Coloured By A Different Light by Tim Rees
It was a quiet summer’s day, just the hum of a bee, a robin blowing a delightful orchestration, and Rosie Thomas ambling her large Jamaican bulk along the wild garden path.
She stopped to pick a single stem of forgetmenot that grew gregariously in the tangle of her overgrown lawn.
“You is a perfect li’le plant,’ she whispered, smiling at the memory of the day her son, Dylan, had picked her a bunch when only a toddler.
“My Oh my,” she remembered gushing as she’d dipped an awkward curtsy. “Such tiny blue flowers. Why, brave sir, you make a gal blush so.” He’d giggled delightedly and had listened intently as she’d explained, “Each li’le flower is nature’s womb and a womb in bloom fills up a momma’s heart.”
“He’s a good boy, that he is,” she beamed skyward. Then, crushing the tiny petals against her nose, she inhaled deeply upon the faint fragrance wrapped in memories.
Turning slowly she stretched her eyes across the smooth curves of Carn Wen, the hill dominating the blissful valley, admiring the light from the slow arcing sun kiss and dance with the river through the woven boughs of an oak. A smile fanned her face as she looked back to the Welsh Pembrokeshire farmhouse nestled snugly on the southerly slopes of the Preseli hills. The whitewashed stone walls shone like her teeth, which sparkled brightly against her ebony skin. For forty years she’d lived here. It is home.
The sudden tyre-ripping screech of a hard braking car shattered the still evening air.
Never having missed a single event in this uneventful valley, Rosie hurried as fast as her peculiar gait would allow toward the lane at the front of the house.
All was quiet once again, but for the harmony of murmuring insects and the plaintive melody of a song thrush adding its voice to the robin.
At first all Rosie can see was a small car parked a little askew beside the gateway to the lower meadow. Then she noticed an attractive, slim girl standing in the gateway gazing toward the river.
Either Pakistan or Indian descent, Rosie opined, perceiving the girl’s deep melancholy and deciding not to intrude. But unfortunately, in taking a step back she snapped a twig and startled a group of finches feeding in the hedgerow. They took off in a cloud of beating wings, berating her with clamorous noisy beaks.
“Shut up ya nonsense,” she bellowed, then tut-tutted self-annoyance upon realising she’d alerted the girl to her presence.
The girl turned to see an immense West Indian woman waving a plump arm earnestly whilst short legs piston their gargantuan burden at an ungainly trot toward her.
“Ya’s alright, gal?” Rosie breathlessly inquired, acknowledging the foolishness of the question the moment she looked into the young girl’s eyes; it was obvious a dam of heartbreak was about to burst
“I wanted to do it?” the girl spluttered, desperately trying to swallow down a rising flood of tears that filled her throat. “I wanted to kill myself… But I couldn’t…” Retching hard on her deep hurt the dam burst. She fell against Rosie’s mountainous chest, releasing convulsive grief that rained on Rosie’s heart.
Slowly the torrent faded to a whimper. Never one to mix words, Rosie quickly established the girl’s name was Varsha, and told her sternly she looked awful and it was a good cup of tea she needed.
“I like a good natter,” Rosie laughed.
“The car?” Varsha sniffed wetly. Feeling humiliated, she sought escape, but Rosie was already bustling her toward the house, insisting her son Dylan would take care of it later.
Within quarter of an hour Varsha found herself sat in a large, spotlessly clean living room with a hot mug of sweet tea in her tightly clasped hands. There were small square windows at each end of the room that allowed in the evening sun that was helped by a crackling fire reflecting flames of yellow light that appeared to lick the gold-flocked wallpaper.
The furniture was large and chunky. Varsha was swallowed in the embrace of a chair that had cushions like huge marsh mallows whilst Rosie was sat opposite in a chair where the cushions had been crushed flat through years of suffering her vast backside.
Rosie’s moon face creased in sympathy and her large eyes rolled round and wide like two polished marbles as Varsha lamented her story between blowing and sipping her tea. She told Rosie everything: about how she’d fallen in love with a white man who’d been caring and kind; about how his father was racist and had forbidden his son to see an Asian girl; about how proud she’d been of David, her boyfriend, when he’d defied his father and proposed marriage; and about the most cruel blow of all, how his father had said he’d disown his son and any half-cast kid’s they produced. David had given in to his father in the end and broken off the engagement. She’d argued with the bigot she was Welsh by two generations, but he’d only sneered in delight at her discomfort.
“You’s a dif’ent culture to’s us. You’s want’s to stick wit’ you’s own kind in you’s own country,” he’d growled with sinister intensity.
“If your definition of culture is immediate environmental influence,” Varsha had answered, with lip-biting control of her anger, “it would make me as culturally Welsh as you. But if you define culture as an appreciation of the arts, music and literature, then I probably contain more culture in my little finger than could ever be found in your head.” She’d also accused his imbecilic countenance of being German because he had blond hair and blue eyes. But it had all been to no avail; his ignorance prevented him from understanding the truth.
The humiliation, the shame, her broken heart, had become too much to bear, so earlier that day she’d set off from Swansea in an attempt to escape herself; escape her colour, willing her car to ram into every tree.
Why she’d found herself here on the Preseli’s, she couldn’t rightly say, but could guess… It had been in this valley down by the river David had proposed to her.
“It’s just so unfair!” Varsha sighed finally.
Rosie had listened with deep understanding. “Unfair?” she answered quietly. “Life’s never been ’bout being fair, gal. If it was, then we’d all have been born the same colour? What a boring world it would be then, hey? Look on the bright side, after all ya’s could have been born white?” Rosie laughed.
