I've often wondered how she sees the world, this girl, probably 12 or so, who lingers at the museum as long as she can before closing; sometimes having to be escorted out when the security guy is in a foul mood.
There's no guessing what happened to her. The single leg and clackety crutches she uses to get around give it away. Even if those things weren't obvious, the floor to ceiling mushroom cloud painting that dominates the entryway that she almost exclusively sits in front of answer any remaining questions.
I don't know her name, and I don't particularly want to know. It doesn't matter who she is though; shes the personification of everything that went wrong; everything that we could have done better.
The mushroom cloud painting is her favourite, if I can use that term in this context, exhibit. If she isn't there, though, she’s over at the map. The Remembrance Map of the World, it’s called, on the opposing side of the mushroom cloud wall. Some designer made coin the day they thought of that placement. The map was the same as any other except it had a burnt hole, made with a cigarette, I'm told, where south eastern Europe should have been.
I never see anyone except the guards talk to the girl, and I never see anyone else with her. She comes alone and inevitably leaves alone. A product of the orphanages, if I have to guess. A fate she, nor her peers, deserved.
I wonder why she comes here. Why the painting, why the map. Sometimes, when I'm in a particular mood, I get this close to talking to her, asking her what she sees in that painting. But I never do.
Me, I see the truth. I see what the paint and the brushstrokes say behind the artistry, behind the colours and smudges. I see what the artist saw. I see the valley in Crimea on the newsfeeds as the planes flew overhead, signalling the last mission before the end of the fighting.
We all learnt our history. We had learnt, by rote, the cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It had been drilled into us time and time again that what happened in 1945 was a mistake, that it should never have happened. More importantly, though, we saw images and videos of those who were left behind. The scars, the cancers, the birth defects. We saw these and we told ourselves that we could never let something like this happen again; that nothing like this would happen under our stewardship of the world.
Yet, here we are. In the shadows of the unthinkable, reminding ourselves that it’s the children who always end up suffering. That girl, for instance, she’s never going to run again, never going to just be a child again. Not only that, but in all likelihood she’s never going to be able to have kids of her own. That choice was taken from her. By others who thought they knew better, who thought ‘this will show them our resolve.’ They couldn't have been more wrong. Mistakes piled upon mistakes until we end up here, a withered old man watching what should have been a happy go lucky child growing up with two legs.
She didn't understand the painting, but the Mother Superior had said that was ok. Understanding takes time, she said. For now, appreciate the painting. Look at the colours, look at how the artist has made the clouds glow bright. Ask yourself what else can you see in those colours? What do you think it all means?
She had been through the museum and looked at almost everything intently, with eyes only a child has. Only two items interested her. The tall cloud painting, as she called it, and the map that was burnt. It wasn't as if she was drawn to them in particular over any of the others, but these two had her name on them. Well, her mother’s name, which had been given to her before her mother had died. These were hers and here they were where anyone could see them. She liked that. She liked that other people liked the same things she liked. It made her happy, even if others kept telling her there wasn't much to be happy about these days.
The nuns didn't tell them all much, from when her parents were alive. Just that people had been fighting a lot and many, including her father, hadn't come back. Then her mother painted the cloud and she had to go and live with the nuns and a lot of other kids in a huge brick school building.
Some of the kids looked at her strangely and she didn't understand that either. She wasn't the only one on crutches. In fact, several of the other kids were in wheelchairs and some of them had no legs, or legs only to their knees. They didn't much like her asking about their legs. She so desperately wanted someone with only one leg, like her, to come to the school so she could have someone like her to talk to.
She knew what it was though, the reason why the other kids didn't like her very much. It was the scar. It wasn't bad, she always said. It was a gift from her father. The nuns always said this weirdly though but she shrugged it off. It didn't hurt, and it wasn't dirty, so she had trouble understanding why the others didn't like it.
She would touch it lightly at night, in bed. Running her hands down the jagged lines on her cheek and over the spot her other eye would be. Sometimes she would think about the parents she never got to meet while she touched it and wonder if they had scars like this too. The nuns were always surprised that she never cried when they talked about the fighting, or the map.
She always told them that they were the other gifts from them, but these ones weren't just for her, they were for everyone and its rude to not be thankful for gifts.