The Colour White
By Anas Alnajjar
In my free time, I carry a camera and pretend to be a photographer. I hold the camera close to my face and see the world through my viewfinder. Moments, people, emotions, and answerless questions are all reduced to a fraction of a second trapped in a single frame.
Once, in a park, I disturbed the peace of an old man with my shutter noise. You see, old men have very little time to waste tolerating young people’s nonsense, so he hushed my camera with a question: “What’re you doing?”
“I'm a photographer. I'm capturing life as particles of light.” I smugly said.
“Light?. . . I have never seen it,” he murmured. As an idiot, I hadn’t noticed until then that he was blind. He turned to me again and said, “Light you say? Colours? Can you explain colours to a blind man?”
Full of myself, I jumped to answer.
“Well, our lives are painted with only a few basic colours; blue, red, green, and yellow. Blue is the colour of a carefree summer day where your worries melt away, and it’s the colour of freedom you feel when you swim in the ocean. Blue is the colour of the here and now.”
“What about red?” He asked.
I said, “Red is the colour of rage and desire. Red is the fire of a beautiful woman’s perfume burning within your chest. Red is the colour of time when you get to the bus stop 10 seconds too late to see your bus leaving you behind. Red is your colour when you feel like punching the universe.”
“Green is the colour of peace. The peace you feel when you forgive someone. Forgiveness is green because nothing forgives like nature. Years from now, when humanity is no more, trees, grass, and moss will spread over our dead cities the way a mother covers her sleeping naughty child as she whispers ‘I forgive you.’”
“What can you tell me of yellow?” He asked and I replied.
“Yellow is the colour of surprise: a bee sting, the sourness of lemon in your mouth, or a Pikachu-yellow electric shock shacking every muscle in your body. Yellow is also the colour of the invisible chain holding a lover’s eyes onto his beloved: sunflowers forever tethered to the sun. Yes, yellow is the colour of wanting.”
“Hmm,” he said to himself and then slowly asked, “I hear a lot of people mention black. What is it?”
I answer, “Black is the colour of the people who are no longer here. The colour of the void they left in our hearts. It is the colour of companionless night teasing us with questions that refuse to go to sleep. Black is the colour of beauty in sadness, and the sadness in beauty.”
Slightly bored, and not so impressed with what I said, he prepared to leave and said, “Thank you, son.”
But then he stopped and said, “ah wait, what about white?”
I said, “White? Whii . . . white . . . white is . . . you see, white is . . . ” Among all the colours, white seems the simplest, yet, I couldn't speak. It was as if I’d never seen it before.
I continued, “White is the colour of . . . white dresses that perfectly flatter women's figures on their wedding day.”
Then, I couldn’t find anything else to say because white is the colour of marriage and relationships, a question mark I once tried to escape, and now can’t talk about without hiding behind metaphors and figures of speech. Having never been in love, meanings, questions, desire, and the desire to escape all become twisted together like barbwire around my soul. What does this say about me as a man?
White is the colour of the milk my mother breastfed me when I was a baby, and it is the colour of the tissues she wipes her tears with when she calls me a thousand kilometres away. She cries as I listen, emotionless. Now, what does this say about me as a son?
White is one of the colours on the flag of a country I no longer belong to. White is the colour of my school-book pages that taught me Arabic, a language I can no longer hear my voice in, nor can I wash it off my accent. It is just stuck in my throat (عوسج), the Arabic consonants are stuck in my throat like fish daring to breathe air. What does this say about me as a person?
I don't know. I have no answers, I couldn’t say anything because my thoughts became white noise in my head.
After my long silence, the old man started to walk away. I wanted to shout, to stop him, and to say, “Please! Help me find answers to my questions! Please, help me understand . . . help me see the things I can't,” but I didn't. I just stood there-a lifeless statue-as I listened to the taps of his walking stick moving away from me. Tap, tap, tap… I held my camera to my eye and snapped a photo of him. Now, I call him the white man. At night, he haunts my photo gallery and taunts me whenever I take a photo.
Yes, I'm a photographer, but no, I don’t understand the simplest colour, white, and I can’t see further than my viewfinder. Now, what does this say about me?