As he turned around another corner, he scarcely missed an older girl who had been walking down the same path.
He didn’t have the time or the breath to apologize though, so he kept on as fast as he could, but then lowered his speed and almost stopped altogether when he heard a loud and harsh rustling of leaves from behind him.
“Cuidado!” he heard the girl shout in surprise and anger.
“Ugh! What the…?”
“Mira por dónde vas, idiotas!”
“Mis disculpas, Paloma… Yo y mis chicos solo estamos jugando,” Dagga’s unmistakable voice sounded over the others, matching the girl’s accent perfectly.
Although he didn’t understand anything his tormenter had said, the child did notice the tone he had used, simply because it was so different than how Dagga normally addressed other people; his voice had deepened and softened, his tone starting off as polite and growing playful at the end.
“Oh! Dagga?…Bueno… sólo tener más cuidado la próxima vez.”
“Por supuesto, Paloma.”
“Dagga, will you stop messing around with that girl! The kid went this way!”
Upon hearing that, the child started and picked up his pace once more, berating himself for having stopped in the first place.
As he delved deeper into the maze of roses, he started being more mindful with his steps, trying to run as fast but also as soundlessly as possible. The paths were tighter and shorter now, with a lot more turns and dead ends, so he also had to be more careful about his choices.
This change of pace forced his heart beat into a crawl, and he could hear the steps behind him also slowing down.
Different roses marked different paths. The child followed the familiar colors and softer smells, all his senses on high alert even as he let himself be guided by memory.
Then, as he made his way deeper and deeper into the maze, the voices came.
‘Come, little one. Let us help you.’
They were whispers, hundreds of hushed voices, speaking all at the same time, and whose lingering words crawled into his ears, forming echoes in his mind.
‘Do not fear. These ugly moving creatures won’t lay their filthy hands on you.’
‘We won’t let them.’
‘Yes, we will not.’
‘Follow us, quickly!’
He heeded their calls, following their voices as he took hurried turns, leaves and rose petals brushing against his legs and arms.
Finally, after what seemed like too many tense hours, the child stepped out of the maze and into the hot summer air. High up in the sky, burned the sun, gleaming over the grand courtyard of a mansion that stretched as far his big eyes could see.
The child heard no unusual noises behind him, but didn’t dare to linger and wasted no time in running down the courtyard’s stone stairs. Stepping into the building’s refreshing shadow, he eventually reached the glass doors that lead to mansion’s indoors.