Bodies In the In-Between by Jameisha Prescod

Creative Writing

Bodies In the In-Between by Jameisha Prescod

Bodies In the In-Between by Jameisha Prescod is one of three pieces of original work commissioned for the Deptford Literature Festival 2024.

About the Disabled Writers Commissions

Spread the Word’s Disabled Writers Commissions aim to showcase new work by three London-based disabled writers. They provide a developmental and profile-raising opportunity. The commissions’ open call, judged by Ayesha Chouglay and Joe Rizzo Naudi, invited disabled writers to put forward their ideas against an open brief.

The commissioned writers – Yaz Nin, Jameisha Prescod and Jacqueline Ennis Cole and Sofia Lyall of *AMPLE Collective – received a commission fee, an activation budget and developmental support including mentoring from Esther Fox, Peter deGraft-Johnson and Jill Abram.

About Jameisha Prescod

Jameisha Prescod FRSA is an artist-filmmaker, producer and writer from South London. Specialising in documentary, experimental film, video journalism and immersive visual art, they are driven by authentic storytelling and apply creative digital techniques to uncover powerful human experiences. Jameisha is also the founder and creative director of You Look Okay To Me, the online space for chronic illness. Jameisha is currently an associate artist at Forma Arts & Media and a trustee for London Arts in Health Forum.

Jameisha’s commissioned work is an audio reading of a creative non-fiction piece exploring the theme of water and its role in Black diasporic communities. Starting from the personal, the piece fans out into how Black communities have confronted water, bringing in the mermaid cultures of the Caribbean and Mami Wata, before returning back to the personal.

Bodies In the In-Between was commissioned by Spread the Word. The work was first presented as an audio recording at the 2024 Deptford Literature Festival.

Bodies In the In-Between by Jameisha Prescod


I floated on my back for the very first time last summer. If you were a bird that happened to pass over the Gulf of Trieste in the Adriatic Sea, you would have seen it. Taking steady, anxious breaths with arms outstretched, I tilted my head back and rose to the surface. It took 27 years to do this simple act. Something young children usually achieve before they hit double digits. I asked myself what took me so long, but the water gently reminded me that nothing happens before its time.

As my body floated atop this other body, this body of water, I realised it had been a while since I last felt held. To be held in such a way requires sacrifice and reciprocity. Prior attempts at floating ended in failure because of my unwillingness to give back. I desired to conquer water whilst remaining in control of my body, but it didn’t work. That summer holiday taught me a valuable lesson. You cannot demand the support of water, or the rest of nature’s gifts without offering something in return. That offering is vulnerability.

In all my unsuccessful attempts at floating, it never occurred to me to put my ears under the water. It was too scary. How was I supposed to feel safe if I couldn’t hear what was happening around me? Submerging my ears meant giving up my sense of hearing and full range of vision in exchange for weightlessness. Perhaps after all these years of fear and avoidance, water was trying to teach me that I couldn’t hold on to everything. I needed to let go.

I trace my traumatic relationship with water to one event. I was three years old and my mum thought it a good idea to put me in swimming lessons early. She carries her own water-based trauma and didn’t want me to go down the same path. I have vague memories of my lessons in a no-frills swimming pool belonging to the local secondary school for boys. Most lessons were spent splashing, kicking and gliding across the water on crocodile-shaped floats. But everything changed when I accidentally fell into the deep end. I can barely recall the exact order of events, but my body remembers and that’s enough to change you. My mum says I wasn’t the same after that and we eventually stopped going.

Naturally, it makes perfect sense why floating in open waters is a big milestone. On that summer afternoon, all I had was the sky, the sea and my body in between. In that moment, I had assumed my rightful place in the natural order of things. I was exactly where I needed to be, existing somewhere in the in-between of earth and air. This meditation was a space where time ceased to exist and the boundaries of where my body began and this body of water ended, became blurred.

In 1975, the words ‘water no get enemy’ left the lips of Fela Kuti. In almost ten minutes of pure afrobeat magic, we’re enveloped in rich horns and hypnotic baselines. Somewhere in the in-between of this sonic experience, Fela reminds us of the physical and spiritual power of water and how it stretches into every aspect of our being. Water has no enemies; it wins every single time. It has always been here and has always known us and yet we only know a fraction of its true nature. Water brings and supports life when met with respect but will quickly take it all away if this sacred contract is not honoured.

