Till Human Voices Wake Us
When I was a little girl, my mother always used to tease me all summer long that she couldn't tell what was dirt and what was tan. I spent entire days, from dawn till dusk, outside, running around and playing in the dirt and being rowdy, before puberty and a sudden interest in books turned me into a pasty white girl with a fear of the bright ball of light in the sky.
I was thinking about this as I floated in the Indian Ocean, looking at my feet. They were tanned and dirty and covered in sand, even though I'd been splashing in the water for a while. The dirt from Australia had ground in, and I could barely see the pale lines of where my sandals blocked the sun.
The place I was swimming is called "Shell Beach" for obvious reasons - the entire beach is made of shells, the bottom of the ocean is made of shells, white, brown, purple, all sorts of colours. The water isn't very deep there - I walked far out and it never got above my hips - and it was easy to pick up shell after shell as I floated. I lay back and let my hair drift, and wondered how far the waves and the wind and the sea would pull me away from land, if only I'd let it.
It was so warm, with just enough of a breeze to keep things comfortable. The rest of the tour group had walked back to land, complaining about cold and salty water, while I felt more relaxed than I had the entire trip. I closed my eyes and pretended I couldn't hear them.
I listened for mermaids instead.
I thought about Australia, about the deserts and the oceans and the short trees and red dust everywhere. I thought about how nice it would be to just lie in the water and see how far I could float away. I wondered how long it would take me to get lonely.
Eventually I lifted my head and looked back at the beach. I'd floated quite a ways, I guess. I saw everyone on land beginning to pack up, waving to me to return so we could get back on the hot and cramped bus, get closer to the furthest point west in all of Western Australia.
I put my ears back under the water for just another moment, but I couldn't hear the mermaids singing.
Instead, I slowly started back towards the beach.
Maybe next time.