The Boy of Color

The boy of color rises in the world. He is sleepy, but there is something burning in him right away. There was sleep, and there were dreams, but something from the world he saw yesterday survives past those and tells him to be ready as soon as he awakes. It did not slow down at night, amidst the silence and amidst the darkness, and he did not expect it to. It was the same world after all. It was only night, and he had given up on fearing it and he had given up on believing that it would change anything too.

He awakens before his mother and father and sister. It is still dark. He makes the house warm and gets the water ready for tea. He eats his breakfast and feels glad to be the only one awake. He knows that he loves them in their sleep. What can I do? he asks them. I am always going to wake up early like this. Even if I could go back to bed, it always gives me a bad feeling to go back to sleep in the morning.

The world is a fair match for him there in the morning with everyone else asleep. While he is the only one awake, humanity has the best intentions, and there is nothing braver, in the way that it faces the world. The line between humanity and the world is clear, it is the clearest it will be all day. As lost as he felt about where that line was yesterday, it seems clear again for a moment, and he does not worry about how long that moment will last.

There is still the same fight. But he feels sure about his side, without having to say exactly who his side consists of. It is the one time of day when his side does not consist of people, but of feelings, the feeling of everyone else asleep, for one. It means that the side he is opposed to may not be made up of people either, but that is all right, early in the morning in the darkness.

Thoughts of the day ahead bring back thought of the days behind, and his own particular story begins to emerge. He is a boy of color, and there is one world in his home and another world outside. It may be the street or the town or the country or the world, but there are two worlds, so even something like the love he feels in his home is not something he can necessarily take with him anywhere. It would be nice to think that he could. Not that the world outside would love him the way he was loved by the world at home, but that he would be given a chance the way he was given a chance at home. He had to have been given a chance to have discovered that he liked to play with a ball with his father, to work in the kitchen with his mother, to take care of his sister. He could do a lot with a world outside that gave him a chance, maybe everything.

At home he was who he was: a boy. A son and a brother. Outside it was always changing. A man sometimes, and sometimes a baby. Sometimes older and sometimes younger.

What it really seemed to rest on, the world outside, was its size. There was a size he respected, the night, the cold air in the morning, and there was a size he did not respect, and that was made by man. He did not respect the way it demanded respect without giving anything first. The night did not do that, or the cold air. They trusted him that he knew what respect was, and that he could give it on his own.

There were boys who gave themselves over to the fight, loudly and wildly, on either side, and he wondered what they did with moments like this. He wanted to remember that he was not born to fight. He was born to give the world a chance himself. It was sad that he could do that best in the dark, but he could not expect to understand anything without sadness. It could have been a world that did not need understanding, the way it had been when he was very little, though even that was not something he remembered. But stepping back from life in order to understand it was always going to be lonely, and he was glad for the moments at least when there was some naturalness to it.

He takes his bowl and spoon and washes them. A song comes into him from somewhere. It’s all right, he thinks. There is a place for music. He would like to know whether or not the song means that it is a beautiful world. He does not want to take a beautiful world out with him only to have it be knocked around. He does not want to take it out to those who will be laughing at it, not because of knowing it but because of not knowing it. They couldn’t know it and do what they do. They might even think that they do know it, but they would be wrong. If they slowed down enough to let the song suggest as beautiful a world as it does, they would be slowing down enough to see themselves for who they really are.

It’s all right, he thinks, the song is a private thing. He can put the song in his back pocket and keep it there all day. Maybe some day he will put something else in his back pocket and keep it there all day. It’s something he has hated before, but in his back pocket he knows it would be a good thing. It would be the chance for his mother and father and sister to sleep peacefully. It would be the chance to keep the song in his back pocket however he wanted, as a private thing or a public thing, because the world was never going to be what the song believed it could be unless it could come out freely.

It did not matter whether or not he could sing. He could find a way. Just having it in his back pocket went a long way. What he wanted was for everybody to sing. He can look out the window in the darkness and know that they want to. In the darkness it is a truth, and then the sun comes up and in their faces there is doubt, and he can only go so long trying to assure their doubt without some kind of system. He doesn’t know how else to assure his own doubt.

For now his doubt burns, and he does not want it to become something soft. He has seen its softness, and while he knows that it is not inwardly soft, he does not want any part of softness, inward or outward. He would rather cry than be somewhere between crying and singing. Even crying has a system to it: A boy goes to his room and closes the door and cries without too much noise and then he washes his face and waits for the redness to leave his eyes. He does not ask his mother and father why. He lets his sister do that. He lets her cry loudly and in front of everyone.

It was going to take a system, eventually. For now it was enough to take along a song. It was best to take along a song with sadness in it, so that the sadness of the day did not come as a surprise.

He wonders about the people who do not have to do that. They do not see what he sees. But then they do not see life, the earth. If distance were the only thing that mattered, distance from the sadness that he does not want to come as a surprise, then it would be as if things like sadness didn’t mean anything. Maybe they thought that only happiness meant something. But they lost happiness when they lost sadness. What they had was something else, something he didn’t want to know. They smiled, but their smile meant less because of how they pursued it – desperately, as though they would be lost without it. As though they could take the total it added up to at the end of the day and that would mean something.

I am going to be bigger than the smile, he thinks. I am going to show them that there is something past the smile. I am not afraid of it. I am not afraid of going without the smile, for however long it takes to see what is past it.

