He was part of it, and it of him.
In every line engraved into the rough limestone, now cracking and crumbling with time, were the very lines of his face. The dark, earthy yellows were his skin, the sun breaking over the pinnacle, a warm mist washing over his body.
It was to him both a body and a soul.
In days of old, it was white—not a pure, unadulterated white, but the colour of the clouds after a strong wind, the colour of the breeze after a storm. Beautiful because of its imperfections, and marvellous because of the arduous work the people had invested into its construction—for his sake.
A cloudy white on the outside, a grainy yellow on the inside. The heavy greys of granite, and the fluctuations of gold and lemon coloured walls. When they had built it, and the man with the dark, bronze skin had stood victoriously at its peak to place the final block, he looked akin to a god. Such height, such magnificence! The dawn certainly shone bright that day, beaming down on the people, wishing them congratulations for this feat they had accomplished. The sun’s rays had bounced off the cloudy white walls, rendering them blinding to the naked eye.
And he remembered—he would always remember. He didn’t have to be able to see to know how it looked. Every line, every bump, every grain was as known to him as the crevices of his body and the thoughts of his soul. There were no secrets hidden between them, nor could there ever have been. Words had been whispered to these walls, and words had been received in return.
The day they came, it was even hotter than expected. Swathed in black cloaks and dark headwear, they came riding on ochre coloured camels, shouting to one another in loud, rough voices. He had wondered the reason as to their visit; he had wondered who was disturbing his peace. 24 years was a long enough reign; now it was time for him to sleep.
They had not let him.
One of them had hair spun of ebony and eyes flashing with greed and temptation fulfilled. He remembered this man racing through his monument, his home, shouting, always shouting, for the others to follow.
“Hurry, hurry!” His grating voice had bellowed, twisting his gorgeous language to such an extent that he had to strain to understand the writhing words.
The man’s crimson headwear, stained and frayed at the edges, whipped around as he dashed through the halls where once both the rich and the poor had walked. Those dark because of the harsh breath of the sun, and those pale because of the kind shelter of home.
He had followed their journey through his walls, not with his eyes but with his soul. Every stone they displaced, every inch of ground they stamped on in their hurry, he felt. He felt through his very body the disappointment of traps unsuccessful in their duty, the reverberations of walls which had failed to keep the unwanted out.
A strong surge of horror and trepidation crept into his mind when they entered the granite chamber. The fear reached its cold fingers into him, whispering into his ear thoughts and predictions he’d rather not have heard.
Don’t touch it! He had cried, reaching out to them in desperation, grasping at the winds left behind by their cloaks.
Step no further!
But he went unheard—remained unheard, as he had for many years.
In their greed, they did not see the carvings embellished painstakingly by many hands for many hours, such a long time ago. They did not see the stories contained in those lines, the world that had painted those pictures, or the people who had stood there.
Pause, he beseeched, pause. Run your hands over this granite; feel the history contained within. Understand that this is the work of a completely different group of people; a civilisation you will never fully understand. Preserve it; hold back your greed. There are other places you may fulfil your temptations.
Yet his voice went unheard. His fingers were weightless and sank through the dusty clothes of the men like light into water.
“Take it! Quick!” Agitated voices rang out, irritated and excited all at once.
He stood in the shadows, unable to do a thing. They were breaking him apart, and he could do nothing but watch and despair at their actions.
In their wake, they left rubble and disturbed earth and soil from the outside. It carried a scent he was unfamiliar with. No longer did it smell like papyrus and freshwater; it smelled like worn leather, of clothes and foods of other lands.
There were broken rocks and statues, and some of the white limestone had been taken.
There are the clicks of many cameras, and the sounds of laughter and amazement that carry across the breeze. They reach him, even all the way up there. Their delighted faces beam, squinting at the pinnacle as they appreciate the joy and wonder of a civilisation thought of as nothing less than magnificent.
The early whispers of dawn blow a warm breath across his back, caressing his skin and setting the structure alight. Rimmed in a light gold, the now worn lines of the monument glow with an irresistible mystery and charm—a charm certainly not unknown to him.
The limestone is now all gone. Removed by greedy hands and sold by unsatisfied robbers and thieves, his home is stripped bare. The tender honey of yellow limestone remains, just a glimmer of the splendour it once held.
They took his jewels and gold, the treasures his servants had loyally bestowed upon him, meant to accompany him into death. They had blunted carvings and inscriptions, destroyed paintings and sculptures that were already doing all they could just to hold themselves together.
Dirty footprints and cigarette butts had been left in places no one should have seen or walked upon. Places that had slumbered peacefully were violently roused by shouting and loud noises.
Honestly, he did not mind so much the jewels. The gold. The treasures.
Material could be replaced. But this structure—every piece of white limestone, every inch of golden rock and hardy granite—they were his essence.
His flesh, his blood, his mind. Without it he could not survive, and without him it would vanish. Every crack and orifice were lines of his story, and in its walls you could see both his successes and failures.
As much as every stone reflected his life, he was an embodiment of its greatness.
The clicking grows louder, and the flashes brighter and more blinding. But all he feels is the gentle caress of warmth on his back, and the breath of yellow walls whispering to him.
He closes his eyes as he runs his fingers over broken stone, broken structures and broken doors. A tear runs down his cheek, but he can hardly feel it compared to the throbbing pain of shattered rocks and thundering feet.
More than anything else in the world, he is sure this is not the way it should be.
—Jia Min Ong is a student living in Melbourne, Victoria. She likes history and art, and loves stories that don’t need words to be told. This is her first published work.