From the rooftops we could see what seemed to be the whole world set out before us. In the distance boats bobbed on the gentle waves, the great galleon standing way off shore loading supplies from the small boats, getting ready to go to god knows where. We lay on the tiles our heads resting on our arms, our arms on the ridge laughing and joking about our precarious position above the city. It was our place, secluded, quiet from the bustle of the streets, the vendors, hawkers, urchins and market traders. Behind us stretched the hills of the Downs, sheep being grazed on the parched grass while horse-drawn carts took the road inland. Every day we would finish our chores in double time and race each other to our vantage point to watch the world and ponder on our future. It had been a long hot summer, we were as brown as berries. The tiles were hot so whenever rain did fall it rose as steam almost immediately.
Laura loved her garden. She had worked hard and turned what was no more than a piece of scrubland when she bought it into an oasis of greenery shrubs and trees. The Acers were her favourite. She had seen them in Japan and loved the different colours and how they changed with the seasons.
Laura had been in the cottage for six years, she had transformed it and the garden was a picture. Everyone who saw it stopped as they passed and marvelled at her use of colour and texture. People were known to knock on her door to tell her how beautiful it was and even one of the gardening magazines had contacted her to include it in their next issue. She was reluctant but had agreed. They didn’t want her to do anything different so she just did what she always did and decided they would have to take it or leave it.
At the bottom of her garden she had turned a small area to vegetables. After all you cannot eat flowers and it seemed sacrilege to have land and not put it to good use. Laura’s trips to France where she spent most of her holidays had left a lasting impression on her culinary tastes. She loved the different mushrooms they grew and all the wonderful ways they would serve them.
She had never tried to grow them but decided it would be good to try. She bought a mushroom grow bag from the garden centre, 12 different varieties it boasted. Just place it in the dark and away it will go. It sat in the shed doing what it should do. She was patient.
It was the day before the visit from the Gardener’s Monthly. A storm threatened in the evening and she was woken in the early hours by thunder and torrential rain. Her heart sank her poor garden how would it look in the morning.
When she woke she noticed the devastation, not from the hail stones as she suspected. In the garden was her neighbour looking frantic, trying to herd his prize pig away from Laura’s mushrooms where it had been attracted. Apart from her decimated grow bag the garden was a disaster zone, the beds trampled the lawns churned up. Laura was furious.
I am Brown, I wouldn’t want to be anything else. I am nature. Green tries to say she is but it’s just on loan. I am earth, wood, bark, detritus, compost, dust, even Green ends up brown. I am shit and proud of it.
I am fur, I am skin. When humans arrived they were black, yellow of white. Not anymore. There is a new addition, me. Every day the population grows, brown, coffee coloured babies, the product of mixed race. One day the whole population will be a shade of brown. I am the dominant colour, I will always be to the fore.
If you know me you would know how mysterious I am, I am Mother Earth. I am Autumn, I am Winter, I am early Spring. My tentacles spread everywhere, into every crevice. They try to cover me up, to clean me away but I always win in the end. Some love me, waxing me, bringing out my beautiful hues and shades. Some colour me with their stains from mahogany to pine.
Have you ever smelt me? Of course you have. I’m not nice, you won’t find an aerosol with brown in it. You will also have heard me and felt me. Yes every day, but you would probably rather have not. I’m your first shit of the day. Yes that’s me, smelly, squidgy, dirty, and harmful, and I’ll still be there at the end of the day.
I don’t need the adornment of bright colours, dull is the order of the day. We stand together us females, all brown, sparrows, black birds, pheasants leave the bright colours for those show off males. No we’re brown, dependable and solid.
I am black. And some people deny that I am a colour at all. I don’t reflect light, they say. I don’t have a wavelength, so I am an absence of colour.
Absence. That’s an interesting word to muse on. What if I am absence? Why then, I would be stillness; I would be silence; I would be a note that is lower than the lowest note you’ve ever heard. I would be infrasound.
What if I am infrasound? Air passing through a crack in the wall of an old abandoned church creates me. A party of teenagers sneaks in and try to scare themselves. The infrasound that I am makes their eyeballs resonate. Their vision becomes confused. They think that they’ve seen a ghost. And so I become associated with death.
What if I am death? Why then, I am the colour of the dress you wear to a funeral. I am the colour of the executioner. I am the smell of the woman, as she is burned for being a witch. I am the terror that lies at the end of life, that awaits you all. The one thing of which you can be certain, which scares you so much that you invent gods who can console you. But they do not bring you happiness. Instead, you go to war with your neighbouring tribe over whether your god is better than their god. You have raised a confused, terrifying edifice of a mess in my name.
What if I am a confused, terrifying mess? Why then, I am the colour that is made when the child mixes all her paints together. I am the result of stacking more and more slightly translucent surfaces on one another. I am the jaws of the monster that lies at the depths of the sea, where no sunlight penetrates.
You fear me, and yet I am merely an absence, because you fear the unknown. And so you become fascinated by me.
