• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 07

The Boy. The Girl. The Maiden.

You are different, of course, yet something in your eyes reminds me of the children I saw in the museum. Perhaps it is the charm around your neck, put there to ward off unseen dangers, perhaps the hint of gold still clinging to your hair. Perhaps it is simply the sense that you are looking at me across the bridge of ages, from a world that I can only fail to comprehend.

There are three of them there in that museum, in a small town of cobbled streets set high on windswept plains. The churches there are bright, extraordinary; dashes of lavish colour built to taunt the sky. The main square is lined with colonnades and scattered with pigeons, whitewashed cabildo perched on its southern edge. The sun is hot, air noticeably thinner, the dust that spreads away from the town a deep, throaty red.

The children are there in that town, that museum, hunched in the same positions as centuries ago. Only one is on display at a time for the visitors, safe behind walls of smoke-coloured glass. They take it in turns to entertain the hushed tourists, showing off their smooth cheeks and wide-set eyes, beads and braids and skin as tough as leather, little limbs ossified like coral strands. Their clothing is warm and built to withstand the weather: woven shawls and fur-lined boots. Each is different yet disconcertingly familiar, radiating an uneasy sense of peace, as though death is something they have merely slumped into.

I know – because the display boards told me – that they were drugged before it happened, homebrewed alcohol curdling in their veins. They weren’t awake in the moment they were buried, placed cross-legged into shallow graves, heaped with stones and sand and soil and prayers intended to bring health or rain.


The Boy. The Girl. The Maiden.

Three of them tucked in along the spine of the mountain, neat wombs clawed into the rusty earth. I wonder if they felt warm in those spaces, no longer betrayable, somehow secure. It would have been quiet up there after the others had left them. Lonely but for the wind and the jackals, star-strewn sky above.

I no longer remember why the Inca killed those children, why they drugged and buried and left them to die. Perhaps it was to summon a good harvest, to rally storm clouds to water the parched earth. Whatever the reason, it is no longer important. All that matters now is the memory of their small, hunched bodies, the aching perfection of their snow-preserved skin. The gentle rounding of their shoulders, which told me they had simply given in.

I used to think that I would fight if I were walled in, trapped in a space from which there seemed no way out. I used to know that to fight was to have courage; to give in the ultimate betrayal of one’s self. But life, I have learned, is different without its prepositions. Another thing entirely when giving in becomes simply: to give.