I was born in 1813 drenched in oil, yet the kind spirit of Yemoja lay dormant within me. Born of fire, Iya spat me out, hopeful she had created the ultimate protégée. A true spawn, I lay there, a pool of spit and sweat. I began to grow, mechanically, obediently. I sprouted then fell ill. Neither I nor Iya could explain the cause of my fevers and jaundice. Perhaps it was just seasickness. It weighed heavily on Iya to tend to a sick child and my wilfulness angered her. A representation of her ability to create, I was the prototype. An indication of months of labor, I shamed my creator with an unyielding inability to form accordingly.
The sawdust in my eye became the plank she chose to walk on, miles above an ocean of her own doing. A martyr for a cause that could not exist without her. For years she walked the endless plank alone, splinters nestling into the soles of her feet, offering proof of the suffering she had endured. A memento of trying times. Her hands worked diligently and nourished me but my skin became encrusted with her insecurities. Scales formed defiantly. They dried and shriveled, became itchy and incredibly tight. Much like a snake shedding its skin, I became increasingly agitated. When I cried out, Iya cursed my father for passing on such a difficult temperament to me. And so she walked on. She walked and walked and walked. Eventually she crawled, clawed, and dragged. Knees chafed, femur bruised, ankles broken, she walked the plank until the bow broke. Collapsing under the weight of her shackles, I fell into ice-cold waters. Abandoned, I capsized into a whirlpool of her past. A thousand burdens befell me – anger, loss, shame, betrayal, fear, illness, and poverty among them. Overcome by exhaustion, I submitted and allowed the lethargy to carry me to the bottom. I laid there, a molting mass of awkward femininity, painfully mutating into some version of a woman. It was then that Yemoja spoke to me, calmly.
Her words revived in me a truth I had struggled to release from under my skin. I erupted. All that was molting became molten – dead skin to liquid carbon. I am blessed by the deity of saving shipwreck survivors, the deity of all waters and the moon. And so I rose. A hundred thousand cowry shells shielded me, each a symbol of Yemoja. On the surface I saw Iya and her broken ship, sailing despite its dysfunction. Still she walked, but her strides were smaller, less urgent, more infrequent. And, from a distance, I was able to love her better than I ever could under her wing.
© Leila Chammas, April 20, 2017