I turn on my television and see Bradsworth Deacon making a speech about how everyone should be treated with as much dignity and respect as the next retus:
“......regardless of wealth, skin color, sex or age. I know you may not understand why I wear my milk colored skin with such pride. You may not see the beauty in anything but bronze. But I tell you, this is the body I was born into- free of melanin, knowing that I am due to be free of oppression!”
The sea of milky people go into jubilant uproar. I only get sad and quickly turn off the program.
Whenever I go into the bathroom to look at myself, I get even more disgusted at my complexion from the bright lights that drown out any color I may have. My mom is scared of the dark and insists on putting the highest wattage light bulbs in here so she can spot anything that may be lurking at night. This house has not even had an ant march through it once in my 17 years of living here, but you can’t always understand people’s fears. I fear that I will be white and poor my whole life. At least my skin doesn't flake and chafe like Ursula’s. I have buttery smooth skin, without the golden buttery color. I guess I’m the color of plain movie popcorn, not even with the salt. My mom is the exact same way. She’s never excited about anything. When I told her that my school was letting us have pen pals she didn’t even glance in my direction. She just told me “I hope it’s not a black person who’s going to make you feel bad about yourself.” I understood, but God, does she always have to be such a pessimist? I guess she doesn’t really have a choice but to be that way. She saw her dad beaten on the curb by black policemen for being out too late and looking “suspicious” when she was just six years old. My mom said he was just wearing a red T-shirt and cargos with beat up tennis shoes. He could not afford to buy tailored suits, the usual attire for people of color. They told him to cut his stringy hair to get his bangs out his face. He didn’t have beautiful thick wavy hair like the policemen that brutalized him. My mother is terribly protective of me because she doesn’t want to ever be in danger and withstand the torture her father did.
“Nothing this exciting has ever happened for me before. I’ve never even been outside of my town of Honon. Now I get to actually interact with someone outside the country. I hope they’re nice to me. I could use a friend.”
“I know precious. I just always wants what is best for you.” My mom grasped my face firmly. “And I need you to always know what is best for yourself. Now go to sleep. Good night.”
“Good night mommy.”
All heat on my planet Jupitron is artificial. I heard on others planets they have something called Sun that shines on them. We don't have that luxury so it's always cold. My best friend Ursula and I walked to the hot cream shop to warm us up with a treat on the freezing day. So cold that if you spit, it would turn into an icicle before it hit the ground. The shop was a hole-in-the-wall rinky dink place that allowed white people. It was nothing special, but it felt like a second home to the both of us. It was only place that we always felt welcomed at.
“Do you like your pen pal so far?” Ursula said with a mouth full of sia flavored hot cream. I had grown to comprehend her muffled words that came along with her grotesque table manners. “Did I like him? Like was an understatement,” I thought to myself. He was perfect. You could never find a boy like him walking the streets of Lindus.
“We video chatted last night.” I tried to keep my voice even and inconspicuous. I didn’t want to gush over him today just to find out that he’s a jackass tomorrow. “He seems nice. He lives in Geniha.”
“Geniha!” Ursula said with eyes so wide you’d think they would burst out of her skull. “Home of the pond of melanin. Has he taken a dip?” She chuckled.
“No, no. No need for that, he was born brown.”
Ursula’s face straightened immediately. “He not like...colorist right?”
“He’s really the farthest thing from it. He even went to jail for joining in an anti-colorism protest that turned violent. He said if I ever needed him to handle someone bullying me because I’m white, he had my back.” I laughed a flirtatious laugh that confirmed all of Ursula’s suspicions.
“You love him already….I mean I expected you to like him but wow, so soon.”
“Aw stop it! I do not love him, he just a really good guy.” I said it with a genuineness that her know that’s how I really felt.
“Hey Joshua.” Daniel teased as a greeting to our email conversation. I told him I hated when people called me Joshua.
“Here we go..Hello Dan.” He hated that nickname much more than his actual name.
“Are we done with picking on each other?”
