This story was published over a year ago in the inaugural issue of Transcendence Magazine. The photo above is my own, taken somewhere between Lillehammer and Oslo, in Norway, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.
We were not moved by the death of the European whalers, but we were disquieted when the ice thinned out after the winter and we could still see them there, wretched dead yet floating under the lid of our frozen sea. A body that goes down into the Arctic Ocean does not come up again. There are too many beasts down there, cold and desperate, that would gladly make a meal of anything that comes their way. What evil or fear came off those bodies to keep the starving creatures of the deep away?
Inuits are not a sentimental people; we can only survive by becoming as hard and cold as the ice that is our birth right. We mourn death but are not shocked by it. And we don’t care for the European and Japanese whalers who come here in their big ships to murder with abandon. We honour the sacred spirit found in every living thing and kill only what we need to, so that we ourselves can survive. When our hunters and fishers bring back a carcass, we pay tribute to its spirit before we cut and clean it. The whalers paint our clear waters red for profit without respect or remorse, and so many Inuits welcomed their mysterious death as nature’s way of taking vengeance for the atrocities they committed.
I’m only half-Inuit. My father’s European, a fisherman from Trondheim. He came here looking for adventure and found my mother, who was far too much of an adventure for him to handle. My sister’s half-Inuit as well, but sometimes I have wondered if the other half is European, like me, or something really very different. My father wondered too. Once, drunk, he asked my mother “Are all of your children mine?” She laughed at him. “I’ve had children by no other man but you,” she said, but my superstitious father had the look of a man who knew the answer given had not satisfied what was asked.
My sister always was different. She grew quickly, and by the age of ten was taller, stronger and swarthier than everyone else in the settlement. The cold doesn’t touch her. When she was six she fell through a fishing hole. “Run,” I shouted to her as she clambered back out of the water and onto the ice, “run!” When our loved ones fall into the sea in the Arctic, we don’t pull them out. If they can’t get themselves out they won’t survive anyway. But if you do get out, as soon as your feet are back on something solid, you run. You race across the snow as fast as your deadening legs will propel you, forcing your limbs to keep moving and your heart to keep pumping. That’s the only way the cold might not take you. My sister, when she got out, didn’t run. She just stood there. Her skin had gone a strange blue-grey from the cold but otherwise, it was as if nothing had happened, nothing at all. By the time I reached her she was as warm and dry as you can be when you live on, around and under ice as we do. It was as if the water just slid off her skin.
My parents fought that night, arguing quietly in my father’s language neither my sister nor I could understand. He lost his temper, and hit our mother, but only once, because you only ever get to hit an Inuit woman once. My sister cried. “It’s ok,” I told her. “He’s never done that before and I’m sure he never will again.”
“Once is too much,” was all she said.
The next day the men went out fishing. When I woke up, she wasn’t in the furs beside me. I found her outside, sat still in the snow, looking out towards the sea. Her face was that grey colour she goes in the cold but she wouldn’t move, or hear a word I said to her. She stayed there, staring out to sea but seeing something I knew I couldn’t, all day. She stayed in her trance until after the men came to tell me that the European fisherman would never hit my mother again, because a great blue-grey whale had risen from the deep and taken him.
Ten years later, and she and I are walking by the ice that traps the bodies of the European whalers. She steps out for a closer look. “I’m your Captain Ahab,” she says as she looks down through the ice at their terrified, sea-bloated faces. I step out beside her and look down at those fat, greasy European whalers, and the grotesque wounds on their backs and chests, like they had been gored with invisible harpoons.