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Rick Mobbs’ Writing Prompt: Yemaya’s Children

RIver fish swim in the air above the ocean

Blog-friend and fello-blogger Rick Mobbs has put up painting prompts for me, and if you want to really appreciate them and his other work, do visit his blog.

After the last one I’ve been travelling and generally going crazy with life. But today, I had no excuse other than  slow internet, so here goes.

(Rick, as usual, I’ve done a spur-of-the-moment thing, and beyond a cursory fact-check and spell check, this is pretty much scribble-practice. One of these days I’ll really hunker down and produce a long piece that does your painstaking work more justice. In fact, the character below is from one of my short stories set in an aquarium. The fish in your painting must have nudged him awake! Thanks again for being so generous with your excellent work.)

Quit swimming in the air, Kenny tells them, air is no place for fish.

But they refuse to listen.

During the day they forage amid the plants in their aquarium, driving him crazy most weeks because no sooner than he puts in a half-decent plant in their aquarium they set about ripping it apart. The Singapore Aquaria, set above the sparkling, man-made Sentosa beach, likes each of its aquariums to look as neat and well-groomed as Singapore parks, gardens, people and government. If Kenny, a Filipino, is to survive here he has to make sure the Blue Tialpia behave.

But the Tilapia do not know about the obsession for order that hovers about them.

Each moonlit night they rise from their aquarium, and before Kenny’s helpless eyes, they rise into the blue ether, taking their time.

Quit swimming in the air, come back here, Kenny orders them, or they’ll fire my ass.

The Yemaya will protect you, the Tilapia babble in a chorus, like precocious children. She is the mother of all us Orishas, the most powerful guardians of old, and of the lands, the rivers, and the ocean. She is our mother and yours, too.

I know who is my mother and she is back home sleeping in the Philippines, come back now or I’ll lose my job and she’ll starve, pleads Kenny, hiking up the pants that have slipped below his belly.

We’re the children of Yemaya, the now-faint fish voices rain down from the moonlit sky above the blue-black ocean, and the red-rimmed moon is our home.  Our job is to send dreams and desire to all creation, mate day with night, turn up in the dreams of newly-weds on land and in the sea, multiply the children of Yemaya.

If you’re so powerful, why do you swim about like a bunch of common fish in an aquarium? Come back down, air is no place for fish.

If fish do not belong in air, do you belong in this country of another, cleaning muck where you could have planted fields back home?

Kenny has no answer. The Blue Tilapia rise and fade till he can see them no more, they go home.

The next morning, Kenny does the same.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • bronxboy55 says:

    To lose a debate with fish. But sometimes that’s exactly what it feels like to live in a country other than your own. I like this one a lot.

    • Damyanti says:

      That is the way it feels indeed, at least some of the time 🙂

      Thank you so much, you’re way too generous with your praise! But, as it happens, it is just the kind of thing I need this morning to keep on writing. Thanks again.

  • rick mobbs says:

    I’d be happy to share our ice and snow with you… but I think my family would rather visit your Malaysian seaside town.

    I like the book idea. I think doing a book together would be a great project. Let’s talk about that. I would love to hear any ideas you have. In the meantime I can just put up more prompts and you can knock them down as time and interest allow.

  • Damyanti says:

    Thanks, Rick, both for the prompt and the comment! My husband suggested that you and I should make a physical book out of this series 🙂

    It is unimaginable to me, your weather. I’ve never seen snow, and never seen ice other than in the refrigerator. Out in the Malaysian seaside town where I am at the moment, it is about 75 degrees F, sunny and green outside.

  • rick mobbs says:

    Nice!!! I love these stories, love the mention of the Orishas, want to do more of these with you. Right now I’m repairing damaged water lines after a hard freeze (18 below zero F.) here in the new Mexico mountains. What is the weather like there?