“I guess so….for now. Your voice is different than I thought it would be.” I wasn’t trying to flirt, it honestly was. His voice sounded stuffy, but not horribly nose-oriented like mucus was draining from his nostrils. Only enough that you would really have to focus on what he was saying to catch everything. I liked it. I knew it would require him to be the center of my attention when talking.
“Well it’s not typical.” Daniel said it with malice in his tone.
“You’ve got it all wrong, I like your voice. Go on, talk some more.” I said with confidence to let him know I was nice, but not weak.
Daniel went on to tell me that his family was considering moving to another town. “Yeah my mom is doing really well and he wants to move us to a better neighborhood.”
“Well what does she do for a living?” I said curiously. I never personally knew someone wealthy.
“She….is a famous model. Have you ever heard of Henna Dejore?”
My heart stopped for at least five seconds. “Are you still there?” Daniel sighed. “I really don’t want you to turn out to be one of those people that only likes me because I’m the son of someone famous.”
“I don’t care who you’re related to. I’d like you even if you were dirt poor...like me. I just never saw myself being friends with someone even remotely close to fame. I’m sorry if people have used you in the past because of it.”
“My ex was the last person I would have ever suspected to try to profit off of my fortune. We had been together for 6 months when he started to make me feel guilty for not spending more money on him. He said I was selfish. He said I was ashamed of him because I didn’t show him off as much as he desired. I was just 16 and dumb so I believed him. Then crazy stories started coming out about us in tabloids. I could not understand why they were spreading these lies. One said that I was cruel and hot-headed and used a picture of me yelling at him. I was mad that he was being friendly with the paparazzi. He was using my fame to make him famous. When I figured this out I broke up with him. But he told stories about me being an out-of-control spoiled brat who got mad whenever I didn’t get what I wanted. His sob story still has him posing for magazines today.”
I let him know I would never do the same thing. “You’ve got a friend in me. That’s all I want from you, is to be a good friend too.”
“Not even an autograph too?” He asked sarcastically.
“I mean if you’re offering…..” I said letting out a long laugh, so long that it made Daniel laugh along with me. The mood was light for the rest of the night.
My mom heard me on the phone every night. Of course she had to inquire who I was so ecstatic to speak to. “So uhhh...it seems like you’ve got a new friend. I hear you guys on the phone every night now.” She accompanied the assumption with a huge Grinch grin.
“Sure do, his name is Daniel. He lives in Geniha.” “Really now?” my mom said with a sly look on her face. Everyone knows you have to have a few dollars to live in Geniha. She looked off to a random spot on the ceiling with slightly squinted eyes like she was trying to reading something in a small font. “What I would do to dip in that pool of melanin.” “Pond, mom.” “You know what I mean.” “Well you’re perfect as you are and we’re doing just fine so don’t worry yourself with such thoughts.” “Yeah you’re right. Well I’m guessing he’s a nice guy.” “Yeah mom. I’m glad he’s my pen pal.” My mom scruffed my hair playfully and walked toward my bedroom door. “I’m glad he is too. Good night sweetie.” “Night, mom.”
The next morning I headed to an in-town urban swimming pool in relatively comfortable weather. There was no wind blowing cool air in circulation, the kind I hated because it messed up my hair. The sky was particularly purple. “That’s the color of Daniel’s blush.” Just thinking of him made me blush bright red, I’m sure even without being able to see it. The bus ride was an hour long but I knew I would get the job as lifeguard. I’m an amazing swimmer.
I showed up to the interview with full confidence. “Hello, I’m Joshua Sigon. I’m here for the lifeguard job interview.”
“Oh, oh no. There’s been a terrible mix-up.” The burly brown woman sat there with a frustrated puzzled look across her face.
“What do you mean a mix-up?”
“Well, you sound….different over the phone. Honey, this is a Browns only job. You don’t qualify.” “It’s my fault. I should have asked your color.”
