I am black. Oh rota, the blank person who walks beside me, what are you saying? That you want candy? We walk into a store, and it’s full of black people, how black they are and how perfect, but beside me is a blank person and he (or she) is nothing at all. Just empty space, as I buy candy and feed it to this emptiness beside me, and outside is a dog on a chain and that dog is very black and barks at me, so I run, with a blank person beside me, down the dusty road.
At home, my black father says, “Who said you could have candy?”
I sit at the table and drink water. But mostly I eat candy. “I have my own money now,” I remind him.
Black father grins. “Naturally.”
But I don’t know what that means, and neither does the blank person. I share my candy with black father, and black father eats a lot of it. Black mother comes home and has some too, and there at the table we sit, black family with the blank person beside me, talking about the rain and singing and piano music.
Black mother and father put me to bed later, and then they leave to smoke in the back yard, under the rain while the piano plays. But I am not asleep, neither I nor the blank person beside me. There is something that itches on my skin, as it rains. I roll up my sleeve, and oh rota – the blank person that lies beside me – there is a spot on my arm, the size of a tooth – and this spot is totally white.
Directly under the light, it is white. Under the magnifying glass, it is white. After I try to scrub it off, still it is white.
“How curious,” says rota, the blank person sitting up with me.
“But rota, you can’t speak!” I tell him (or her). “You aren’t real!”
“Neither is white skin,” says rota, and what should I say to that in return?
Dreams are calm and fascinating, and fascinating is a word I heard in a dream that was so calm. Through dreams I swim, in worlds of black people but there is a ghost in the crowd, shimmering at the edges, and I try to find that person because it may be rota, and this dream world I have heard about may be the place where the blank person sleeping next to me is real. But then the clouds are gone and sunlight is in my room, and I am downstairs.
“Sleep well?” asks black mother.
“Naturally,” I tell her.
“How is rota this morning?” asks black father, but he is grinning just as black mother is, and I wonder how I became so funny.
I ask rota, and rota the blank person eating breakfast next to me asks me if black father and mother can give him/her a gender, as that is important. Rota wants a shape and a name, and so badly to be real, so I ask black father and mother that – and they laugh, so I shake my head (oh no, not again, all this laughter!).
Outside, the sun is sharp and I am on the way to the sea. On the beach, a wicked wave is curling inwards, and it wants to drag me into the ocean but I am a good swimmer and take my shirt off. In the sunlight, the spot on my arm is larger, and it is whiter. Now it’s the size of my big toe. I walk to the ocean and use the salt water to rub it, for maybe it will simply come off. But it doesn’t.
I’m swimming. I’m standing in front of a large wave that is coming right at me, and then it’s hit me and I’m underwater with rota, the blank person like a fish swimming next to me. We emerge (I heard that word in a candy shop once, and kept it) in the sunshine. And that spot of white on my skin covers all the area around my elbow now. How long were we under water? I ask this of rota, who’s got a mouthful of salt water, and can’t answer.
I stare at the spot. The sun glares, and reflects off my patch of white. Oh no, I think to myself. How is someone white in a world where everyone is black?
I dress and walk to the town, because what else may I do? Here is a black driver of a car. A black caretaker of a horse. A black fixer of computers, and a black picker-upper of poop, and a black server of coffee (which I hate, and rota the blank person next to me too), and a black maker of curried chick peas pouring a ladle worth into a roti for a black customer.
But I and rota are sitting on a step, and I am crying, for I am not fully a black person anymore.
“What happened?” asks black aunty, sitting next to me.
“How did we all get black?” I ask her.
“You know what I mean! Everyone black, the same colour, the whole world. How did that happen? Why is no one a different colour?”
“We were once,” says black aunty. She is wearing a big red dress with wrinkles. “There were many colours. But everything goes to black, you know. It’s called entropy, child. Things converge – do you know what that means?” But I don’t, and I tell her so. “Oh, well, people started as different colours but after a while everyone made babies and now we’re the same colour.”
“Can it go back?” I ask her.
“No, I don’t think so. It’s a rule of the world, that some things can’t go backwards. Once you mix paint colours, it’s hard to reverse too, isn’t it?”