I appear on many of your flags. I appear on the flag of the asexual community. The absence of a sexuality represented by the absence of a colour. I also appear on many flags as a symbol of death. But there is another semiotic association you have with me that I haven’t mentioned yet, isn’t there?
I am used by many countries to symbolise freedom and pride, for I am the colour of the African people from whom sprung the entire human race, but who were then enslaved, and rose up to shake off their chains, and overthrow you. You first called them “coloured people”, and now they call themselves “people of colour”, and that belies the real truth of the matter, doesn’t it?
You see, I think you know that I AM a colour really. No, let me rephrase that: I am THE colour. If I wasn’t, you wouldn’t be so fascinated with me! More than any other colour, you love me and you fear me, but you can’t ignore me. Wherever I am, I will make you aware that I AM.
I am yellow. I am joy. I am the sun warming your back, the soft sweetness of sponge cake, the gloopy splodge of custard. I am a birthday present, the first day of summer, your best surprise, the happiest of all primary colours.
I am the joyful trumpet of the brass band that plays on the lawn at the village fête. I am a simple tune, a nursery rhyme. Dressed in me you smile, you show your confidence, you refuse to admit defeat. I am the gleam of galoshes, the bright light after the rain. I am a hundred, thousand daffodils swaying in the breeze. I am the fizz of sherbet lemons, the sparkle of glitter, the gleam of gold.
You may wonder how it is that I keep going, being so optimistic all the time. I never frown, only a happy giggle. I’ll tell you a secret. I have pulled off a huge deception, a startling cover up, because I am nothing but a façade. You do not see my true self.
If you looked closer, if you were not blinded by the torch I shine directly into your eyes, you would see that I am rotten, rotten to the very core of that yellowing apple. I may seem sweet, luminous even, but if you look beyond my shiny exterior you will taste the synthetic bitterness beneath. I am the pain of rotting teeth. I am a dirty yellow smile on a drunkard. I am also the spitting, snarling vomit that he retches up from deep within. I splatter onto the pavement, daub it with my slimy, sticky effluvia.
You may think that my sound is a beatific melody, but listen closely and you will hear that every note is slightly out of tune. I burble forth from little children’s gaping mouths, not a sweet choir – oh no – an awful discordant cacophony. I bring up your innards, I dance in your sickness. I am the steady stream of stinking piss that sluices the pavement.
So, I am stiff, snide, cold, a fake. I am as artificial and pretentious as that child’s painted on smile. Watch out for me in the faces of others. You will find me in precocious children, in ridiculous over-acting adults. I am the false pride of the attention seeker. My brightness belies my true nature. I am the dirty jaundice within. I am yellow.
It’s not easy being me. Really, it’s not. I am cursed by the tales of my beauty, and I can tell you, that is more of a myth than any of it!
People were always shocked when they saw me. The expectation is stellar, but I wasn’t much of a star. I’m actually quite dumpy and plain. I like my cakes and honey too much, and my skin is a nightmare – blighted with angry, red blemishes. My hair has never grown properly, that long, golden mane that you see in the paintings is something I can only dream about. I have thin, lank, muddy-brown tendrils that limp across my face and down towards my shoulders. You may well wonder, therefore, how I earned this amazing reputation; “…the face that launched a thousand ships.” Well, it’s all really about power and possessions, patriarchy and potency, and I was just pawn in a long, drawn-out game.
I never loved Menelaus, that’s for sure. It was an arranged marriage on my sixteenth birthday…. just a chance for the king’s coffers to feel the new weight of my father’s gold. I was passed from my father to my husband like a rotten piece of meat. They were both scornful of my looks, but hey, needs must. He just locked me up in a lonely tower and forgot about me.
When Paris came to find me he already had his head full of romantic notions. I think it was Aphrodite who did it. He adored her so much that he wasn’t willing to look a gift horse in the mouth. He snatched up his present, throwing a veil over my pock-marked face and carried me back to Troy. I think he just did it for the kudos really. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes. Menelaus didn’t want to admit that he had an ugly wife and obviously Paris didn’t want to either.
And the bloody thing started a whole war! One which went on for years. And where was I? I was tucked up in another tower, away from prying eyes so that my legendary beauty could be further exaggerated.
None of this made me feel happy. I just felt like a fake. And when that wooden horse was brought in through the city gates I knew better. I knew that, sometimes, you have to look a gift horse in the mouth. But, of course, no one listened to me.
And now I am immortalised in Homer’s epic poem, celebrated in great works of art, but I just feel cheated, a failure. In the modern world, maybe, I could have fought my way through, found a niche for a plain woman with a powerful mind. I am a great myth but in truth I was nothing but a toy. I was a plaything for those men. Well at least they didn’t actually play with me – I was just to be fought over. Lucky really, I’m hardly attracted to posturing macho types.
Perhaps, on a Greek island somewhere, I could have lived out a different romance. And happily faded into obscurity.
