Darya stood on the edge of Stanley Peninsula facing west toward Long Island. It was all part of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and late on a Thursday afternoon in February, there was no one else in sight. Silently, she watched the Sun through a heavily cloud-dappled sky as it sank toward the horizon. The waters of Willapa Bay were calm belying the fact that the wild Pacific Ocean was less than a mile away.
For the past five years, she had been gathering tiny shards of lost memories like flowers, struggling to create the bouquet of her childhood. Ever since she was six years old, she had lived with her brother Cody and her parents Hamid and Esther Shah in their comfortable upper-middle class home in Orange County, California. But Hamid and Esther weren’t her parents and Cody wasn’t her brother.
She had been rescued by presumably from drowning in the surf near Huntington State Beach by Cody when she was six and he was ten. Darya couldn’t speak and had trouble breathing at first. No one knew the problem was that she had rarely used her lungs before and her language didn’t at all resemble English.
She had no identity, no memory, and no known family, so the Shahs took her in first as a foster child and later they adopted her. In time, she forgot all about her origins and truly believed she had been born as Darya Shah. Then, when she was sixteen, tired of her life-long phobia of being immersed in water, she started seeing a counselor and her brother agreed to help her overcome her fears by rather paradoxically dangling her over the surface of their backyard swimming pool.
Once under the surface, it started to come back to her, but only a little. More came back the first time she returned to the ocean and allowed her well-concealed gill slits to open so she could breathe in the sea, but she still couldn’t recall her real name or how she had become lost as a child.
Last year, she started to remember her dreams. She had been traveling with her pod, her parents, brothers and sisters, and the other eleven families. A violent storm had driven them closer to shore than they liked, but it couldn’t be helped. The storm followed them eastward and churned the sea sooner and more violently than expected. That’s when Darya, or whoever she really was, became separated and driven into the world of the land dwellers.
But in the dreams, she remembered they were headed north toward the waters off the shore of Washington. Darya still didn’t remember why, but finally last month, she remembered exactly where. It wasn’t really memory. She’d never been there before. It was more like inborn instinct. There was a safe haven somewhere in these waters and if there was any hope of finding her parents, her pod, and her name, it was there.
Twenty-one year old Darya Shah had left her car and most of her clothing at the side of the road near Highway 101. Dressed only in a one-piece Speedo she contemplated the water below her. It was certain to be freezing, but she had long since discovered that cold didn’t bother her.
“I love you Cody, Mom, Dad.” They were the only family Darya had known for the past fifteen years and she had no idea if she would ever see them again. But tonight wasn’t for looking back but for plunging forward. Her past and her future were out there waiting for her and regardless of the consequences, she was going to find them.
Darya cleared her lungs of air and dove, feeling the sea breeze rushing across her skin. Then she entered the mother waters and swam. She opened her mouth and sang in a voice she hadn’t used since childhood. She listened. Minutes later someone answered her from far away. “Welcome home, little one.”
She swam toward the song and her destiny.
I wrote this for the Thursday photo prompt – Dusk #writephoto hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. The idea is to use one of Sue’s photos as the prompt to author a poem, short story, or some other creative work.
This tale is actually the sequel to The Ocean’s Daughter which was a response to a completely different writing prompt, and yet I think it stands on its own while preserving the mystery of Dayra Shah, an amphibian as at home in the ocean as on land.
I chose the location because I needed a body of water that connected to the ocean but allowed someone to stand on shore and across the water be able to see land. If you use Google maps to look up “Long Beach, WA,” you’ll be able to locate the area I described which is just to the northeast. From where she jumped into Willapa Bay, swimming north will eventually take you to the Pacific.