“We’re not paint!” But I know what she means, and rota the blank person beside me too, and I want to tell her that maybe I am breaking important rules with the white spot on my arm, and rota thinks I should ask about it, but black aunty puts an arm around me and whispers in my ear and I can’t tell her. I can’t, because she may remove her arm and stop talking to me, and then where would rota and I be?
After black aunty leaves, I think of going to the candy store, but I can’t. The crying is ganging up on me now, it just wants to come out. So I walk home, and halfway along the big old dusty road, I look at my skin. The white has crept up my arm to my shoulder, and now it’s on my chest too, and soon there won’t be any hiding what is happening. Oh rota, I tell him/her, the blank person who just wants to be born, and that sits beside me cross-legged on the dirty dusty road – what do I do now? I am breaking the rules, all the big ones.
I get home and sneak into my bed, for I must be sick, how else to explain this? “I’m sick!” I shout to black father and black mother when they get home. “Rota sick too! Don’t come up! Stay away!”
But they come up and feel my forehead, and make a fuss. “Feels warm,” says black mother.
“Not so sure,” says black father.
“Warm for a certain.” Black mother stares at black father.
“Okay,” he says, and looks at me. “You rest, darling.”
They go down to the kitchen, but rota stays beside me, under the covers where we are mostly hidden. She is under the covers trying to be born, and I am under the covers trying to hide, but when I look at myself, the white is all the way down to my stomach, and it’s just so white that I don’t know what to say.
“Oh rota,” I tell my blank person the friend who throws his/her arms around me. “One day you’ll be born, don’t worry.” He/she hugs tighter. “I probably started like you too, once. Just a blank person, but look how I was born and how I’m growing.” Rota cuddles in close to keep me warm. “Do you want to come and dream with me?” I whisper. “Come close eyes.” So we close our eyes in hopes that we will not cry, and in the dreamland we are together, rota and I, down by the beach and on a ferry, sailing to an island filled with trees as tall as waves, where people live, a land of blank people. It’s a nice place. We are very happy there as we gallivant through the forest. Dried pineapples hang from branches of chocolate, and we sleep in a tent made of glass so that we can see the stars. And while we’re sleeping on that island under the big trees, rota gets born right next to me. It’s not as messy as I expected, not at all as black mother and black father told me it would be. I turn over and there rota is, right next to me, and I catch my breath as the sun comes through the clear glass to show me what he/she looks like.
She is beautiful, this person who once was blank. She is a beautiful person, and I hardly know what to say to her. But she is not like me, and I not at all like her. We hug each other under the stars, as the waves leap and tumble not too far away, and I wish suddenly that we had balloons, balloons that we could hang on to, and rise into the night sky together.
In the morning, I wake up, and I know. I know. The mirror knows. The sun knows. The bed knows, and the birds chirping know, and we all know. And when I take off my clothes, I really know, and rota too.
Down the stairs I go. The kitchen is loud with noise. I stand there, unnoticed yet by black father and black mother. They are making food. Singing.
“Breakfast!” calls black mother, but she does not see me. And then she turns and suddenly does, and she drops the plate in her hand. It smashes loud. Black father turns and sees me too.
Oh rota, how are we born like this? The blank person next to me is holding my hand, and I can see her a little bit, as though she really did get more real in my dream, on that island, under those trees, in that tent. As we rose through the hot air hanging on to our balloons.
“I told you I was sick,” I tell black father and black mother, only what I really want to say is that I’m breaking the rules, the big important ones that stitch the universe together, and I don’t know what to do about that. “I think this is entropy. Black aunty said so. Do you think that I would be black again if I made a baby? No? I don’t think so either, and rota neither!” And I start to cry, because what else is there to do when you make a mess of things so badly and you are so sick that the universe itself is against you?
But then black father and black mother are there, arms around me, and they are saying no, I am not sick, there is nothing wrong with me at all, and they are holding me so tightly that I start to believe it. Big black arms all over my skin convince me that I am born, and that rota has a chance to be real too, and there we are, in the sunlight from the window that makes me glow, one little family no matter what, no matter how, no matter anything. I am black, I tell rota, and she just laughs at me as she stands close, tangled up in all these arms and all this love.
This story is a couple of years old, and it used to be on this blog, but somehow I deleted it. It’s been on my mind of late, given what’s happening in the world, so I thought I’d repost it. Be well, everyone.