It is not an aroma one expects upon crossing the threshold into a coffee shop.
The salt and the sea.
The fragrance stops me dead in my tracks. For a brief moment, I see the setting around me––the colorful rugs, the scattered tables, the counter, behind which stands a barista chatting with the customer in front of me. At the corner of my eye I see a candle burning near the window, the words "Ocean Breeze" on the label. I see dark, deep blue wax, with a gentle flame upon the wick.
Then, the scene fades. Everything blurs.
Until all I can see are the memories.
Strong… vibrant… and so, so real…
I close my eyes.
It has been a long while since I have thought of home.
The thought has always been there, just at the back of my mind. But I’ve managed to keep it at bay, tightly locked away. There have been many instances when I’ve longed to use the key, to unlock the flood of far-away dreams. I have always resisted. The pain is too great.
But the ocean… the scent of a world long forgotten…
I am home again.
I remember the warm, salty waters. The touch of the liquid caressing my skin. I can remember the image so clearly: taking step after step, deeper and deeper. I remember the water circling my feet, and then my knees, my waist, my arms, my shoulders, my neck––and then washing over my mouth, my nose, and, finally, my head, until my hair floats around me in the water, free and light. I remember walking and walking and walking, continuing along the ocean floor, the light fading into a dark blueness with every step as the sun faded far away above the surface of the water.
A sun in a different world.
I remember the life in that ocean. The colorful coral, from blues to greens to reds to oranges. I remember the small schools of fish that darted about, some curious as I ventured into their neighborhoods, others cautious, unsure if I represented a threat to their livelihoods. My favorite creatures were the eels. They always poked their heads out to voice a friendly greeting. Some slithered completely out of their dwellings to watch me go, their heads nodding gently in farewell.
I had walked, deeper and deeper, father and farther, until the light began again. I remember that light. The light of my people, my home, my city.
And once I had reached the very depths of the deepest part of the ocean, I transformed.
I swam among my people down in the depths of that ocean. We lived in a hidden world, a secret one, away from the touch of humans. A world of color and peace and light––so much light. There were times when I left home, certainly; perhaps it was to other cities, other worlds. A few brave souls, including my own, even traveled to the great beyond of the distant shores, where we chose to transform, to walk among the humans, to experience a world far different from home. Those episodes never lasted long.
I always loved coming home far more than venturing away.
I remember feeling––and tasting––the salt on my tongue, the water gently swirling around my tail, welcoming me home.
The entrance to my city. As I remember swimming past the homes of my people, how I watched as they bowed their heads and flicked their tails in my honor, I smile. I am fond of this recollection. My home is––was––filled with the most wonderful beings.
There was Alea, the bookkeeper. Her home housed writings and scriptures from thousands of years of our ancestors. Adventures and poetry and mystery spilled from her windows. People traveled far and wide to feast their eyes on her collection.
There was Nico, the gardener. His lands featured rows upon rows of color and diversity, from coral to seaweed to grasses to plants. He tended each organism with a love and care unparalleled in this human world. His touch was that of magic; it brought life to any dying creature.
And there was Eli, the guardian. My guardian. I remember him most of all my people.
He was kind, and strong, and beautiful.
I remember his embrace.
I remember his touch.
Eli was my protector, although my people did not need protection; we maintained good and fair relations with surrounding civilizations. There had not been a disruption or altercation for thousands upon thousands of years.
Until the humans came.
I remember the end. It had happened so suddenly. But far, far above our city, catastrophe had struck. Once clear and tranquil water became black and suffocating. The blackness swept over our homes, our lands, our friends; the ocean life we had come to nurture withered and died in days. My people, panicked, had spread far and wide.
The blackness had taken some of their lives. Perhaps many. I do not know.
All I remember is smiling, walking among Nico’s plants, my fingers interlaced with Eli’s. I remember his words, the words that have never left me, not for a moment:
“I love you.”
I remember gripping his hand.
And, then, the blackness.
I remember him being ripped away.
I remember being alone.
I had raced through the waters, faster than I had ever swam before. The darkness followed me. I couldn’t escape. And, just when I thought my end was near, when I welcomed death… there was light.
A different light.
Warmth. Solid ground. The taste of… air.
My skin had dried. And, as it did, I transformed. I used my new limbs––legs, as I would later discover––and walked, for hours and days and weeks. I cried the first several days, for my people. For Eli. Perhaps it was the last bit of water leaving my soul; the tears were salty and bitter. And once I stopped crying, I knew the ocean and I were forever parted.
It has been many long years since I have faced the memories of my home and the oil spill. I have walked a long way, through homelessness, through addiction, through much pain and agony.
The world of humans is not a kind one.
Now, standing in this coffee shop, the memories come rushing back like a torrential downpour, washing over me, suffocating me…
I can’t breathe…
“Hello, miss? Can I help you?”
I open my eyes.
The human world returns. I am standing in a coffee shop. The floor is solid and hard beneath my feet. It is warm. Sunlight streams through the windows, rays falling upon my back.
I turn toward the voice, the barista. The eyes I meet are… are…
The sea surges deep within my core.
“Why, hello, my Queen,” Eli says softly from behind the counter. He smiles.
And I feel the ocean spill from my eyes once more.