The girl they found in the sea was a stranger.
They pulled her onto the beach and marvelled at her strange clothes. A little boy, who was more heart-broken than scared, asked if she were a mermaid. A man, more scared than heartless, laughed emptily.
The small group that had gathered looked out to the sea, wondering how many more cloth-swaddled limp-limbed people there were, drifting their way.
There was a sadness to it all that was offensive to some.
“Throw her back,” Sam Murdock said.
Inconveniently for him, she was still alive.
A woman turned the girl on her side and rubbed her back. Her voice was a murmur as constant as the sigh of the sea.
“It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright.”
Some wanted to take her to the village, care for her, look after her until she was better.
Aggie Dawes was livid. “How long for? And we’ll give her food, will we? And we’ll pay for her care, will we?”
“So what do you want, to leave her here?” Thomas was a teacher, it was him who’d comforted the boy when he’d realised the girl was not a mermaid, but a victim of the tide.
He knew the turn of the world. He knew the noise of the playground never ended.
Voices turned on him. “Who is she? What does she want? What’s she even wearing?”
What did any of these things matter? Thomas wasn’t sure. She was not a threat, an obstacle, or a burden. She was not dangerous, only marked by a dangerous journey.
“She’s a person,” he said, calmly as he could.
But it was as if they hadn’t realised their manner had suggested anything else.
A constant, yet unclear, fear had made them afraid. It had turned the water dark, opaque.
“She belongs in the sea,” someone muttered.
The woman tending her looked up. “She’s just a girl, she doesn’t belong anywhere.”
But this thought was not as clear as others in their minds.
They all argued then. With a fierceness that was as wild as it was incomplete.
Above, the sun fell low, while the voices climbed higher.
Eventually, Murdock glanced down at the girl, and a terrible relief went through him.
It’s alright, he thought.