Maybe that’s why I have always skipped the last night of the proms where “Rule Britannia” routinely closes out a summer of musical excellence at the Royal Albert Hall. This patriotic piece proclaims ‘Britons never… will be slaves’ at the height of British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. Hadn’t anyone ever told them that the waves were never meant to be ruled? Rule Britannia holds a fundamental opposition to that of “Water No Get Enemy”. Colonialism creates a culture of conquest where nature is supposed to work for us rather than alongside us. Where oceans are just paths for the violent subjugation of black and brown bodies.

I still think back to floating in the in-between.

It reminds me of how my identity finds its home drifting across the Atlantic Ocean.

Somewhere between the Western coasts of Africa, the Caribbean and Britain.

I think of all the bodies that live at the bottom of this in-between.

All the names, stories and lineages forever lost at sea.

When you learn that waterways were significant cultural spaces for African people across different ethnicities, it becomes impossible to accept any notion that blackness doesn’t deserve to find peace there. It’s frustrating that European colonial violence framed water as an in-between of lands to conquer. This violence meant that for a long time, I believed that my beginnings with water were solely steeped in ancestral trauma. But water gently reminded me that it has always been here and has always known me, long before the violence of empire. These colonial acts were not the beginnings of our relationship, but simply an interruption.

Water is a portal where the culture and language of many a people survived the currents. It’s why I still find commonalities with Ashanti folklore and stories of Anansi or why I see my own reflection in Yoruba faces. If I listen hard enough, it’s why I can hear my Jamaican heritage when a Sierra Leonean speaks Krio. It’s why the gifts of Yemọja or Yemaja or Yemayá or however you choose to spell their name are still acknowledged in foreign lands. The mere existence of the displaced is a testament to surviving the waves. And maybe it was those lost in the in-between guiding us through the water all along. Everything is connected.

Maybe that’s why I felt chills watching the Montgomery Riverfront Brawl on TikTok. I watched a black captain be overwhelmed by white fists for simply asking a family to make space for his boat to dock. I saw a young black teenager glide across the Alabama River with ease to assist him. The same waters that bore witness to unspeakable acts against enslaved African people were now witnessing groups of their descendants leaping off a boat to resist further colonial violence. There isn’t anyone on this earth can convince me it was simply coincidence that said boat was named the Harriott.

Across the Caribbean, you might find aunties reminding you to remove all jewellery before entering open waters. This is to avoid attracting sirens or mermaids. More recently we have seen writers like Natasha Bowen and Rivers Solomon imagining worlds where these aquatic bodies hold the spirits of people thrown overboard in the middle passage. In Undercurrents of Power, Kevin Dawson also speaks of the mermaid story where one explanation stems from African women using water as a safe space against colonial sexual violence. Water hid their bodies from deviant eyes and kept them safe from men who would likely drown trying to reach them.

It then becomes fascinating to see the outrage against Halle Bailey embodying a Disney mermaid. Ariel’s pale skin and straight flowy hair were traded in for long crimson micro locs and a warm brown complexion. ‘How dare she?’ some would say. ‘Unrealistic’ others replied. Since when has it ever been unrealistic for a black woman to have her voice stolen from her? The pure unfiltered caucacity of colonialism demands a convenient short-term memory that seeks to remove all our claims to water. Is it so unbelievable for black women to feel at home under the sea or to feel at peace in the water that carries us and soothes our aching joints; the same water that promises to take the weight of the world from us when we lie back and submerge our ears? How could it be when water has always been our birth right?

But as I lay on my back, belly up to the world, sun beaming down on my face, water caressing my shoulders, I knew this was exactly where I needed to be. It felt like a piece of my personal and ancestral trauma broke off and drifted away that day. And as bodies of water across the world continue to reflect our skies, maybe heaven was a place on earth all along. Still, in my meditation, I thought of the ancestral bodies who looked like mine, forced across an ocean to the island of Jamaica, the land of wood and water. Generations later, my grandfather left this very same island and sailed across that very same ocean to another island surrounded by water, the one on which I’m currently writing this essay. Everything is connected.

Perhaps that is what compelled my mum to take me to those lessons all those years ago. Maybe the ancestors were guiding us to break generational curses and return to the body that has always known our bodies. While her attempts were originally unsuccessful, maybe my burning desire to process a trauma of over two decades speaks to a yearning for personal and ancestral peace. Water has always been my birth right, for it has always been here and has always known me.

(C) Jameisha Prescod, 2024