, and they will welcome you as another son and brother, and you can live as though you are a Nereid, too,” said the boy simply.
Shui thought this was better than going home, where he was only laughed at, so he agreed. “If your parents allow it, I would be grateful,” he said. It would be better to live among Nereids as one of their kind, than to be mocked among fish.
The boy led Shui home and his parents took pity upon him, and agreed that he must live with them. Shui shared a room with the boy and his brothers, and each night they told each other silly stories, until their parents came to tell them to go to sleep.
During the day, Shui helped with the chores of the house. He found that he was best at digging the garden, for he could burrow at the earth with his nose, and his new parents were very pleased.
Shui was happy amongst the Nereids, who accepted him as one of their own and never spoke of him as though he were different. He ate their food and enjoyed their music and stories, sometimes making music and telling stories of his own.

There came a day when Grandmother visited. She lived in a different village across the sea, and Shui felt nervous of meeting her.
“Goodness, why is there a big fish in the house?” asked Grandmother as soon as she entered.
Shui hung his head sadly. Nobody had called him a fish since he left his old village. To be called so now was disheartening and he realised he had deluded himself in thinking that he could be a Nereid.
“He’s not a fish, he’s my brother,” said the boy who had first found Shui. “His name is Shui and his heart is of a Nereid, so he came to live with us.”
“Is that true?”
“As true as the toes on my feet,” said Mother.
“Well, let me speak to my new grandson,” said Grandmother. She sent for Shui, who was so upset that he had to be calmed by his sisters and accompanied by them when he entered the room. “You must be Shui,” said Grandmother. She looked upon Shui kindly and held out a hand. “My, aren’t you a fine young man? Now, let me hear how you came to be here.”
Shyly, Shui told her of his wish to be a Nereid, and how his heart felt like that of a Nereid despite his having the body of a fish, and that his friends had laughed at him when he revealed his truth.
“Well!” exclaimed Grandmother, patting his head. “A true friend would not laugh so. If your heart says that you are a Nereid, then a Nereid you are, and as my new grandson, you must be certain to call me Grandmother.”
“Thank you, Grandmother,” said Shui, consoled by her kindness.

Grandmother took charge in the house for her stay, and the next day she sent all of Shui’s brothers and sisters off to the surface. Shui was sad that he could not join them, for he was unable to walk upon the land without legs. But Grandmother summoned him once again, and gave him a bottle of little pills.
“I sent your siblings away so that I might give you this in secret,” she said. “Take one every day and think hard about your wish to become a Nereid.”
“Thank you, Grandmother,” said Shui, unsure of what the pills would do.
Mother, who was watching, joined them and wrapped an arm around her uncertain adopted son. “Grandmother is magic,” she explained. “Your brothers and sisters like her to make magic for them, but sometimes they can be a bother.”
“I used the last of my magic in making those pills, so be certain to take them,” said Grandmother. “And hide them from your siblings.”
“I promise,” said Shui.
Grandmother left the next day, and Shui waved her goodbye, along with his Nereid family.

Taking pills from a bottle was difficult with the body of a fish, so Shui entrusted Mother with the task of helping him. He got up every morning before his brothers and sisters, and Mother gave him one of the pills.
They hid the bottle inside a vase, where nobody would find it, and every day Shui would meditate upon his desire to become a Nereid.
Over time, he felt more and more certain that he could become a Nereid. Had his body not become more slender, and his bright scales faded to the pale pink of Nereid flesh? Shui had even begun to find hair growing upon himself: little golden locks had begun to sprout upon his head.
Sometimes, Shui felt a little strange and his mind clouded and his body tingled, but he thought little of it, sure it was because he’d worked too hard, or played too long, or had too much wine.
He continued to take the pills, trusting in Grandmother’s magic.

One day, when he and his siblings were playing in the house, his oldest sister knocked down the vase that held the pills. It rolled across the shelf and the bottle fell out. Only a few pills remained, and they rattled noisily inside.
“What on earth is this?” asked the oldest sister, picking up the bottle.
Shui felt a rush of panic. “It’s mine!” he exclaimed, hurrying towards her to take it back.
But his sister thought that Shui was playing, so she grinned and tossed the bottle to the youngest sister, who threw it to her little brother, who threw it to the middle brother. None of them would let Shui take the bottle. They tossed it around, not realising that Shui was becoming upset, and thinking it was all a great, fun game, such as they had played outside a great many times.
“Give it to me!” Shui cried. He raced towards his middle sister, who squealed and threw the bottle aside. It was caught by his oldest brother, the brother who found him long ago when he was sad, and had brought him home. “Please,” said Shui. “Give it back.” He was starting to feel a little strange again, and really wished his siblings would stop playing and return his bottle of pills to him, so that he could lie down and rest.
His brother rattled the bottle and tossed it upward, aiming toward the brother who stood behind Shui. Shui saw his chance and darted toward the bottle as it sailed over his head, already knowing it was higher than he could reach. All of a sudden, his tail tingled and split in two. As he leapt upward to catch the bottle, his tail transformed into a wonderful pair of legs, slender and strong, with a foot and five toes on the end of each. Shui kicked his new legs and caught the bottle in his fish-mouth.
“Shui grew legs!” exclaimed his youngest sister. She ran from the room, calling for Mother. “Mother, Mother! Shui grew legs!”
“How did you grow legs?” asked the middle brother.
Shui set the bottle on the shelf, beside the fallen vase. Grandmother had told him not to tell his brothers and sisters of the pills, so he could not tell them the truth. “I just did,” he said, looking down at his lovely new legs.
Mother rushed in and caught sight of Shui. “Oh Shui, I am so happy for you!” She hugged him joyfully. Noting the pills on the shelf, she added, “And you found my old pills, too. I wondered where they went to.”
Shui was grateful of her rescue, and Mother took the pills away, ignoring her childrens’ questions of what they were for.

