This new parchment I write on is fresh skin:
Taken from the back of a boy we found wandering alone near the dusty walls of Lahore, weeks after we crossed the borders of the Mughal Empire and days after we swam across the silt clouded waters of the Indus. I took the child by his warm brown arm and spoke into his ear in Punjabi, asking him, ‘Where are your parents?’ and he answered in a wet voice, ‘They have sickened and died,’ and I slipped my thumbs under the curve of his jaw to feel him live before I bent his neck and broke it so he cried no longer (some have said I take to pity too easily). I hold him now in my hands, his skin toughened under the sun of his empire which forgot him and over the smoke of our campfires burning earth-fed wood.
Not a league from the child’s killing we found his mother lying on the ground, clothed in flies. There was a newborn babe clutched in her arms snaked in purple umbilicus. The woman’s thighs were scabbed in the sun-dried crust of the infant’s birth, her stomach still flaccid from its expelled weight. The babe sucked at her cold nipple. It hurt me to see the bravery of this female, striving to feed her offspring moments before her death. I did not tell my companions my thoughts. I lingered a moment longer, to bless the female and her babe with remembrance. How many times have I witnessed such sights across the centuries, and wilfully ignored them?
Makedon dashed that cherub’s head with a rock. A small mercy that he did not play with it. Gévaudan stared at the pitiful sight with a grimace of disdain. We did not eat of mother or infant, for our fardels were full at the time, and we were in no mood to scavenge like wild dogs, having trekked long to reach Lahore. We went on, to let them rot or become food for lesser creatures than us. I sought some comfort on her behalf, for the fact that her older son lived on in some way inside us, in the weird metabolisms of our shifting selves, in our dreams of his young life.
I test the scroll I made from him here, this dried skin to clothe the flesh of a story, or many. It holds under the bone of the nib.
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