Varsha watched Rosie’s capacious flesh jiggle like blackberry jelly and a hint of a smile teased her lips.
Glimpsing the faint response encouraged Rosie back to her usual booming tones as she told Varsha her son Dylan was mixed race, and about how, whilst still a boy he had returned from school in tears. “’The big boys been calling me nigger, mam’ he’d cried. Well, I looked down to those big wet brown eyes, and told him he was a beautiful coffee colour, and that those white kids sun’d themselves crazy to look like him.”
Rosie’s laughter was infectious. Varsha climbed above her own sorrow and popped a smile at the surface. Talking had helped.
“So you married a white man then?”
“White as snow!” Rosie yelped, quaking the floor. “He was a red-head! Stood naked side to side we was like piano keys we was! Bit of sun and he burnt bright like a lamp. Threatened to use him as a torch many a time!”
Varsha chuckled more freely, and Rosie, happy her prescribed medicine was working, explained how she’d met her husband.
“He was like some randy peacock,” she exclaimed. “You shoulda seen him strutting round that dance floor in Kingston. Me fat’er was going to beat him to pulp… ‘No daughter of mine’s marrying no white man,’ he’d shouted. That is ’til he finds out Huw was to inherit a two hundred acre farm… Soon’s he heard that me fat’er had me packed and ready ‘fore ya could say Rumplestiltskin.”
Unable to suffocate the contagious amusement any longer, Varsha spluttered on an eruption of giggles that was salve to her broken heart.
Recognising the opportunity, Rosie continued: she told Varsha how it had caused a scandal when Huw had brought his newly wed black bride to this farm in Wales. She told how the locals had talked in whispers and never to her. She told how she’d been lonely to return to Jamaica, but how their love had been too strong.
“Ya see, gal? If it’s right, it’s right,” she concluded. “Don’t go worrying yaself over this feller, it’s clear to me he ain’t right for ya. Wouldn’t stand beside ya see?”
Both women pensively sip the cooling brew. Varsha digested Rosie’s wisdom whilst Rosie plotted a plan.
“What ya’s need is a man like me Dylan; he’ll see ya right!” Rosie bluntly stated all of a sudden, the whites of her eyes cart-wheeling in excitement at her own idea.
Varsha choked on her tea and hurriedly attempted to change the subject. “Where’s your husband now,” she asked innocently and immediately wished she’d kept her mouth shut. Rosie’s face folded into sadness. Varsha silently scolded herself as a tear forced its way into Rosie’s eye, holding for a moment, precariously balancing at the root of her long curved eyelashes, until another tear added its weight. Together they broke free, tumbling out from her eye to roll down her large round cheek, leaving a wet shiny trail on the deep gloss of her rich ebony skin.
“He’s dead now, gal,” Rosie barely whispered. “Dang fool fell into his muck spreader he did.”
Varsha was shocked and thought she heard Rosie mumble something under her breath about how Huw’d be happy to know he’d ended up as fertilizer on his beloved fields.
Rosie shrugged a smile back onto her face and wiped the tears against the thick flesh on the back of her hand. “He was a poet, was Huw. The night ‘fore he died he says to me, ‘We is one in this bright coloured light completing the circle of truth.’ Nice thought ain’t it?”
Varsha detected the faint pleading question in Rosie’s voice before the West Indian Welsh woman sighed with finality: “If only it was true.”
Varsha watched the broad round shoulders tremble under the pressure of more threatened tears and shamelessly thought to herself at least Rosie had had his child and some happy years together.
Shaking the memories vigorously from her head and heaving her great size from the crushed chair, Rosie went over to a cupboard and rummaged in a draw.
“Dylan follows after his Dad,” she said, jubilantly plucking a single creased scrap of paper from a crammed pile.
The paper was forced into Varsha’s hand. “Read this? Me eyes are bad, gal. Struggle to read nowadays.”
Not surprising in this light, Varsha silently opined.
Peering closely at the scrap of paper, Varsha could see it was a poem. She asked if Huw had written it.
“No, Dylan,” Rosie proudly declared. “Got his Dad’s tongue for words though, ain’t he?”
Reluctantly Varsha struggled to free herself from the warm safety of the marsh mallow chair and made her way closer to a window for more light and, earning her cup of tea, she read the poem to Rosie, who sat contentedly beaming with delight.
“The colours are different,
Through different seasons,
Through different eyes,
For different reasons,
Coloured by a different light.
Our demands are different,
As are our needs,
As are our wants,
As are our greeds,
Coloured by a different light.
Shadows shade the changes
As the sun changes position;
Each minute is now
Focused from a new direction,
Coloured by a different light.
The world grows old, designed, restyled.
Upon the day,
Within the hour,
A newborn child,
The bloom of a flower,
Coloured by a different light.
The truth, misplaced, abused.
The whole damn muddle contradicts;
A soul confused,
But the pattern fits,
Coloured by a different light.
The circle points the way;
Learning to conceive, perceive, understand;
Accepting the shadows, realise change;
Reaching in reflection for want of a hand,
Coloured by a different light.”
As Varsha finished reading, she was alarmed to see a tall athletic man standing in the doorway.
“Ha!” exclaimed Rosie. “This’s Dylan! Dylan meet… huh? Sorry, gal… What did ya say ya name was?”
Varsha didn’t answer. She simply looked up to the chocolate brown eyes of the poet and thought silently, Yes, you are a beautiful coffee colour.