Pariah was her name. It was by her own insistence, as the masses begged, asked, demanded. A means to identify their heroine. A means to identify their saviour, their guardian. A name of an unknown. For the longest while, that name was met by protest, outcry, denial. There was no way this sweet, sweet girl could be a “Pariah”. Her demure, childlike visage of angelic features, framed by auburn locks, she painted a picture that brought a certain fantasy to life. She was the fairy in the dreams of children who hovered over green pastures, doing wonders to the dried leaves that accented her beauty in their ironic death as they circled around her with every step. She was the portrait of digital art that teenagers and young adults fantasized about, the wallpaper that claimed the space of so many pixels and billboards, grabbing all attention away from the words that announced a franchise’s virtual world, the signature of the toiling artist, its meaning lost as onlookers gazed at her curves. She was the impossible for the disillusioned adult, their childhood memories of fairytales and imagination long buried in the harsh reality of responsibilities and accounts.
When she first emerged, devoid of all past memories, and drowning in her own confusion, the world was in doubt. Word spread about this real life ‘superhero’. Many thought it was just a hoax, not to be taken seriously, just another viral video on the internet, just another well done computer generated creation. As she created bigger headlines, she transitioned from a ‘fan-made superheroine’ to a government-fueled conspiracy’s child. Never before, has the world witnessed such a ungodly row. To Pariah, this was all happening on the sidelines, vaguely aware of it, concerning her, yet not of her concern. Afterall, if you’re amnesiac and the only known one of your kind, there are other things that would be placed way at the top in the list of priorities.
When there was no denying the validity of her superhuman feats as she garnered more witnesses of the naked eye, there was also no denying that her very existence brought many questions up. Scientists who she always fled from, their eyes focused on the single-minded task of research and discovery. Politicians who tried to buy favours and representative services. Religious leaders, who did their best to draw connections never seen before, to somehow justify her, to say that she was, she is. It was at that point in time, where she also learned of it’s Hindu origins. Completely unintentional, yet it was an underestimation on her part. They picked up on that so swiftly, beyond fathom.
Sophisticated folks, with their unnecessities, their self-contradicting cycle of self-destruction and self-preservation would write sums of ridiculous amounts on cheques, hoping to maybe, just maybe, have a new face for certain large corporates, a new mascot, a new icon, or have a picture with the Pariah. Let their overworked, harassed secretaries weave a sensational tale, second to the billboard. It didn’t matter what the truth would have been, pictures always mattered more than words
Pariah now lay spreadeagled, on the ground, in the middle of a smoking crater. Some smoke probably came from her. It didn’t matter. God knows where she was. It didn’t matter. Not when you just reentered orbit, a trail of hellfire – or starlight depending on who was watching – and in spectacular fashion, announced your arrival back to earth. It didn’t matter either way. She was in a pool of her golden blood – it was a hard hit. The ground, not so. The latest threat came in the form of an intelligent fool’s project, gone wrong.
She jerked her head up, her glowing irises dilating. The sudden movement brought up a painful cough, gold peppering her bosom. But never did she look away, as she took in the vision. A tiny, toddling figure, going down on threes and fours as she made her descent down the middle of the crater. Occasionally she would gasp as she touched a smoking surface, rapidly drawing the singed member back. Pariah stared. “Don’t come,” she rasped. “Stay away!” A hushed warning. It was all she could manage. She lay back down in resignation, ragged groan escaping her lips, as the clumsy shuffling of the child’s feet persisted.
The girl couldn’t have been older than seven. She waddled through the debris, brown curls on a walnut, woody complexion. Most of her face was hidden in a large, woolly scarf. Round, curious eyes gazed with a child’s curiosity. Innocence poured through her posture as her gaze flicked, attention flitting between the fallen being and the treacherous terrain.Each time she looked up expectantly, Pariah felt a twinge from within. She was not sure what it was. It could be frustration. Silly child. There’s nothing to gain here other than scrapes, bruises, possibly a scald or two. It could be admiration. The child’s dogged attempts to reach her, driven by motivations that Pariah could only assume to be of sheer curiosity. That sentiment was almost foreign to her, burned up and wasted away like the ashes and smoke from several lifetimes ago.
The first time she had spilled blood, it was after the discovery of glass vials and odd-looking beakers in laboratories, men had scrambled over each other, desperate to salvage something. Lady luck got her back, they never got a perfect sample, most of it was damaged by intense radiation. It was the kind of stuff that happens when you have a nuke blow up in your face out of orbit. It had sent the Pariah plummeting to Earth in similar fashion back then, like her current predicament, centuries later.
