the pearl

Uma Menina

You can only reach the town by two ways. You can take the river, winding from the ocean to the middle of the jungle, your boat barely moving each day, your eyes always open for anything that could wreck the boat and leave you stranded in the jungle, lost in a second even if you followed the river as it threaded through the life crowding it. You can take a plane, a rickety four-seater with rust streaks along the wings, and a chain-smoking half-Indian pilot in a grubby baseball cap, gesturing and swearing as he pilots you, pointing out places where other planes have crashed and other people have died.

The town, when you finally get there, is, of course, smaller than you expected. Mining towns nowadays don't need to be large — there is more than enough machinery to do most of the work, and the few men that are there spend their days fixing machinery and spend their nights drinking.

Because of this, there are five bars and one church. And there are only three women in the town.

One is the single prostitute, who is paid in drinks and occasional pieces of fruit. The miners tell her that they will pay her in cash, in gold, in beautiful gems, but the payroll is sporadically shipped nowadays, and each time they come to her, they usually have just enough to keep them in alcohol until the next payday — or just enough to put off their tab for another month.

One is the pitboss's wife, who lives in a small house on the edge of town furthest from the mine, and is never seen outside of it — save for the two hours she spends every day in the church. When she leaves her house, the men bow their heads before her, and, therefore, have never looked into her eyes. It's said that one man did, and it's said that he ran into the jungle, and never seen again.

The other is just a girl — still. Of all the plane crashes and boat sinkings and disasters that the chain-smoking pilot can tell you about on your way to the town, she is the one he keeps coming back to. The miracle child. Found in her cradle in the middle of the jungle, not a scratch on her while her parents laid dead around her. One of the Indians found her and brought her to the priest, who prayed and rejoiced and cared for the little girl like the daughter he could never have.

She grew, slowly, never growing tall, but always strong and proud. The miners treated her better than they treated their own daughters (miles away in towns they rarely visited), and showed her knowledge that only men knew. She learned how to trap, how to fish, how to reach into a pile of slurry and pull out the glittering gems. She is short and slender and with her tanned skin and short black hair, she looks more like one of the many Indians who would magically appear overnight in the town and disappear before morning than the prime of Brazilian aristocracy she must be.

She's fourteen when it happens. It's been many years since the mine has caused any trouble, and many of the miners would admit that they had been expecting it for just as long but only after several bottles into their nightly drinking.

It's not a cave-in, per se, because there is not much of a cave. It is more of a landslide, a slow shifting of the earth around the pit, the earth reclaiming itself in a rumbling that echoes throughout the jungle.

She is in church, praying with the pitboss's wife and with her father, the priest, when it happens. She had just rung the bells for three o'clock mass, a task she's been given ever since she was tall enough to reach the bell pull. The rumbling slides through the town, an aural landslide before tons of rock and dirt land on a small area of the mine — smashing machinery and men with impunity.

She runs out of the church before she even realizes she has. But it's okay, because her father is following her and the pitboss's wife (who never seems to have a name, but is always known as mulher gritando — the crying woman, because of her many tears), and they are all looking at the spot in horror — the place where there was once machinery and men, both muddy and abused. But now there's just dirt, piles and piles of dirt all around.

She runs. She doesn't know why, but she's running, she's running towards the landslide, towards the screams and cries of the men underneath, towards the death and destruction she sees.

She stumbles halfway there. A sudden, sharp tug there, like she had been snapped back like a tree branch, and once she regains her balance, she's not certain what happened, but it was something, because, now, she's sharp and shining and she knows what she has to do.

She reaches the scene first, and, before anyone can stop her or even register that she's there, she lifts the remains of a rock crusher from the ground, freeing a man. She throws it aside, helps the man out, and continues digging.

This Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at