The best part of the summer cabin was that Buse and Bora got to spend most of their summer there. The river that sprang from a high rock deep in the forest and ran only a few miles before it merged with the Black Sea had no name. “It’s not a creek,” Buse opposed her dad; “It is a river because it is very deep.” Apparently, Ayla and Sadık didn’t want Buse and Bora to swim in the river. They said there were snakes in it. Buse and Bora would swim anyway. It was the fear of what would happen if a snake bit them was what made Buse want to swim even more.
Bora liked to fish. There were more fishes than would be expected in this short river. None of them was bigger than the size of Sadık’s hand. Sadık had built a small fishing dock for Bora. Towards the evening after having exhausted every kind of fun around the cabin, Bora grabbed his small bucket and fishing rod and stood on the platform for many hours. The platform was shaded by a large white oak tree whose roots branched out into the river. Next to the fishing platform was a swing hanging from a strong branch of this tree. Sadık had built this especially for Buse who loved to swing by touching her toes to the river. Sometimes Buse would do it when Bora was trying to fish, and it would start the fights between the two. Most of the time, Buse went kayaking or riding a boat with Sadık so that Bora could fish alone. Rarely, a little more than rarely, Buse would scare Bora’s fish. That happened when Bora really got onto her nerves. And just then Bora would tell dark stories about the river.
Normally Buse would believe in any story that Bora was telling. But she had her own story about the river. And it was such a beautiful story that none of Bora’s horrifying stories could destroy hers. She had imagined this story on one of the river trips that she had with her father. Sadık took the boat upstream once a week. He made some measurements about the water level and took photos of the fauna and flora surrounding the river. On some special occasions, like when they had guests over, Sadık would also give river tours to his guests. Buse would go on the boat as soon as it was set to sail. With or without the guests.
At the origin of the river, water sprouted gleefully out of the rocks. At this magical hour of the afternoon, the sun found its way through the thick wall of trees on the rock to skillfully hit the surface of the river. At that moment the waterfall turned into a rainbow and showered whoever or whatever was below with its colors. When Buse first encountered this palette of the waterfall, she knew that there was a painter inside the rocks. Something that lived in this river. Something that was both human and fish. A rivermaid. The rivermaid had also painted herself with colors of the rainbow. Each morning, she would jump from her house in the rocks, swim the few miles downstream, smiling at the trees who were struck by her beauty. The trees were leaning towards the river to see their reflections when they saw hers. All of them were in love with her. The rivermaid would greet the many fishes and snakes who gleamed as her colors reflected on them. The rivermaid would trick the little boy fishing on a platform, pass by him, and rush through the last part of the river to touch her loved one: the Black Sea. The sea was so beautiful, so powerful, and loud that the rivermaid hated to go back to her house in the rocks before she could even feel the salt on her lips. Once or twice, they had kissed. But when they did, the rivermaid had become so sick that she couldn’t even come to see him for a few days.
The sea was cruel. Sadık and Ayla would never allow Bora or Buse to swim alone in the sea without them. The sea had eaten up many campers who came to the camping site across the river. “It’s not the waves, Bora,” Sadık had told him many times because Bora kept insisting that he was old enough to swim in the sea all alone; “It is the sand at the bottom of the sea. It is like quicksand. It sucks you in. Even the mighty swimmers can’t get out of it alone. You need someone beside you who will be able to take you out.”
The Black Sea was gorgeous but also merciless. For both the rivermaid and Buse. But Buse wasn’t in love with it like the rivermaid was. Buse was surprised that a creature who embodied all the colors of a rainbow could be in love with something as dark as the Black Sea. One day, Sadık got a phone call from a ranger. He turned his head and looked at the direction of the waterfall. He could see the smoke coming. A group of campers had set a campfire by the river. Buse hated to hear that the strangers had been so close to the rivermaid’s home. Rainbow must have seen the fire and felt afraid and alone. Buse was sure that her father would do anything to keep these invaders away from there again.
Soon after that fire, it was time for the family to return home from the vacation. Buse couldn’t help but think about the rivermaid all year. She always left her alone during fall, winter, and spring but she never felt this worried about her before She realized that there were people getting closer to where she lived. Very close indeed. They could have harmed her. She probably wasn’t showing her colors to anyone else. Buse pictured a very dull looking waterfall. Buse’s father kept on going back to the forest almost every day. But he usually went during the day, and Buse was in the school at the time. A couple of times she insisted that she should go with him, but Ayla wouldn’t let her.
As soon as they got out of the car, Buse ran towards the boat that would take them across the river to their cabin. She was dying to get back to the rivermaid, but she knew that it would take at least a couple of days for the family to set the cabin for their vacation. Buse ran to the Black Sea to look for any signs of the rivermaid. There were a couple of people swimming in the Black Sea on the other side of the beach that was divided by the river. Buse looked at the waves hitting the big rock in the sea but close to the shore. It was a calm evening. Buse thought that the rock had gotten bigger and darker. It had almost grown into a small island. There were some people who swam close to it and jumped from it into the water. Bora was looking dreadfully at the people on the rock, “I wouldn’t do that if I were in their place,” he said.
“Dad, do you think that rock has gotten bigger?” Buse asked.
“I don’t think so. We can check though. Bora and I are going fishing on the sea in the evening. Do you want to come?”
“No.” Buse didn’t like the Black Sea this way. It was too calm. Besides it was just about the time when the rivermaid would come to greet the Black Sea and Buse decided to wait to see what was happening. Bora and Sadık prepared the boat and went out for fishing. Buse put her feet in the water to feel the current. When the current was intense, she would know that the rivermaid was there. The current was calmer than she remembered. She saw the shells of the oysters dancing rather than being dragged into the sea. Her feet got cold. She knew something was wrong. She dreaded the fact that the rivermaid must have succumbed to him and his wet kisses.
Buse was startled by her mother screaming as Sadık was waving at her in panic. Buse looked at the sea and saw that the boat was very close to the rock. She immediately knew what was happening. The rock was pulling the boat to itself as it had done to many swimmers. Ayla had called the fishermen that they always bought their fish from. Two fishing boats approached to the boat Sadık and Bora was in. The fishermen didn’t get too close to the rock. They each had a rope in their hands that they were swinging to throw at Sadık and Bora. Ayla knew that the fishermen had to be very quick before Sadık and Bora’s boat smashed against the rock. Ayla and Buse were watching them moment to moment. Sadık and Bora caught the ropes. Buse’s tears exploded from her eyes like a waterfall as she felt relieved and terrified at the same time. She knew that no one could have saved the rivermaid against that pull because no one knew of her presence. The rivermaid was gone.
Burcu Seyben is a theatre theorist, writer, actress, and author of Struggle and Survival under Authoritarianism in Turkey: Theatre under Threat (Lexington Books, 2020) and Theatre and Multimedia (Habitus, 2016). She specializes in contemporary European and Turkish performances, and directors as well as theatre and politics.