“Are you alright?” Pariah jerked her head up again, the effort giving her a splitting headache. She frowned as her halo – lined with porcelain-like spiderwebs of cracks – let out a melodic clink, another golden piece falling off. It used to gloriously frame the outline of her head, from where it mysteriously hovered over her back. Now it was cracked, it’s brilliant glow dulled, it’s flawless surface tarnished. She squinted at the little, doll-like creature, following her entranced gaze directed at the damaged halo – Pariah was not the only one distracted by the clink.
“Apparently not.” Pariah did not bother hiding her begrudging tone. Anytime now, the sirens would reach her, and they could do whatever the hell they want. She tires. She resigns. It was not pleasant, to say the least, to be unappreciated, and to be taken for granted. Perhaps it was true. Things aren’t meant to last on this planet. People always valued subjects, filled with pointless guilt; only after they were lost. It was her turn to go now.
“But why?” the girl was so close by now that her feet were causing golden ripples in her pool of blood. If Pariah was able to, she would have jumped. Her superhuman hearing was failing. She was probably closer to death than she though. “Sister Ramirez said that angels can’t get hurt. They say you’re an angel.” Pariah could hear the thick accent in her voice now. The girl fidgeted, clasping her arms together, shuffling her feet, seemingly unaware of the golden puddle she was standing in. “You’re an angel, aren’t you?”
“Don’t waste your time here, little miss.” Pariah managed a chuckle. She considered herself many things, but she was no angel. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. “Go run to your mama and play with your dolls.” She did however, make an effort to sit up, groaning as the halo on her back clinked like porcelain. Her ridiculously durable body has somehow been broken in several places, sharp pangs of pain in her bones and muscles, complicating the otherwise simple process of sitting up. Every inch up was like every new step on a minefield. Time and again she paused, drawing a sharp intake of breath as a new mine was set off, it’s shock wave resonating throughout her body. Her ribs screamed in agony. Out of the corner of her vision, she took a peek at the little girl. She was still shuffling about, eyes on the ground, but anyone would have known that she was politely trying in vain, to hide her curiosity. Tentatively, she stretched a hand out towards the child. If she was still here, might as well make use of her. The child, such certainty and fluidity in her movements that it surprised Pariah, reached out unhesitatingly and tugged with both hands. Her entire body leaned back as she angled herself, like how someone her size would pull a luggage as large as herself up a flight of stairs. Her large round eyes reflected golden radiance of the now upright, albeit cracked halo.
Pariah groaned as she lifted her knees up, leaning her chin on one of it. She saw just then how much of a vulnerable position it was, almost fetal. She drew her breath, gazing into the lively eyes of the child, and took the leap. “What’s your name?” It was a trivial question, the most common of ice-breakers, barely requiring any brain power for the next passerby, but for Pariah, it was a major gamble. She had shunned society and humanity for as long as she could remember. She tired of it’s politics, it’s cowardice, irresponsibility, and it’s fraudulent facade. It had drained her of all the trust she could muster in any known object in the universe, herself included. The secrets she has been forced to keep, under circumstances that were not set by her own hand, it was sickening.
The reply came soft, slow. It spoke with the melody of one who was in such awe that even her own name couldn’t possibly impress the supreme being. Pariah was no stranger to such attention, but it was always just as unpleasant every single time. If anything, it placed her on a pedestal, doing no good to the pretentious nature of mankind. “…Carmen.”
Pariah gathered herself. She was in a most unique position, although this was not known to Carmen, or any other human on earth. The last time the nuke had sent her crashing down to earth from the upper atmosphere, it had also brought her closer to death than she could ever remember. Having not yet lost her spirit of justice, nor giving up on her dreams for global peace and perfect harmony, recovering was like a snap of her fingers. Her sheer desire to rise again, her bottomless pit of will, her revival was almost effortless. She had witnessed her own skin mending itself, her iconic halo glowing again as if it had undergone a reversal in time. Even the dust on her body vanished, leaving her spotless. She remembered rising off the ground before even the news chopper could get close. She remembered picking up speed and rocketing back to the explosion of the nuke, to see to it’s end, the only indicator of her ever being hurt was the puddle of blood, heavily irradiated, in the crater. That too, had sent the world into a frenzy, like unwanted, little playthings at her fingertips.
Now, she was hanging over the edge of life and death again. She had gathered just enough energy to sit up and carry a conversation, but she could also will herself to death instantly. She just hadn’t made up her mind yet. Her body, held in it’s perpetual state of half-break, the fractured halo held together by her will for the time-being. There was something about this child that piqued her interest. That innocence, that foolish naivety. One last conversation, especially with a mind of purity, yet to be tainted with the adult matters of this world wouldn’t hurt, and then she can finally be left alone in peace, for the rest of eternity. Yes. That would be the best.
