“Mama . . . mama,” uttered little Maryam in a weak, sleepy voice. She woke up in the middle of the night, finding her tiny body swinging on her cozy hammock. It was so dark. At first, she thought it was a dream. She didn’t recognize where she was. The last thing she remembered was heavy rain and her mom bringing her to sleep with her. Sleeping in her mom’s bed always made her night, but she shook her head trying to remember what happened after she fell asleep with her mom.
Maryam was used to the rainy weather and floods in the fall. She lives with her parents on a small island, called Tuuti, in the middle of unfortunate Sudan. The island of Tuuti is situated in a beautiful place in the heart of Khartoum city, the capital of unfortunate Sudan, where the Blue Nile merges with the White Nile to form the Great Nile, which is considered the longest river in the world. Every year, in fall, the whole island would be under an emergency status because of the heavy rains and flooding. While the water is a grace from God, it has the potential to become a disaster.
“Mamma, Dad, where are you?” Maryam called for them from her swinging hammock, but no one answered her. She couldn’t see anything but the full moon’s shadow reflecting on the water’s surface, making a beautiful scene.
Maryam’s father tied the hammock a bit high between two big palm trees. Those trees were Maryam’s favorites and she had named them Mimi and Mona. When she lays in her hammock, she always felt comfortable and secure with her trees protecting her and feeding her sweet dates.
Darkness, water, trees, silence, and the moon; that was all she could see when she looked around. She was scared. She had never been separated from her mom and dad, not once since she was born 8 years ago. They are always together, even when she goes every Saturday and Sunday to “Al Khalwa,” the place where she got her spiritual lessons. Even then, her mom would go with her and wait until she was finished. Maryam’s mom stayed with the other kids’ moms exchanging stories of their daily lives. Afterwards, they returned home together hand by hand. In the same way, Maryam’s father would always drop her off at school and return to pick her up when school was finished.
Maryam was terrified. She began crying, yelling, and weeping loudly, but no one heard her. Their home, a big ranch house, was a bit far out from other houses set in the middle of a lemon tree farm with the closest house being about a mile away. Therefore, she knew that no one could hear her except her parents.
Maryam did not know what had happened to her parents or what would happen to her. She felt sad and scared. She thought she had seen their house collapse to the ground in the middle of the night, but she wasn’t sure if it was real or a dream. Not a single wall survived. That house held precious memories. It was the place where she took her first steps, the place where she felt warmth, compassion, and a special connection with her parents. Could it really be gone?
Maryam kept looking towards the moon. It was a full, beautiful moon. She had loved the moon since a young age. She felt the moon was a sign from God, telling her, “I’m close.” Thinking about God being at her side, her soul became full of gratitude and she relaxed in the knowledge that God would help her.
“Nothing is completely dark in life.” Maryam remembered her mom’s old saying and answered back quietly, “Yes, Mama, despite this being a dark time the moon gives me light.”
Suddenly, Maryam saw something moving and shaking. It broke the calmness of the water attracting her attention and making her eyes open wide. Surprised, she asked herself, “What is that?”
Maryam saw eyes in the water despite it being dark. It apparently was a marine animal. At first, she thought it was a fish with a beautiful green tail, but when Maryam saw the head emerge out of the water, she was shocked.
“Hi,” said the marine animal to Maryam.
Maryam could not reply. She just stared with her mouth open.
“Are you scared of me?”
“Who are you?” asked Maryam, when she could talk.
“I’m the Nile Mermaid.”
“Where did you come from?”
“I live in the Great Nile.”
“I used to play with my friends on the banks of the Nile, I have never seen you before.”
“I used to always watch you,” the Nile mermaid answered, and then she continued, “Why do you look so sad?”
“I don’t know where my parents are.”
“Maybe they went to look for help.”
“Mama would never leave me alone.”
“Let me go look for them.”
Mermaid dove under the water leaving Maryam alone in the darkness.
Maryam kept looking at the moon, trying to hold onto hope in its light.
“Do you know where my parents are?” Maryam asked the moon.
“Dear little Maryam don’t be sad. I don’t like to see you like that,” the moon said to her.
“I want my mom and dad. Do you think the mermaid will bring me good news about them?”
The moon kept silent, knowing he couldn’t say anything. He knew her parents had passed away when the house had collapsed on them.
“I feel cold,” said little Maryam.
The moon came down closer to Maryam. “I hope my light will warm you up. Do you feel better now?”
“I’m better now, thank you. Do you think I’m going to survive?”
“God is the greatest,” said the moon. “I have seen many crises and I want you to know that you should never give up. Anything that happens to us is good.”
“My heart is broken. I think I saw our house collapse. Why our beautiful house?”
“God will give you a better house.”
