Injustice begets injustice; but the price paid isn’t always commensurate to the injury endured, especially when the cost is exacted from endless generations of innocents.
Known locally as ‘Amaraan’s Slight’ and known less-locally not at all, I have seen this unique medical affliction only in the remote, quasi-isolationist village of Kapa in northern India; cut off from neighbouring communities both by distance and by dint of being set deep in a vast tangle of untamed jungle. The sickness starts with raised, solid welts, a rash of sore lumps that have a profile more ovular than round. These marks come from naught to prominence, without any prior signs or symptoms which have been even tentatively identified, over the course of only a few hours. Although they form in irregular and unpredictable patterns they seem only to affect the torso and the arms, sometimes creeping up as high of the necks of those affected.
I say affected, rather than infected or any similarly specific term, because the cause of this particular malady is both unknown and, for those not so immersed in the esoteric peculiarities of the world, almost uniquely inexplicable. The welts are extremely sensitive to the touch, with even the lightest pressure causing an agony that causes the strongest of sufferers to be wracked with piercing shrieks and screams, and any attempt to continue such probing leads to fits and, in those rare cases where even this warning sign is ignored, death. As a result, the study of these early stages of the condition has been limited to visual inspection and anecdotal reports from those affected as to the symptoms and sensations that they experience.
The village has no doctors, as such, but Sumati, an insightful and adept botanist and natural scientist, maintains and updates the notes and findings of her predecessors; administering pain relief (since the sensitivity and placement of the welts means that few people suffer this condition without experiencing profound pain) and offering counsel to her people as the condition progresses. The transformative stage can take place over as little as two days or, for the extremely unfortunate, as many as thirty, as the skin stretched over the pronounced welts splits slightly, marking thin line horizontal scars across them. Sometime afterwards the skin suddenly splits like an overripe fruit, apparently painlessly, and draws back to the upper and lower extremes of the welts. Beneath, released and unveiled in a shallow burst of briny tears, a fully formed humanoid eye where each welt was. And every single one, on every single victim, an identical pale and glacial blue.
All of the eyes open in short order once the process has begun - over the course of minutes at most - screwing themselves shut and blinking into the light as if waking from deep, ponderous sleep. Although the eyes follow movement, look about independently of one another as though with purpose, they aren’t under the conscious or unconscious control of the affected person and relay no information back to their host. Blue eyes are rare enough now in Kapa, seen only on the very, very occasional explorer or trader who ventures too far from the beaten track, but generations and generations ago they were entirely unheard of.
The passage of days and years has generally been observed by the village as a contextual frame on which to hang the far-more-important stories and narratives around which their lives are construed and conveyed. As a result, the specific dates of when Amaraan - the first and only blue-eyed daughter of the village - was born are murkier even than the details of other personal and family histories. The respect and gratitude that are still observed for the everyday miracles of rain and sun and the growth of crops were, at this nebulous point in the past, more akin to worship, so the birth of a blue-eyed child was, understandably and unmistakeably, seen as a powerful and portentous sign or omen.
Initially fortunate, Amaraan‘s birth and childhood coincided with a particularly fecund and prosperous period, the colour and fact of her eyes becoming the sign of a great blessing. Nonetheless the quirk and caprice of the weather are its only constants, and eventually good luck turned to bad. Past these basics, the accounts begin to vary; a narrative split and retold along lines of taste and relative dramatic flair and even with a mind to particulars of a given audience. The most common details, at least as told to me, describe Amaraan as a young woman when the blessings began to fail, some even linking this reversal of fate to a courtship: a too-familiar echo of cross-cultural narratives where pubescence and the emergence of female agency act as catalysts for calamity.
Regardless: a star she never asked for in the descendant, jealousies and superstitions met, fomenting outrage and a desperate, murderous intent. In an act couched, unbelievably, in terms of mercy, someone suggested that Amaraan and the village might both be spared if only the offending eyes were put out. How this was done, how regretfully detailed the retellings of the same, I will leave unwritten if only to spare myself further nightmares. Alive but horrifically maimed, all agree that only a few days later the young victim left the bed where she was laid to convalesce, walking out in the middle of a moonless night so that any who followed would be as blind as she had been made, and was never seen again.
Soon, long before those who had taken her sight had gone back to the dirt, the first instances of Amaraan’s Slight began to affect the village, each new eye the colour of those which had been taken. A few sufferers attempted to blind the eyes but between the agony and the dangers of the infections which followed - taking scores of lives - this brutal solution was clearly untenable. Nonetheless, ashamed of the reminder of their guilt and fearful that something evil and vengeful was using the condition against them, the tanners of the village began to craft hard, form-fitting leather pieces to keep the eyes from watching.
With tradition lending inertia to notions that reason would otherwise have long since passed by, these coverings are still worn today regardless of the discomfort. Once rough and utilitarian they are now more likely to be decorative pieces, the leathers embossed, delicately filigreed or dyed in bright yellows, reds, and green. A few are even patterned with representations of the eyes they cover, a choice some still see as subversive, even potentially dangerous, but are too afraid of further reprisals to put a stop to. I left Kapa burdened by the shame of those who are, themselves, blameless, but steadfastly refuse to absolve themselves of the crimes of their ancestors.