“Carmen?” She forced a smile through the pain. “Que lindo nombre.” “What a nice name.” The murmured compliment slammed into the child like the shower of a ruptured pinata, blushing so deeply that even her scarf could not hide it. She tucked her head between her shoulders as she lurched her hands away, realizing too late that she was still holding the tips of Pariah’s fingers. Even Pariah couldn’t help but laugh, her voice as fragile as the tinkling of her halo. That softness she has never let show in public quickly eased the child. Pariah craned her neck, looking around. All she could see from the depressed center of the crater was upturned soil, scattered, still smoking ashes, flattened trees. She did not strike anything populated, it seems.“Where am I?”
Pariah blinked. Portuguese. “Floresta?” In spite of herself she squeezed the bridge of her nose. She stared at that offending hand, blinking as her vision sharpened. Strength and clarity were returning at a rate she did not appreciate. “Tijuca?” Some horrible, silly human part in her mind had decided on the girl to be from Mexico, and in extension, where she had crash landed. As it turned out, she was in the obnoxiously large urban forest of Rio de Janeiro. A sudden bout of coughing assaulted her, realizing that she had breathed too deeply, her lapse in focus handing her a much needed lesson. The pain kept coming as she coughed again, and again, the merciless pain not letting up as it ripped opened her insides. Her mind was racing with almost incomprehensible curses as the pain knocked her back onto her back, as it forced her onto her side as she tried to double over, as her face grew moist with tears, dripping into the blood beneath.
“Aren’t you…,” As if by an act of mercy, Carmen kept the conversation going, despite the obvious fear in her voice. “Aren’t you…an angel?” She was backing up, on her bottom and her fours, as if she had lost her balance somewhere along the way. “Angels, they don’t die, right?”
“There are no angels!” The pain, along with her long lost impatience for the pettiness of man removed her self-awareness, for an instance. It was long enough to shatter the innocent joy of a child, and irrationality grabbed it’s opportunity. It surged her back up. The annoyance she’s had to deal with, albeit one born from innocence and naivety. The product of propaganda and fairytales. “Even, if there were,” Pariah grit her teeth as she mastered the pain, as she mastered the cough. What that came from between her lips was an almost inhuman growl, silky and cunning. “And if I were one,” she fixed her golden gaze at the girl, whose scarf had became undone, her now uncovered mouth wide open, fear being forced down her throat. She flinched as if her word was command. As if it was about to order her execution. Her eyes shut, her jaw clenched, her head slightly turned away as Pariah finished. “I would wish that I had died, long ago.” Her anger had died off, the last line barely a whisper. The echoes of the outburst still loomed in the air. She hid her face in shame, behind the crook of an arm that had come to rest upon her knee.
To her own credit, Carmen, quick to forgive, steadfast on trust, bounced back to the enigmatic figure. “But, Pariah, why?” She took several careful, yet firm steps forward. “Why would anyone even want to die?” She wrapped the scarf around her face in the heat of the crater. “Isn’t life too precious to waste?”
Those whimsical words only possible from a child almost made Pariah physically flinch. She shot back. “What do you know of life?” What was wrong with her? She took pride in her immense patience. Nothing ever made her snap like this, not the drama of the world, not the politics, not the plotting, not the selfish conspirators. It was her will to live and her desire to care that gave first.
It wasn’t long after her third century, which also happened to be mankind’s 21st, before she found herself hovering aimlessly around the skyscapes of Earth’s cities, news choppers tailing her, camera flashes and the murmuring of the people on ground. Not one thug used to escape her sight, but she learned to ignore them. Her days of zooming around with purpose were over. An angry mob called out for her name as more deaths and disasters occurred from her negligence. She wanted to scream back that it was not her obligation to begin with, but humans are impossible to argue with. They weave, they twist, they attack with such mastery over words. It never ends. Human nature never stops. Was there really no rest for the wicked, or was it her, who has no rest. Even if she never physically tired, her mind was past breaking.
Not too many decades ago, she had averted a war. A war, on a global scale, where she simply flew around, literally kidnapping the leaders of Austria, Germany, Britain and France from where they stood amid their panicked lieutenants. Placing them all in a room together, her glaringly gold irises, her arms folded across her chest as she casually leaned back against a wall, possibly playing a part as they hastily signed some form of agreement. The world was left in peace for a time, until the emergence of secret weapons and intelligence. It was a world she detested, a world of cloaks and daggers. Her love for mankind in general still stood strong, so the launching of a nuclear weapon, in comparison to a thug on the street, still spurred her into fast action.
“Carmen, look,” she urged in controlled gentleness. “I have lived long enough. Longer than anyone here should.” She gestured to the skies where the rift in the sky was closing up as clouds regathered. “The world, doesn’t want you anymore when you’ve lived too long.”
For a moment, she thought the child was about to blow up, as she balled up her fists and grit her teeth. “NO!” She was marching towards the seated superheroine now. “No, no, no, no!” Pariah even expected her to hit her, the mere thought and visualization of it almost making her chuckle. She could see the girl hammering her balled up fists against everything she could find – but the girl stopped short. She was almost face to face now, Pariah half raising a brow. “We want you! I, I want you!”
