By BARRY VAN-ASTEN
PEGAMINA AND THE DANCING MERMAID
Pretty things were all she thought about, for they reminded her of her mother’s love. When she heard the birds singing, she heard her mother’s soft voice calling to her. When she smelt the pretty flowers growing in the meadow, she smelt the fresh morning fragrance of her mother. When she felt the warmth of the sun upon her face, she felt her mother’s kiss upon her cheek. And each morning as she buttoned up her dress, she would remember how her mother had once held four pearl-white buttons in her hand and said ‘now Pegamina, I will give you the sun and the stars and the world’ and she placed three of the buttons into Pegamina’s hand, saying ‘the fourth I shall keep for myself for it is the moon and one day, you shall have that too!’ And whenever Pegamina looked at the moon in the night sky, she would make a wish and cry for Pegamina missed her mother so much.
When she felt sad her father would say ‘your mother was so kind and gentle Peg that God wanted her to be an angel and although she is not here anymore, she will always be with us in our hearts’. But Pegamina did not understand why her mother could not be an angel and still be her mother.
Poor Pegamina, she was such an unhappy little girl and she found it so difficult to make friends, which made her feel so much alone. And so she lived in her own world of dreams where everything is beautiful and nothing can hurt you. But other children found her strange and called her cruel names until she would cry and want her mother to come and wrap her arms around her and say ‘mother will make it all better’, but she never came.
Sometimes she would sit in the garden, playing by herself and watching the small animals that crossed the lane into the field beyond, and she would whisper: ‘oh fox, I only want to be like other children’. But in her heart she knew that even the gentle creatures that she greeted, silently turned away from her, which hurt her just as much as the horrible names the other children would shout at her. But oh how Pegamina loved the animals.
Like most little girls she was very fond of horses, but Pegamina’s favourite animal in the whole world was the elephant. In fact, when she was small the only thing she would ever draw was elephants: baby elephants, dancing elephants and great tusked giant elephants. She even collected cuddly toy elephants and little elephant statues. But now, she could hardly look at an elephant without bursting into tears, for they reminded her of when her mother would take her into her arms when she felt sad and say ‘my little elephant, Peg?’ and she would begin to tell Pegamina her favourite story, always beginning with how she is a very special little girl, for you see ‘God made all the little animals and when he had finished he sat back and looked upon his creations with great pride. But there was one little elephant in the kingdom who wept day and night for he was such an unhappy elephant; he would go into the forest alone and look at his reflection in the river as the tears rolled down his face, falling into the water. And when God saw this he took pity on the sad little elephant and asked him why he was so sad, and the elephant replied:
‘You have given the nightingale its beautiful song; you have given the tiger its mighty roar; you have given the rhino its distinguishing horn, but what have I? You have given the stag its proud antlers and the leopard its spots and you have given the peacock its handsome tail, but what have I?’ And God looked upon the little elephant and said:
‘It is true that I have given each animal its special gift, and so to you will I give something special, for you see, I cannot have sadness in my kingdom’. And after a moment’s thought, the gift was given. But the little elephant felt no different and said so.
‘Look into the water!’ said God. And the elephant looked, and he saw, waving in front of his face, a huge trunk that he dipped into the water, as tears of happiness ran down it. And the sad little elephant was never sad again.
Pegamina never tired of hearing the story and would prompt her mother if she forgot the slightest detail, or ask for parts of it to be repeated, for she so loved the sound of her mother’s comforting voice. And after the story had been told, she always liked to wonder what it would be like being that little elephant, looking at the sky through its eyes and drinking from the river with its trunk, spraying the water into the air.
On other occasions her mother would sing to her. Most of all Pegamina liked the song about the scarecrow who wanted to see everything in the world, but because he had no legs, he couldn’t even move so much as a step, and so he had to dream what the world is like:
‘My back is an old wooden pole,
My chest is a bundle of straw;
Here I stand between pastures that roll,
Yet my dreams show me so much more...
I want to see how children play
But my eyes are black and worn.
I want to rise from this forest of hay
Where I fight with my days in the corn!
I want to see rivers that endlessly flow
Towards some distant shore;
I want to be free for I have to know
Why crows don’t scare, no more!
I want to see flowers and blossoms and blooms
And smell more than harvested hay;
To talk about art in elegant rooms
And not stumble with which words to say!
I want to see so much more than I do,
Where nature’s dreams collide...
To trample my limbs in the luminous dew
Where angel eyes have cried!
My back is an old wooden pole,
My chest is a bundle of straw;
No heart in my breast nor no soul
Can give me these things I wish for!’
But most of all Pegamina liked to hear the story about the broken-hearted mermaid who had only one desire in life and that was to dance like a ballerina. But how can a mermaid dance when there is a tail where legs should be?
One moonlit night, as the mermaid sat singing some sad and beautiful tune beside a rock, the wind began to blow around her and through her long golden hair as it whispered into her small sea-shell-like ear: ‘why are you singing such a sad song when you are so beautiful that even the moon is envious of your beauty?’ And the mermaid replied: ‘I am sad, for I am tired of the sea and all it contains, my only true desire is to dance and be a ballerina, admire by all who come and see me’. And the wind said ‘beautiful mermaid, you are what you are, can’t you be happy with that?’ And the tearful mermaid replied, ‘I have tried all my life to be content with the sea, but I don’t like who I am or what I have become!’ ‘Then I shall give you all that you desire!’ the wind said, ‘but you must promise never to return to the sea, for I would not see your beauty altered, and in granting your wish, a star must die! Tell me, do you still wish?’
‘I wish!’ said the mermaid. And the air grew still and the sea grew calm as she trembled and swam slowly towards the shore. And then, from the foam she rose on the most beautiful legs you could ever imagine and all she could do was admire them in the moonlight. Then suddenly, she took a step, and then another, until eventually she was twirling, first this way, then that way, upon her toes. And then she stood upon one leg with her arms in the air, bringing her perfectly arched leg down to rest beside the other, as she made the most beautiful movements across the sand; more beautiful than the waves had ever been, or the dolphins under the sea. And she danced until she was gone, far from the sea and happier than she had ever been before, and only a little sad for the death of a star. And Pegamina would often think about the mermaid and wonder if she would ever stop dancing.
The Dancing Mermaid