And it lit up a dark world to know he would go however long it took. Fear of the darkness meant fear of the world, and why would he even have been born if his only job was to fear? It was the world that was fearful, building itself up all the time, claiming to be big and important, claiming to be unchangeable most of all. It had taken him only the few years of his short lifetime to see the problem, and the world had had all this time.

Still there was something beautiful about that, because the only way left to look at it was that the world had been waiting for him. He had given the world a chance, he had given the world every chance, and it had not lived up to it, and now he was willing to say that it did not know better. It went in such a straight line in its lostness, it marched proudly in its lostness, trying to convince itself that it wasn’t lost at all, that it knew exactly where it was going.

One boy could provide as much direction as a whole world, if it was a meaningful direction. The only thing he knew for certain was that it had stopped being a matter only for adults a long time ago. What was he supposed to do, tell himself that he didn’t feel the things he felt because he was just a boy? Was he supposed to act like he didn’t know a better world, even though this fight hadn’t started with him? Was he supposed to look for enemies in the form of the people around him, as though it didn’t go anywhere beyond them, as though he didn’t go anywhere beyond them?

He could be a hero out there if he were given a chance, because that was the stage where a man could be heroic. He didn’t doubt himself, he only doubted how accessible that stage was. He had made a list of the men who had done it, who had taken the world inside them – that best world, the one that started with love – and tried to make it the world outside them. They were some of the men whose faces were painted on murals he passed by every day. He did not care about his face painted on murals. He cared about a world in which he could live. He would not need his face painted on murals if he had that.

Sometimes he even felt like hating those murals, because if all around him was a world that was not his, maybe it was those pictures on the walls that were lying. That was the time when he knew that he had to spend some time by himself, and then he would find a world that was his inside him at least.

It burned because a boy was a very small space for a world to exist in. If it could come out, then it could burn like the sun and cool like the ocean and everything in between, but pressed inside him, it was nothing but fire, and he didn’t think anybody could be surprised about that. The fires that the world lit around a boy did not go out, they did not need to go out because he could sleep with them lit, he could do everything with them lit, and all that was before he had even made a commitment to keep them lit. He was only committing to the truth, to the idea that the world that could be his and everybody’s was inside him all the time, that it never left him, even when he might have seemed to have forgotten about it.

It took a commitment because there was a commitment from somewhere that this was not his world. It came from every angle, from places where he could not even see the angle it was coming from. One day he would find the source, and then he would not have to worry about angles and whether or not he could see them coming. He would be prepared for anything all the time. That was when he could begin to really get some things done.

When it is dark outside, he knows it is his world as much as anybody’s. The world is naked then, and it cannot pretend to belong to those who claim it. If it belonged to them, they would not need to claim it. They would not need to act as though their claim to it was written long ago, and that their deed was only a fulfillment of that word.

What he wanted most from the world was to not know early in the morning when it was dark what the light of day would bring. If he already knew as a boy, what would be left for him as a man? If he already knew as a boy that he had to be hidden and careful to find something that matched his truest heart in the morning, what would be left for that? He could gain anything for himself, he could fall in love – as a boy or as a man – and if this was not the place where he could announce it to the world, what kind of love would that be? If he had to think of even love as a hidden and careful thing, then he had to change the place first of all.

And it was enough for a boy to change it by his presence, but it was not going to be enough for a man. It was enough for a boy to walk through that world with an awareness that there was a part of him that it could not touch. It was enough to know that that place had its own story, one that would bend and twist according to the expectations of the outside world, but it would be bending and twisting in its own way.

And yet he knew that there wasn’t any more that it was going to be able to bend and twist when he was a man, that it was going to have to straighten somehow, either in his own way or in theirs. Stories were meant to be straight, their destinations weren’t meant to go all over the place, to be changing all the time. For now he could carry silence with him, and that was good because he knew his destination included silence, even if that was not all it was. It was not that he did not have things to say, it was that he did not have a place to say them. Silence was the only thing he had now that he knew he would need then. He did not know if words would be enough for him as a man.

The boy of color goes out the door in the darkness of the morning. It is his world. It is the world that has been waiting for him. It is the world that he has been waiting for, all through the night. And it will be a day in a life that ended long ago and has been burning ever since, it will be the most living place he could ever ask for and will be a place where the life he believed in is found only in the glimmers of moments, and he does not know if that is a natural way for that life to be, or if it is the remnants of some kind of destruction that has been true for so long that nobody can talk about it. He only knows that he will use his silence to manage it. He will use other things too, but he will use his silence for now because he does not know if he trusts words. They seem to have their best chance when they are directly related to action.

And he can imagine a time when that action will be in every step he takes in the world, when every step is saying as much to the world as it is saying to him, when he will be able to be a part of it by thinking of the world as a partner, with a fair eye between what it has been and what it can be. And it is a fair eye between life and death, between the life that he is a participant in, a participant who remembers silence, whose participation is based on who he is as a boy and who he will be as a man, and the death that may seem a million miles away but is actually right next door. He will be flying back and forth between the two all day, and he will be flying back and forth between a fear and a joy for the time when they will come together, when he will be able to hold them both in his hand, as a man, as one man, content in the world he was in because all he could ever be was one man, and somehow that was going to hold everybody, even if it was only for a very short time, even if it was only for a moment.

And he will come home from a day like that and he will do the same thing he did in the morning – all the things he was supposed to do – and before the end of the night, he will tell his mother and father: ‘I am going to die before you are gone,’ and it will be the easiest thing he has said all day. And afterwards his feeling will be the most he’s felt like a boy all day.

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