I cycled onto bridge market. The throng on that busy band of concrete disguised you well. Below, amethyst dust flowed thick and milky from the inland mines. I paused, one foot propped against the low wall, and fantasised about jumping in. Then I leaned forward over the handlebars and struggled to get going again, held back by the cargo of produce that I had placed into a pannier before leaving the farm, well before dawn. And that was the moment. When I pressed down on the pedal, and showed my right ankle. The plaster-grey skin, and the pale defect… just a smudge. But enough.
You followed me as I hopped off the saddle and entered the melee, cotton trouser legs now draped over the tops of my sandaled feet. You watched me trade all morning. Twice, I caught your eye. Then you reported me, for the crime of heterogeneity.
Now I sit upright in a faceless building within earshot of the crystal mines. A rope crosses my chest and pins me to the chair back. I can taste the dust that has escaped into the atmosphere before being harnessed by fields and channelled into the river.
They have drawn blood and determined that I have a characteristic. My panchromatic make-up is imperfect. I told them about my ancestors, I was very open. But it does not seem to matter. The homogeneity is imperfect, and this can only mean that when I was an embryo the gene mix was not conducted properly. It cannot have been an oversight – the process was entirely automated by the time of my conception. Was it pride then? My parents must have asked – and paid for – a resurrection. The technician agreed (tacitly, having been guaranteed a deposit into his or her account) to hyper-activate a gene that last expressed itself nine hundred years ago. An external trait that was never eradicated, despite being obscured in the swirl of all races.
How could my parents predict where it would manifest itself? What if I was born with a patch over one side of my face? They must have controlled it. Or perhaps they just hoped. Right ankle, a mere fleck; so subtle.
My earliest memory is dabbing that fleck with chalk dust before going out. I did it today. But the sweat, or the trouser leg, must have taken it off.
Now I am caught, and I will pay for my parents’ pride in their heritage. For they too were panchromatic – all colours and none, plaster grey – the product of interference over a full millennium. Perfect statues, indistinguishable from others by colour, shape of eye, width of nose or wave of hair. Our leaders attributed the peace of our land to this long held policy. ‘Without difference, there is no envy. Without envy, there is no violence.’
I feared for my life when you took the Hessian bag off my head. The light through the high window was pink, filtered through the dust cloud that hangs over the nearest mine. I blinked. You had acquired a uniform.
“Saanthi, relax. You are with friends here.”
You read my expression and measured by distrust. You ran a finger down a stone-smooth cheek. I glanced up hatefully, but saw, on the web of skin between finger and thumb, a mark. Café au lait. You winked, and said,
“It was not your parents Saanthi. It is nature, reasserting itself. We are the first… but soon we will be the majority. Tell me… tell me where I can find others, so that we may bring them here, to swell our number.”
I looked down, and away. You left me, bursting my chest against the rope. After a while I ceased to struggle. I wrote my thoughts into the memories of a farmhand. He knows me well. He will tell them about you.
For I do not believe you, policeman. I will not fall for your ruse. I know what will happen. I will become one of the rag bundles that lie on the river bed, causing humps and eddies in the flow of amethyst dust.
That is where the different go.
That is where the imperfect statues crumble.
By Philip Berry
- You can find Phil on Twitter: @philaberry // or over on his website: https://philberrycreative.wordpress.com/