I went home and cried for hours. What was I to do? My mom was depending on me to help her with bills. Her housemaid job pays her nearly nothing. I didn’t know what to tell her when she got home.
“How did the interview go?” She jumped her tall slender frame back and forth in front of me.
“It was a browns only job. I couldn’t have it.”
My mom collapsed to her knees. I ran to make sure she was okay.
She lifted her head with tears in her eyes.
“Josh, I don’t know how much I can stay at my job. The man that lives in the house keeps coming onto me. I know if anything happens, I will get the blame and I’ll be called scandalous and might never get another job. I didn’t want to worry you so that’s why I didn’t tell you sooner. But I have a plan.”
“Well let me hear it mama.”
“The family is fiercely wealthy. If I can steal some jewels from the house, then I would have enough money to send you to dip in the pond of melanin!”
“Are you insinuating that you want Daniel to be in on this?”
“I’m glad you can keep up baby. All Daniel needs to do is to have a way to get you to Geniha without spelling trouble.”
“Mom I really don’t know if he’d be up for this.”
“If you tell he what we’re going through and he doesn’t have mercy on our soul, he is just as bad as the rest of them.”
I thought about it long and hard the next day. I decided I would ask. It was for the best.
“Mom, you home?” I would usually smell fuku cooking when I came home at 6 g’no and heard her harmonizing her favorite tunes. But this night, I was welcomed with no smells, no sounds. Just as I was about to start searching for her, the phone rang. “Josh,” I could tell it was mother’s voice immediately, although she sounded way more frantic than she usually would. “I’m in jail. Mr. Johnson’s wife started insinuating that I was having sex with her husband and we got into a fight. They are talking 25 to life. Please take care of yourself and GET OUT of that house. Retus services is looking for you. I gotta go. I’m sorry baby I love you.”
I was sure that was the last time I would ever hear from my mom. I dropped the old fashioned glass phone and it broke. It was probably for the better. I did not want anyone else calling. My mind went blank. I could not process what just happened.
That night I got on the phone with Daniel was the first time I wasn’t particularly excited to speak to him. I had no idea how the conversation would end- with me feeling secure and me not, or vice versa.
“I have favor to ask of you.
“What, do you finally want that autograph mailed to you?” he joked.
It would be even better if I came and...got it.”
It fell silent for a few seconds.
“What do you mean?”
My tone got low and serious. “Daniel I need you to help me get to Geniha so I can dip in the pond of melanin.”
“Do you know how much it costs to get in the pond of melanin? Where would you get that money?”
“I need you to pay for it. I am NOT trying to use you. Just know I need to be brown immediately or else some bad things will happen to my life.”
“I just don’t want you to become brown and start treating bad and abusing your power as revenge. I know you carry anger in your heart for brown people. But you can succeed without being brown. I love you as you are and I know one day others will too.”
It was the first time he ever said he loved me. I couldn’t fully appreciate it because I was fuming in anger from his ignorance.
“You don’t get it. You don’t know the torture I endure day in, day out. Daniel, my mom went jail for assaulting a black woman. They’re talking about giving her 25 years. You KNOW how this country is. I can’t be an orphan or my life will be hell. Last week I tried to get a job and they turned me down because I’m white. I was poor before but I have NOTHING now. I just really need this favor from you. I’m begging you.” The snot now clogging my nose made “I’m begging you” sound like “I’m bugging you.” and if Daniel had any heart he would not take that as what I was doing. If he couldn’t understand, there was no point in associating with him at all.
Now Daniel was sobbing. I thought he was laughing at first, but no, bawling. “I wish you were here with me right now. I wish I could change this world from being so goddamn ugly and unfair. But since I can’t, the least I could do is end your agony when you need it most. So, what’s the plan?”
Daniel told his parents that I was going to be his personal servant. He said had been lonely and feeling neglected and since we had been communicating for three months, Daniel knew he could trust me. His parents agreed nonchalantly.