So this guy is a lawyer. A very good lawyer. He earns quite a lot of money doing what he loves. Which is to keep his clients free of jail or fines, using his clever mind. He loves being intelligent, he loves to show that he is cleverer than anyone else, to find the small detail that no one else has noticed and to surprise the entire court. The judge will have to surrender his client free of any charge. He finds a small bureaucratic mistake, a tiny, unspoken doubt to plant a seed that will grow in the jury’s mine. He loves that part of his job, to play the clever guy. He treats the cases as games, not as real people’s life affairs. He goes home at the end of the day (or beginning of the night) and goes back to his life as one closing a book after reading a chapter, something that is not connected to reality, something that is in another sphere of reality.
He has, of course, learnt how to do this; how to detach himself from the cruelty of what he has to witness every day. At the beginning of his career he would suffer endless sleepless nights, thinking what to do or how he would like to break a case, to betray his client, to show that indeed they did murder that person, and to show that his client is guilty! He wanted then to run, shutting the door on them. But he had to pay his bills. He loved the sea-view apartment he was living in, he loved his new car, he loved the gym, he loved the luxury hotels he enjoyed at the weekends, he loved to pay for his friends’ drinks and he definitely loved to be promoted and to get more money in his pay-check. So, being a believer as he was, and in an to attempt to redeem himself of his guilt, he considered that God was showing him the way to get those people off. To free them from their legal punishment was what God really wanted. And so he was free to be rich and play as an instrument of ‘God’ as much as he wanted.
She didn’t want to forget her heritage. It was important to her. And of course anyone could see it in her face; in the colour of her skin; her wide cat-like eyes; her strong Navajo nose; her long, thick, black hair. She did tie that hair up, most of the time. When it was swinging in a ponytail or neatly in a bun at the back of her head, she looked less indigenous , and with her jeans, heels and sleek tops she looked just like any other immigrant American. In fact some people treated her badly because they assumed she was an immigrant! With her warm, brown skin and dark eyes they thought she was Hispanic, Mexican. And you know how some white Americans feel about Mexicans! They want to hide them behind a huge wall of hate.
So they’d mutter under their breath about dirty hombres – criminals! Or they’d think that she was some kind of woman of loose morals, a prostitute even. Men would assume that she was poor and desperate, to be used and discarded.
It was difficult when she was growing up, hard for her to see how to fit in at high school. Her parents told her about her amazing ancestors but she just wanted to be like everyone else. She even wished her skin was paler, her hair thin and light so that it could be fixed into curls or bleached blonde. But of course her hair was too dark and too strong to be anything but a sleek, black waterfall running down her back.
She also didn’t want friends to visit her home. She was ashamed of what they might see: the thick quilts hanging on the walls, the dream-catchers, the soft, supple leather and the heavy swathes of feathers. She didn’t want her father to start telling his stories – the epic adventures of courageous braves and dark-eyed squaws. As a child she had loved to imagine the tee pees and the totem poles, the hot fires and the chieftains, but as she grew older she realised that no one else at school knew about these things, and she was embarrassed, ashamed, scared to stand out.
But now things had begun to change. As she grew up she realised it was good to be different, to have your own culture, your own ways. It was something to be proud of. And it was ridiculous how people saw her as an immigrant when it’s the one thing her people weren’t – oppressed, yes, but also indigenous, the original inhabitants, the real Americans!
So when her father wanted to take her photo, create a portrait of her, she was proud to wear the heavy jewellery, proud to stand tall, adorned with the thick feathers. This was her heritage, her past, the inheritance of her family, and it gave meaning to her life. She was reconciled to that.
Shadows in the mind
Shadows in the sea
Deep and dark like mussels in the night
To see, to check they are there, you need to dive
Dive deep inside your mind
Outside it’s bright like the sun in a park
Inside there might be the shadow of a doubt
That stops you from being free, from being you
From showing your soul
Shadows are figures of light, as you need the light to show the shadows
Shadows are not darkness. Shadows are the proof there is indeed light
Light at the end of the tunnel
Or light over our heads
Light inside our hearts that shows the world ahead.
I like to hide in the shadows sometimes, especially when I’m feeling low. I don’t want people to look at me, to judge me, that’s it – I’m so scared of being judged. In the shadows you can hide, you can lurk, you can avoid the glare of public scrutiny. And there is something almost exciting about a shadowy life, or being a shady character. If you don’t have to worry about what people think of you then you can behave any way you choose, as long as you avoid the sunlight, creep around in the shade.
You can find a darkened pub on a sunny day and congregate with other shabby, shadowy figures. You can enjoy the smell of warm beer, the security of a dark corner. And you can plot evil deeds!
If you’re that way inclined…
But I don’t think I am really. I only want to hide when I’m sad. And the closed curtains, the darkness, the safety of the duvet, they only prolong the sadness. It is much better, if you can, to get up, to get outside, feel the sunshine on your face.
And I do love the sunshine. I’ve decided to chase it more often. To seek it out and bask in it. To enjoy its warmth and energy.
And I don’t really want to get involved in dark deeds. I prefer things upfront, honest, brightly lit.
So I guess I’m not a person to hide in the shadows. Well, only occasionally. But soon I’ll be out again, to search for the light.