Shui continued to take the pills in secret, and spent much time meditating upon his desire to become a Nereid, until the day that the pills ran out. Mother sent word to Grandmother that the pills were all gone, but Grandmother’s reply was that there were no more to be had.
Shui felt sad and defeated. He was so close to becoming a Nereid! His body was slender now, and no longer blue and black with yellow fins, but fleshy pink all over. More hair had grown from his head, so whilst he remained a fish from the waist up, he now had long, wavy golden locks, which his sisters loved to braid for him so that it did not get in his way when he worked in the garden.

There came a day when Shui met a lovely Nereid, who was visiting her aunt, Shui’s neighbour. She was a pretty young woman with dark eyes and blue hair, and she stopped to talk to Shui on her way back from the grocer.
“Hello there,” she said. “You must be Shui.” Her aunt had told her of the neighbour with the fish-head and Nereid-legs.
“That is right,” said Shui, stopping in his work. “You must be the neighbour’s niece.”
The young woman nodded. “I’m Su.” She smiled. “Aunt told me she had a neighbour with the finest legs she had seen on a Nereid, and now I see that it is true.”
Her words made Shui happy, and he remembered Grandmother’s words upon the first time they met: ‘If your heart says that you are a Nereid, then a Nereid you are.’
“Thank you,” he said. “I grew them.”
Su seemed impressed. “Aunt told me so, but I had to see it to believe it. How remarkable you are, Shui!”
Shui felt warm inside, but also a little strange. His heart raced and his fins tingled. He wished that he had the body of a Nereid to match his heart, for he thought the woman before him was beautiful and wanted to ask her to dinner. But despite her interest, he was certain she would not want to eat with a half-formed Nereid like himself.
“Are you quite okay?” asked Su. “Only you seem a little pale.”
“Thank you, Su, I am fine,” replied Shui. “I have been working a little too hard, I believe!”
“Then here,” Su opened up her bag and took out a fruit. “I got these from the Grocer. Take it, they’re delicious.”
Shui felt awkward, for he could not easily take things with his fins, and using his mouth seemed rude. He would have to do his best with his fins, he thought, and hope he didn’t drop the fruit and embarrass himself. As he reached forward, his fins shuddered, and suddenly lengthened and grew, and to the surprise of both Su and Shui, he took the fruit with a long-fingered hand. Shui stared at his hand, which clutched the fruit. It had five perfect fingers, and was attached to a toned arm. Shui smiled happily. “I have arms!” he exclaimed. Meanwhile, his heart screamed to him: ‘I am a Nereid! I will always be a Nereid!’
“So I see!” Su said in amazement. “How wonderful!”
Shui suddenly felt very dizzy, and fell to the ground in a faint. When he opened his eyes again, he found that Su had knelt beside him, and was holding his hand.
“You gave me a fright,” she said. “And showed me quite a spectacle.”
At that moment, Mother and Father returned from the market. They rushed over when they saw their adopted son on the ground.
“Oh Shui!” exclaimed Father. “Look what happened to you!”
Mother knelt down and took hold of Shui’s other hand. “We must write to Grandmother at once,” she smiled.
They helped Shui to his feet, and took him into the house, where they showed him his reflection in a long mirror. What Shui saw made him happy. Gone were his fins, his scales, and his fish-features. Instead he had the body of a Nereid, from the top of his head to the tip of his toes, slender and strong and fleshy. His hair was silken and his face clever, his eyes bright blue and lively. Shui smiled at his reflection, and cried tears of joy, for at last his body matched the feelings in his heart.

When Shui’s brothers and sisters returned from the surface that day, they danced with him in delight at his transformation. The family organised a grand meal to celebrate Shui’s success, and Grandmother was sent for and Su and her aunt were invited too.
Su could not take her eyes off of Shui, and Shui felt very excited for what the future might hold.
Shui never forgot his gratitude for his family: for the boy who found him, the parents who took him in as their own, the siblings who played with him and the grandmother who gave him the magical pills. So he worked hard to become rich and successful, and gifted his family with the finest things he could afford.
And when, one day, a friend came to him and confided that he felt certain he should have been born a Selkie, Shui did not laugh. Instead, he patted his friend’s shoulder kindly, and advised him to call his Grandmother, and most importantly, to never forget what is in his heart.

Lucky old Shui, eh? Grandmothers are certainly full of knowledge. Though Shui had hard times, he soldiered on and trusted in what she had told him, and his dreams were realised. Hurrah! 

Read More Folk Tales of the Sea People on the tag. 

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