At 96 years old, he continued to breathe in the sea breeze with its taste of iodine and salt. The refreshing morning drops gave him strength to carry on. Seagulls flying back and forth, searching for food, created a natural spectacle of the morning. The old man realized that the routine of each day felt shorter. His walking became slower every day, friends kept passing away, and his family had forgotten about him due to the daily hustle of modern life.
He had become a widower at the time when he loved his dear wife the most, his life companion.
“How I miss you, my princess. Your gaze and company were my life force. Morning coffees and the enjoyment of simple conversations are no longer possible. Now you’re gone, and who knows if I’ll ever see you again,” the old man thought.
To avoid feeling too sad and to escape from depression, he went out for walks. Every day, at 6 in the morning, he would walk slowly, leaning on his cane, to the shore of the beach to watch the ebb and flow of the sea and the waves. It was what his life companion loved the most.
One day, as he gazed at the waves, he saw what appeared to be a woman with her back to the water, looking towards the horizon.
“Who could it be? Is she swimming? Is she drowning?” he wondered.
She seemed to be naked from the waist up, her breasts exposed to the sea. She had long, black, wavy hair that floated with the waves.Suddenly, the woman turned around; intense green seaweed covered her chest. The old man could see her face, but not in much detail because she was far away, and his vision had been greatly affected by his old age and the salty droplets that fell on his glasses.
The old man raised his arm and waved with his right hand from side to side, smiling and saying hello. The woman began to swim towards the shore.
Moments passed, and the woman submerged into the water and did not resurface.
“What’s happening? Am I experiencing delusions, like those of an old man?”
The old man adjusted himself and wanted to tell someone that the woman was drowning. He kept looking at the sea, and after several minutes, he saw her again, looking at him and saying goodbye with her left hand. She submerged again and didn’t reappear on the water’s surface for the rest of the day.
The old man returned to his apartment, thinking about the woman he had seen in the morning.
The next day, he woke up early and walked to the same spot where he usually stood to gaze at the sea. Once again, the woman emerged from the water, but this time closer, allowing him to distinguish the features of her face.
“How beautiful you are,” thought the old man, but he felt guilty for looking at a woman who wasn’t his wife.
“You resemble my queen so much,” the old man thought.
The woman in the sea continued to swim towards the shore and positioned herself sideways, swimming in a graceful display.
The old man realized that she wasn’t a complete human body. She was half woman, half fish. A sea mermaid, something he had heard about from other elderly companions who claimed to have seen one.
After five minutes, the woman bid farewell with her left hand and submerged into the water, disappearing completely.
That’s when the old man recalled a conversation with his late friend, Hector, who had shared a remarkable tale before his passing. Hector had spoken of a mermaid sighting on the county beach, claiming he had spotted her from a distance. However, his health had deteriorated, leaving him bedridden. Hector had mentioned using binoculars to observe her from his apartment, but his story found few believers, including the old man. Hector’s wife had scolded him for his supposed pursuit of sea-bound companions.
“The only woman you should be looking at is me,” Hector’s wife had told him, even at 80 she remained jealous.
“What could a mermaid have that I don’t?” Hector’s wife said.
“Youth, my dear, youth,” replied Hector cheekily.
“Shut up, you old lecher. You’re senile and looking at naked women in the water,” scolded his wife.
“It’s true, Maria. I saw her,” Hector had protested.
Sadly, only a day after that fateful argument between the old couple, Maria woke up the next day to find Hector cold in their bed.
Her husband had suffered a massive heart attack and passed away in his sleep.
Recalling Hector’s fate, the old man decided to visit the doctor for himself.
“Doctor, I’m seeing visions.”
“Tell me, Mr. Erasmo.”
“I’m seeing a woman every morning on the beach in front of my apartment in the county.”
“Look, Mr. Erasmo, sometimes our minds make us see things that aren’t real. It could be due to side effects of the medications you take daily.”
“So, should I just ignore it?”
“Exactly, go to a different place and you’ll see those hallucinations disappear.”
On the doctor’s recommendation, Erasmo woke up early the next day. After his customary coffee and toast, he headed to the beach. However, this time, he chose a different spot, departing from his usual standing place.
He liked this new spot better because there was a rock he could lean against while gazing at the beach.
“The doctor was right, the woman isn’t here,” Erasmo thought.