I had to sneak out of the country under an alias. Otherwise, Retus Services would have captured me. Daniel and I agreed on Forye Iton. The man that picked me up from the airport was quite condescending. “So Forye, you’re okay being a servant for this young man?” I almost didn’t answer, but then I remembered that was my name from now on. “I really don’t have any other option.” “Young man, let me tell you something I realized a long time ago. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. It is fine if you work for these people in order to stay alive for now, but you have to also get an education and make a difference so that your sons and daughters don’t have to do the same thing you are doing. You have to speak. Do not stay quiet. You have to be the voice for those who cannot speak. I look at you, and I see something special. I see a revolution in your eyes. But you did not know it until now. You must go no longer without knowing your worth and power.” My mom had always told me to guard myself, but never told me I was as strong as this man just said I was. “Thank you. No one has ever told me anything like that.” “And is why I had to let you know.” The rest of the ride was silent.
I knocked on the doors that were at least 5 times my height. A very fit, beautiful brown woman answered the door. “Ahhhh, you must be Josh.” “I am. Nice to meet you madam.” I bowed my head as I said it. “Daniel’s right upstairs.”
I knocked on the open door. Daniel turned around with all of his illuminating 32 teeth in his smile. He quickly said “Well hey buddy ol’ pal!” before pulling me in, slamming the door behind me and kissing me. I happened so fast my head was spinning. I came back down to Jupitron when I realized he was hugging me. “Well, hey there.” We both laughed at my attempt to be cool.
For the next week I cleaned his room, got his food, took care of his pets, even washed his feet. He loved it. “Having fun, aren’t you?” I said playfully to hide my hint of anger. “A lil bit, but I’m most excited for you to get what you need.” I dried his feet and he lead me to his bedroom, which I had became all too familiar with over the last week.
“I have a present for you.” “Awww you remembered that it’s my birthday.” 18th to be exact. I was an adult. “Of course, but one question before I show you what it is. Are you sure you want to brown?” Daniel looked me straight in my eyes, trying to make it sit in that I could never go back to being white again. “I have never been more ready for anything in my life.” Daniel scrounged through his junky nightstand drawer and pulled out a bar of platinum. He held it like a sword. “Okay, we’re ready to go.” He said laughing. “We’re going right now.” I couldn’t speak I was so happy, so I just hugged him.
The pond was so hot because it had to open my pores in order to let the melanin seep in. I let my body curl up and touch the floor of the pond. I cherished my last moment of being white. I never hated the color my skin. I hated what other people thought of it. When I was finished with my moment I swam upstream to the ice cold water that would close my pores. The more I swam, the clearer the water was. I was floating on my stomach and looked up and saw Daniel. I lifted my head, grabbed my face, and wrung the water off of it.
“Hello my beautiful brown man.” He held up a pocket mirror. “Woah.”
When we got home, he said I would have to leave because my parents might be able to tell that I was still Josh but brown. “I thought about that. Yeah that would be best. I wish I could have more time with you though.” Daniel grabbed my shoulders and looked me. “We have the rest of our lives.” One last kiss and I was on a plane to a small town called Jeno.
I knew I needed to call Ursula as soon as I landed. “Helro?” She's stuffing chips in her mouth. Typical. “Guess who!” “Josh?! I’ve been worried sick about you! Where are you?” "I’m in Jeno. I can’t give you too many details still but I’ll be back in Lindus soon.” “Okay, stay safe.”
I quickly got a lifeguard job and was able to buy an apartment with a shady landlord that didn’t ask for any background information. I started going to the library and reading to educate myself. I joined anti-colorism groups in Jeno. Things were looking up for me. I talked to Daniel every night. I'm working on visiting my mother once I learn what prison she is in.
I sometimes still have an internal fight with myself if it could be seen as betrayal to my people that I decided to be brown. But then I remember the man who picked me up from the airport. I have a divine purpose to end oppression, no matter what means I had to go through in order to be able to use my skill. If I would have stayed white, I might have died and for sure would have been held back from fighting colorism. It is not about the tricks you play to get ahead, it is about what you do with your privilege.