Cajamarca, Peru by Arya F. Jenkins

We are winding up the mountain to Cajamarca, and I am playing word games, at seven, trying to get attention to avoid being afraid of the dizzying height of where we are going--even though we are all together, my father and mother in front, my brother Bill, the fifth child, on my mother’s lap, the rest of us in the seat behind, alternately watching the blond globe of my Iowan father’s head leaning forward and the tilted dark head of our Colombian mother intent only on feeding. La marca en la caja, the mark in the box, I say. My mother nods.

         My siblings and I are transfixed by the striking landscape, blowing fog and leaving fingermarks on the windowpanes as we test the increasing cold outside. Below me, red hibiscus flowers burst like wounds along the plummeting sides of the mountain. Overhead the sky is purple. That there is only room for one car on this dirt road seems to concern no one.

       We are going to see where the conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro ambushed and killed the Incas and their leader Atahualpa. I imagine the bloody scene. Whose side will I be on?--the white man or the brown one? Whose side should I be on? When my siblings I play cowboys and Indians back home in Talara, being darker, I am an Indian. My sister Mar, whose complexion is caramel is also an Indian. My red-headed freckled sister Ale gets to be a cowboy and my brother John, being a boy, is always one. The cowboys have toy guns and the Indians, only sticks and stones as pretend weapons. We live in a camp for engineers of Standard Oil and their families, where the men, mostly gringos and Brits, work in an oil refinery that looms like a giant metal spider at the periphery of the simple, natural world we inhabit across from the Pacific.

       In Cajamarca, sullen indigenous women walk humpbacked with bundles, their facades all but obscured by broad-brimmed hats. From time to time, they eye us suspiciously. Tall stone buildings, heavy with history, surround us. When my father stands on a stone wall at the edge of the square pointing to a dark cloud releasing rain, he looks more like a conquistador rallying his troops. The image sends chills through me. I see fire everywhere and hear combatting ghosts in the wind. At night, their weeping keeps me from sleep.

       To whom do I make allegiance? To whom do I belong? If I claim allegiance to no one, will the weeping then stop?

       The question of allegiance will amplify a couple of years later when we move to Connecticut’s moneyed suburbs and are confronted with a world entirely white that excludes people of colour, whose very ethos is white, and into which we will grow, becoming silent warriors for a time. 

ARYA F. JENKINS is a Colombian-American whose flash, short stories and CNF have been published in many journals and zines. Her short stories have received several nominations for the Pushcart Prize and one nomination in 2021 for the Best of the Net Anthology. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks and a short story collection, Blue Songs in an Open Key (Fomite, 2018). Her mixed genre novel, Punk Disco Bohemian, was published by NineStar Press in September 2021. A second collection of short stories, Angel in Paris & Other Stories, is due out in 2022. 

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