Juliette Roques

Thoughts on a Victorian postcard

She wondered if that was how White people lived. All she had to go by was a picture of two little white girls. They wore dresses of colors but still there was white, as if they wanted to compress the color, keep it all in. Makeba had heard the saying a long time ago, how white people shunned color and only wore khaki or white when they came in the summer. By the same token she had heard stories of the white men” and sometimes women” teaching her people to close their eyes and pray. Somehow, somewhere there had been a white man who came down from the Heavens and taught people to live by the way of his God. She wondered if since he was a white God it meant only white people would sit with him in the Heavens although everyone on this earth did well to pray so as to avoid incurring his wrath.

The two girls in the picture wore matching dresses, identical dresses actually. Except that the younger one’s was blue underneath her white slip (she didn’t know what else to call it) and her sister’s was red. Makeba wondered if there was a theme, an intent of color representing personality on the parents’ part and why they wore colors of mourning. The assignment of color to each little girl made sense. Red would be older and therefore more vibrant. In the beginning, her tribes people said, there had been Fire, a heaving, breathing beast, traveling through the Universe as a huge angry ball, consuming and leaving charred remnants wherever He went. Then there had been water, gentle, peaceful and kind stopping the angriness that was Fire. When Fire met Water the ball had uncurled itself and lain on the ground. Fire and Water had started a mating dance and from this dance had come Life.

The White people had got it wrong, she decided. For Fire and Water were not sister and sister sitting peacefully side by side but Husband and Wife. Often they lived together in harmony. But sometimes Husband said something to anger his Wife and she would unfold all her fury, enveloping the land to protect it, not realizing that she was taking away people’s lives. It was up to the people of Makeba’s tribe to talk to Water and make her realize she had made a grave mistake.

Maybe it wasn’t the two girls who were representing the elements but their parents and Mother had dressed the younger one in her colors while Father could see elements of himself in his eldest. She looked like she knew what she wanted even though she couldn’t be more than seven years old, that much was obvious from the expression on her face, determined, set. Makeba had seen one such little white girl walking through town. She had been wearing a yellow dress as if to represent the color of fire when he was happy, before the mating rite. The tribes people in her village all said that white people were children of the Ice God, an evil sister of Water who had been cursed and then banished by Fire. Sometimes, her tribes people said, you could see remnants of that in white people’s expression when they pursed their lips so they all but disappeared. Not all white people were like that of course. Her father always said you had to take the good with the bad.

She wondered if people were born a certain way or if they became what they were through a chain of events. Like the tribes people in her village, who had been relegated to hodgepodge housing at one end of the town while the white people built images in their likeness, which they placed around the spacious houses with swimming-pools and balconies. Perhaps that was something they all learned in childhood, judging by the dolls they had discarded on the ground. And maybe white people, even in childhood, always needed to feel superior and that’s why they had a pet. The two girls on the postcard looked peaceful. She wondered if at some point in their lives something would happen that would turn them into the bitter, sad women she could see walking down the street and if so what that event would be.

Juliette Roques

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