Suddenly, emerging from the water, a breathtaking sight unfolded before him—a woman of unparalleled beauty. Her features were exquisite, with eyes reminiscent of ancient Egyptian allure, a captivating smile, and eyes as azure as the boundless sky. The old man stood in stunned silence, completely awestruck by her presence.
“Hello, what’s your name?”
“Erasmo, and you?”
“Is this a dream? A hallucination?” Erasmo asked.
“No, I’m real. People have tried to capture me to harm me.”
“Why have you come to greet me?”
“Because I can feel your loneliness and your state of mind. I can read your thoughts.”
“You’re very beautiful.”
“How did you learn to speak?”
“We have a language instructor in our world. We come from another world, the underwater world that humans are unaware of. It seems we underwent some sort of mutation.”
“How can you breathe underwater?”
“Like I said, we mutated and now we have gills and lungs. We use whichever we need.”
“What do you eat?”
“We eat sea plants, fruits, and roots.”
“Your color is different from ours.”
“Yes, that’s because we absorb food from the sun and then eliminate what we don’t need through our skin.”
“But you look human.”
“Yes, we’re human, except for the fins we use for swimming.”
“I appreciate your speaking to me so openly.”
“Can I ask you something?,” the mermaid asked the old main.
“Go ahead,” Erasmo said.
“What are you sick with?”
“Many things. Heart issues, diabetes, high blood pressure, and everything else that comes with decades of poor eating habits.”
“Do you feel okay?”
“Yes, fine, old man,” they both chuckled, and then looked on at each other in silence.
“The doctor told me I don’t have much time left, and he didn’t want to operate on me,” the old man added finally.
“You know you can come with me whenever you want, and I’ll take you to my world,” said Mara.
“Really? But I’m not a merman.”
“It doesn’t matter. We have humans living with us in our world. We’ve created an area with oxygen produced by trees that grow under the sea. It’s like a giant dome, similar to what you humans call a biodome.”
“That sounds tempting, but let me think about it.”
“Of course, don’t worry, there’s no rush, but remember that there’s only one chance.”
“And why did you come to the spot where I was standing on the beach?”
“I felt you every morning when I went out to eat.”
“And are there many of you?”
“Yes, there are thousands of us.”
“And how do you avoid getting caught?
“First, our blood is cold, so we’re not detectable by radar. Second, we can sense what people are thinking. We’ve developed telepathic abilities. Third, we can communicate with dolphins and whales to defend ourselves if there’s danger.”
“Well, this sun is strong, and I have to go,” said Erasmo.
“Will we see each other tomorrow?”
The next day, the old man put on his best clothes and prepared as if for a journey. He packed a suitcase with clothes and his toothbrush. He was determined to take the final step to leave. Without notifying anyone, he arrived at his customary spot, only to find the mermaid conspicuously absent. Worry crept into his thoughts as he contemplated whether the mermaid would fail to appear and take him with her.
“I’m leaving, she won’t come for me,” the old man thought.
Suddenly, a multitude of bubbles began to rise from the water near his standing spot. First, Mara emerged from the water, followed by another mermaid with golden hair, and then a third with red hair.
“Hello, Mara, I see you’ve brought company.”
“Yes, for this journey, we require more than one mermaid. Allow me to introduce Siri and Tani. We’re coming from a distant place.”
“But I can’t breathe underwater.”
“Indeed, that’s why we have these special oxygen-producing plants called Chlorella.”
“Are they algae?”
“Yes, they’re algae that generate oxygen. Each one contains five hours’ worth of oxygen, which you’ll need for breathing underwater. You simply bite into it and breathe, and it provides you with oxygen.”
“I’m not sure how to do that.”
“Don’t worry. If you prefer, we can induce sleep and assist you with breathing.”
“That would be preferable.”
“Very well, let’s proceed.”
The mermaids approached him, encircling his neck with seaweed, and gently induced him into slumber. Placing the Chlorella in his mouth, they initiated his natural breathing process. Together, they submerged into the water, transporting the old man to their world.
To his family, who had never visited him, the old man had mysteriously vanished. Upon checking for an inheritance, they discovered that he had bequeathed three million dollars, dedicating the entire sum to animal shelters and the preservation of the country’s beaches and marine life.
Legend has it that the old man lived to be 456 years old and continues to reside in the world of the mermaids.
Cover image sourced from Rok Romih/Pexels. The copyright of ‘The Old Man and The Mermaid’ belongs to Dr. Edgar León.