“Not talking about you. Or people.” Pariah adjusted into a cross-legged position. Positive thoughts were healing her body, but no matter. She could still will herself to death anytime now. It was how her power seemed to work. Pure desires could facilitate anything in her body. She was the God of her own body. She could gain even more strength, even more speed, she could allow even a needle to pierce her skin, and she was sure, that if she tried hard enough, she could force her life to end.
“World, made for one lifetime to learning. I, lived for three generations. Maybe more. Nothing else to learn. People didn’t design schools and books with more than fifty years of learning in mind. It gets empty. Boring for people like me. Person like me. Time to move on.”
The rebuttal was smooth, fast. Pariah wondered if the girl had even paused to listen to her words, simple as she had made them. “No! God didn’t take you, so you cannot die. You cannot choose to die!” Her infant-like anger was entertaining, to say the least. Pariah felt her lips curling.
“But Carmen. This world, is not so beautiful anymore.” She rolled her eyes. Oh, your mother is going to kill me for scarring her child for life now. “Everything I do, some people will always fight back. Everybody talks about why I shouldn’t do it, when even I tell myself that. It is like – nobody bothers telling me why I should do it. You see?”
The little girl gestured to her own little torso. “Look at me. Look at me!” Bouncing on the balls of her feet, almost feverishly excitable, she uttered, “I get this all the time! I still do it because they don’t know what they’re saying, even if they say something is wrong! I only find out if it’s wrong the hard way! But I still don’t trust big people’s words, big people lie a lot!”
She stood even closer, her face almost level with the seated Pariah. Clapping her palms against the side of her hips, she was clearly not done with her berating. “So, if someone tells you it’s wrong, and you think it’s wrong too, does it mean you shouldn’t try? Instincts are not always correct, you know!”
Yea. They’re wrong until the day that way of thinking will get you killed, girl. Pariah let her continue.
“You think too wrong. Too wrong!” Tapping a finger against her head. “Let me tell you a story of people who talk good on you.” Pariah was certain both her eyebrows had disappeared into her hair by now. “One day, a fox saw a crow with a piece of food in it’s mouth. He starts by talking about how beautiful the crow is, how it’s feathers shines, and it’s eyes glow – not like yours, of course – I just want to hear your voice, for I am sure it is as beautiful as any other part of you.”
“Yeah,” Pariah cut in. “And the crow opens it’s mouth to sing and drops the cheese on the ground for the fox to take.” Sirens were cutting through the air now. Pariah slammed a solid golden bubble around the crater. Nothing is going in, nothing is going out. Nothing will ruin her peaceful moment now. If fate had decided on sending this little girl in as the emissary of mankind, let her audience continue uninterrupted. She did not need paramedics and cops clamoring her small space.
“Wrong story, kid,” she said, the girl whipping back to face her, distracted by a otherworldly boom of the barrier. “It is more like, I am the crow, and the fox is saying, ‘just give me your cheese and please don’t sing, nobody wants to hear your voice.’”
Carmen blinked, her eyes welling up. “Pariah.” Her voice broke. “If you do this, so that people suffer, so that people learn the hard way about how important you are, you are so wrong.” For the first time ever, she physically touched the superhuman, leaning forward, her hands on Pariah’s raised knees. “Don’t let them win. Please. I don’t know what big people like to think of nowadays, but they are all so wrong. I don’t know how they think, and now, I don’t want to grow up all the more. Because I still see you for who you are.”
Pariah played the role of child now. She craned forward, almost begging for the conclusion to the girl’s sentence. It came, and something in her heart started beating again. “A hero.” It was not the simplicity of the words, or the naivety that got to her. It was the tone, summoned from within the depths of a child, deep and unknowing, a world she has long forgotten. So long has she been caught up in the affairs of grown men that nothing could ever be taken at face value again – or so she thought. There was something intangible in the eyes of the child, the firm, self-assurance that no politician could ever replicate as they lie masterfully into the camera. Pariah, in her long years, had subconsciously developed a way of reading a person’s body language, the micro-facial expressions, the cruel, cunning twitches along particular lines. She had never seen such a reaction in a long time. Then again, she had shunned humanity for so long that nobody, for the longest time, ever had a one-to-one talk with her like that. Even when she was surrounded by a crowd, children were the last people she had bothered scanning. Their ignorance, their clueless thoughts were sure to have infuriated her beyond words. Her utter disregard for them was also why this one Carmen was allowed to approach her as she lay down, determined to die.
The child extended a hand, as if she read her mind. Pariah stared at it, scarred and twisted, scalded by something in the past. The talk of Sisters. Her jab at her mother. She had to be an orphan. Their eyes connected.