I was something. I know I’ve made a very broad statement here, so allow me to elaborate. I was something before he came along, and that something, was myself. We are all ourselves though, are we not? I lived in a small, vibrant town. Each house was it’s own shade of happy and the shops sold clothes in every color imaginable. Reds and yellows, pinks and purples, greens and blues, yes, the shops had them all! I say had, because sadly, they no longer do. No reds, no purples, no blues, just boring old gray. The bland and hopeless color of gray. I have despised gray for as long as I can remember. I was a painter you see, and through all my paintings, I can only ever recall using gray in the most dull, unhappy portraits. I was lucky, my skill was not limited, I could paint landscapes and cities, mountains and rivers, forests and deserts. I could paint them all and call them my own. I even had my own bit of land, through a small patch of trees, where I could sit and paint for ages. Painting was my everything, my passion, my livelihood, my world. However, my world came crashing down around me when he arrived.
He, I might add, is Mr. Foulcot himself. Pierre Foulcot to be exact. He is at fault for the destruction of not only my world, but our world. He came and flipped our town upside, almost quite literally, I might add. He came in an enormous gray van. It stretched over two streets long and shone as bright as the shoe shiners stand. He stepped out onto the pavement, scoffing as he attempted to place his pristine shoes in the small spaces left untouched by colorful chalk. He rose, leaning gently on a reflective gray cane. It had a black marble handle, and it stood past his hip bone. I resent the very thought of that awful cane. His hands were gloved in white, and he had a gray suit coat that seemed to weigh heavily on his shoulders. His pants were just as gray as his eyes, and a size too large. The townspeople had stood in awe of this bland man, I had stood with my mouth agape. We did not receive visitors in our town, certainly not ones of his prestige either. Then, he slowly looked around, piercing the air just like he seemed to pierce my soul when my eyes had met his. Another man emerged from the vehicle and asked what the man thought of it. “I’ll take it,” he said. Not once did he break my gaze. His eyes seemed to have torn a hole through me when he turned away and entered his vehicle. Almost as suddenly as he arrived, the man was gone, leaving us to dwell on those three little words, ‘I’ll take it.’
Naturally, the mayor had called an emergency town meeting that afternoon. Everyone had questions, some even had complaints. The mayor had quickly grown red in the face as question after question was thrown his way, but really just into the open. I remember sitting back in that moment, pondering what the man had meant. Tracing every possibility my mind could fathom. I was desperate for an answer. I never thought I would find out so soon.
What happened next, was something not even I can explain, not by word, not by brush, not even the dullest gray could capture events that transpired. So, let me just tell you what he did. He came back, and he came back with a lot more men just like him. Then, the process began. They taught us that different was wrong. Told us being ourselves was wrong. Convinced us that this is how it was supposed to be. They forced us in line and stripped our individual identity. Took our curiosity and imagination and crushed it in the same cubed block as everyone else. They demolished our personality. Once we lost our sense of self, the process was done. We had the same houses and clothes, the same dying eyes, the same cookie cutter life. No more houses painted in shades of happy. No more shops filled with every color imaginable. These memories are faded, fading still. Memories of what we once were. I used to cling to that memory with all I was, but I think that’s what made it fade faster.
Everyday was a routine drill. We clock in at exactly five thirty one each morning; not a minute late, nor a minute early. Then, we put up our time cards and shuffle down the dusty corridor to the doors of decision. The door is really a machine that scans us all around and determines our ration of food for the day based on our occupation, age, weight, and height. I never get much, but I know not to try tricks to get more. The machine can not be fooled and those who try are put to death. Although, death is probably better than this. After the doors of decision, we move on to our work station. We relieve the night workers and begin our boring, gray work. I don’t know why I don’t like the color gray, it is the only color. The days progress slowly, lunch comes at midday and we are given just seven and a half minutes to eat it. That is just how it is. Then, the night crew comes in and we clock out, at exactly nine fifty one. We then went to our sectors and ate the remainder of our rations. We had individual bunks, thankfully. Although we shared a room with 3 others. Of course it was sections by age and gender. Men in one sector, women in the other. The kids were grouped together in a boarding school, where they were sectioned by their ability and taught the art of their future trade. Like clockwork, the days came and went. No change, no mistake, no blip in the schedule. Until she came along.
She was different. They called her River. River is the one and only reason Mr. Foulcot came back to our little section. Simply because it was no longer gray. River broke free from the boarding school, and wrecked havoc in town. She did not wear gray. She wore colors, lots of colors. Mr. Foulcot told us she was broken, that she had found unclean things and stolen them. All color was dirty to him, unless of course, it was gray. Mr. Foulcot ordered every guard on deck to try and control her. Somehow, this little spit fire bested them. She spun and twirled and leapt just out of their grasp. She danced and jumped around them as they fell helplessly to the ground. River simply giggled and ran for the hills. She dragged her fingers along side of her, somehow leaving bits of color behind. Mr. Foulcot was horrified. His face twisted in anger as he called for more guards. He ordered them to contain River and tell him when it was done. With that, he turned on his heels and left. We sat and watched the charade for hours. River seemed to have endless energy. She avoided every movement made by the guards. She giggled and danced as they chased her in circles. Laughter, that’s a sound I hadn’t heard in years, decades even. Soon the guards had exhausted all their efforts. The guards began to fetch weapons and radios. Weapons, another thing I hadn’t seen in years. River didn’t seem fazed. She still leapt and danced through flying bullets and angry guards. Then, she hugged Bethany.
Bethany was an older woman. She had been working her trade for almost sixty years. She seemed to be on her last legs, her gait was slow and her hands shook. In this world you worked until you died. That’s just how it was. River was an exception to the rule, and it was marvelous. When River hugged Bethany, the transformation that took place was incredible, almost unbelievable. Slowly, color returned to Bethany’s clothes. The light ran back to her eyes and her hands stopped shaking. She stood up straight and simply seemed to come to life. Then, she laughed. A glorious sound really, laughter. I hadn’t heard Bethany make a sound in almost twenty years, but the smile that lined her face now spoke loud and clear. River continued hugging people, running from the guards while making her way down the line. Just like that, chaos had erupted. It was as if the people suddenly broke free from their trance of accustomed reality. There was hugging and dancing and laughing. Oh, the laughter! It was a beautiful sound, a sound that warmed my heart.
It wasn’t long until no one wore the dull gray clothes and the guards had been overthrown. Someone had broken into the school and let the children run free, and since it was so much like a prison, we threw the guards in. River led a group of us to where Mr. Foulcot had taken and hidden the paints. The paints were as glorious as they were before. Even more so now. I saw my old easel, I knew it was mine because I had carved my name into it and traced the letters with different colors. I had nearly forgotten that I was a painter. A painter, that’s what I am. Bethany is a quilter, and there are bakers and shop owners and street performers! We are not factory workers, no longer slaves to our trade. No, we are people. We are individuals. We come and go as we please, buy and sell what we like. We can rest and rise at any time and work when we want to. Most of all, we can wear what we want, act how we like, and express ourselves individually. Yes, we are free.