“Don’t ask God how. Just hold onto God’s mercy,” The moon replied. “Anger will prevent you from thinking clearly. If you give your heart to God, God will fix it and take care of it,” he continued.
The moon didn’t know what to tell her to make things better. Maryam was an innocent, sensitive, and naïve girl. Her world had just disappeared. All she cared about in life were her parents, her two friends that she saw at the Khalwa every Saturday, Sunday, and her school. She was the only child of her parents and they loved her so much. Her father would never leave home without giving her a hug and when he came back home the first thing he would do, was to call out her name.
That night, her parents’ only concern had been to make sure that Maryam was safe. So, they put her in the hammock to keep her away from the house, and then they left her there to go and save the important things in the house.
After a while, the mermaid came back to Maryam. She looked sad but pretended that everything was alright.
“Where are my parents?” asked Maryam eagerly.
“I did not find them.”
“It has been a long time since they left.”
“Don’t worry, sweety. I’m sure they will come back,” said the moon.
“We are here for you. If you need anything just ask us,” said the mermaid.
“Thank you, Mermaid. Thank you, Moon,” said Maryam.
“Try to sleep. I will wake you when your parents return,” said the mermaid.
“I have a test tomorrow at school, how will I go?” asked Maryam.
“I don’t think the school will be open tomorrow,” said the moon.
“The whole city is in bad shape. No one is going to be sending their kids to school tomorrow,” agreed the mermaid.
“Okay, thank you,” said Maryam. Wistfully, she laid down again and fell into a fitful sleep.
The moon and the mermaid felt that God had sent them to take care of this little girl.
As Maryam slept, she dreamt. She heard reassuring words: Any situation you are in, God will send you someone who will give you a hand, love and care.
When the mermaid was sure that Maryam was asleep, she asked the moon, “What should we do?”
“I don’t know, I’m sad about what happened to her parents,” said the moon.
“How will we tell her, and who will take care of her?” asked the mermaid.
“Poor Maryam, how will you endure this news?” wondered the moon.
“I saw people suffering all throughout the entire city and I heard yelling and screaming across the entire island,” said the mermaid.
“It is a bad situation and nothing like this has happened recently.”
“God protect and bless all of the people in this city,” prayed the mermaid.
“Amen,” said the moon.
Eventually, Maryam fell into a deep sleep. In her dreams, she didn’t feel anything. From time to time, the moon and the mermaid heard her murmuring “mama…dad” and they grew more worried about how they would tell her the sad news.
“This has been one of the longest nights ever for me,” said the moon.
“Since we don’t know what to do, we can wait for someone to come to help. I think the neighbor will come in the morning, and they will know what happened and tell her.”
“It is going to be hard for her to know that her parents have passed away.”
“I have an idea,” said the mermaid.
“What’s that?” asked the Moon.
“Let’s wake her now and you can tell her in a good way.”
“Me?” he asked her in fear.
“Yes, you have wisdom. You have lived a long life and seen many things.”
“No, Mermaid, I can’t tell her.”
At that very moment, Maryam woke up and asked about her parents. The moon and the mermaid told her they hadn’t shown up yet.
It was almost dawn. She didn’t say anything. She just kept looking around worried, thinking about her parents. She didn’t have anything to do. So, she would have to wait until her parents returned or one of her neighbors came by.
“What are you thinking, little Maryam,” asked the moon in a warm voice.
“I’m trying to imagine where my parents would go,” said Maryam.
“In the morning, we will know,” said the mermaid.
“Do you know that you are a hero? Maryam,” said the moon.
“No, I’m not. What did I do? I didn’t save lives. I didn’t protect people. I didn’t do big things.
“You are a kid hero,” said Moon. And he continued, “When you show care, you are a hero; when you smile, you are a hero; when you give love, you are a hero; when you treat people well, you are a hero; when you respect others, you are a hero; when you go school, you are a hero.”
“When you surrender to God, accept your fate, then you are truly a superhero,” said the mermaid.
Maryam kept silent, trying to understand their story; she wanted to understand the message they were trying to share with her.
Maryam fell asleep again. When she woke up, she found herself surrounded by many people including their neighbors Ahmed, Aisha, Othman, Nafisa, and her best friend, Yasmin. She didn’t find her parents among the faces.
The moon had disappeared, and the mermaid was gone as well, but they had left her an unforgettable night full of memories and advice for life.
When Maryam heard the news about her parents from her neighbor, the first thing that jumped into her mind were the words the moon and mermaid had shared with her. She had to choose to be a hero or not, to accept God’s will for her fate or not, to make her parents proud of her or not.
Maryam was a brave and a heroic kid. So, she chose to surrender to God and accept her fate. Losing her parents was hard, but God gave her the strength to face her loss, to adapt to her new life in her uncle’s house, and to be a true superhero.
TO BE CONTINUED