Back to the Killing Field by Brenda Anderson
Juba looked in the mirror. Her minders had told her not to wear makeup today. Instead, they’d apply soil to her cheeks for the photos. Her unnatural pallor would contrast with the rich, red loam of the killing field where they’d found her. Or, at any rate, found her head. Only when a passerby spotted the clump of strange, bright flowers had the authorities investigated. Then they’d found her head, face upward, soil embedded in her partly-opened mouth. From it, flowers had sprung up. Astounded, they’d rescued her, cleaned her up, and given her a new, metal body. (Who knew what happened to the old one?)
Today, Juba wore a long, rust-red cloak. When asked what color she’d like to be photographed in, she’d said without hesitation, “The color of the loam where I was found.”
Now she studied her face. These days, to earn her keep, Juba grew flowers that sold for astronomically high prices. No one knew why such flowers grew in her mouth. Perhaps that particular war zone wanted to keep her alive. (Her head, that is.) Strikingly beautiful, with geometrical shapes and unique colors, the flowers fed on her saliva. All she had to do was drink a glass of water, tilt her head back, and wait for an hour until they grew. Then she plucked them, put them in a vase, rinsed her mouth, and went about her day. She had no need to eat and only drank water to feed her flowers. Her mouth, whether full of budding flowers or newly emptied, always tasted fresh and clean.
Finally, her minders arrived, greeted her warmly, and escorted her to the waiting vehicle. The trip would take an hour. Juba settled back and, with indifference, watched the world go by. Not that she hated her new life. Rather, she had no memory of the former one, or why she’d wound up in that field. Afterward, when it had been cleared of bodies and body parts, her head had evaded detection for some unknown reason.
They reached the field at last and her minders escorted her across the rich soil. One bent down and dabbed some soil on her cheeks before the photographer got to work.
The field itself aroused no emotions. Juba wished she knew what had happened to her body, but in the end, what did it matter? Yet she felt a yearning that was hard to put into words. As if she was missing something.
(Not her body. Her new metal one supported her well and better still, needed no upkeep.)
At last, the minders finished taking photos. Juba looked around. Some hundred yards away, she saw a small explosion of color and stifled a gasp.
“Can I walk a little?” she asked.
“Sure. Go for it.” They’d bent over the photos.
Juba wrapped her cloak tighter and walked toward the color. Bent down. Peered at the tiny flowers. Swept the topsoil away. Gave a start when a small face, eyes open, mouth full of flowers, stared up at her. Juba gasped, brushed more soil away and leaned closer.
The small mouth curved into a smile.
Juba whispered, “You’re a…baby.”
The eyes widened, the smile broadened.
Juba scooped the head up and tucked it into the folds of her cloak. She turned and walked back. “Ready, guys?”
They barely glanced at her. “Yep. All done.”
In the hour that it took them to get home, Juba tried to make sense of this unexpected find. The small head in her lap felt warm and comfortable, as if it belonged there. This baby had survived for so long, without any care, almost as if it had been waiting for her. Juba longed to touch it again. The instant the minders left, she rushed inside and began the familiar task of setting the head to rights. Plucking the flowers. Cleansing the face. Washing out the mouth.
Such a cute mouth. It smiled, grinned, laughed!
“Baby, you’re amazing! How did you last so long out there?”
The baby gurgled, and Juba leaned closer. “I’ll look after you: get you a body, a name, anything you want. Just you wait.”
The baby blew bubbles at her.
“You’re adorable.” Juba kissed its downy cheek and found herself calculating times and places. Had those tiny flowers sprung up in the exact same spot where, months earlier, she herself had been found?
It hit her like a slap in the face.
Impossible. Surely not. Months had passed since she’d been in the field.
Months. No. The baby would only have been the size of the tiniest seed, yet it had grown, without any help. And she’d found it.
Overwhelmed, Juba blinked back tears.
The baby beamed.
Brenda Anderson’s fiction has appeared in various places including Flash Fiction Online and Daily Science Fiction. She lives in Adelaide, South Australia and tweets irregularly on Twitter.