153 Monochrome Woman

by Harini Suri





            She walks through the night, longing, as always, for color. On her way home from another dreary work-day, stretching, endless. Runs into neighbors, celebrating the birth of a child, a son after many unwanted daughters. Is faintly puzzled at the irony of herself, a monochrome, subdued, elegant woman of today celebrating the birth of a son in a fossified technicolor patriarchy. But submits, driven by a craving she cannot deny. The night is alight with lamps, they are setting off rockets and catherine wheels that spin busily, shooting away tangential rainbow-rays. Lights sparkle around her, and the firecracker she holds in her hand shimmers and blazes, showers of multiple colors spewing in her face, so when she closes her eyes later that night she cannot help seeing technicolor dreams.            

            Bright lights make her happy. She strains against the boundaries of her existence for the radiance of the sun, to light up the corners of her room, makes her feel alive, taste and breathe the freshness of its rays, blow away the reality of her everyday go-to-work in black suits, white shirt, black stockings. In her most secret fantasies she sees herself in blue lipstick, painting her nails bilious purple, wearing red trousers with large yellow polka dots. Owns a pink pig and paints his tail green. Drives a fluorescent orange car to work. She would never have the courage. Very secret, these fantasies.

            If you saw her at work, you would never guess at her cravings. See her at work, among the computers, hacking away at pieces of code built by others, teasing out the bugs from someone else’s brain child, working in a dark room, ergonomically designed table, chair and armrest, the anti-glare computer screen keeping away any hint of distortion, of unwanted and unnatural light.

            Go to her home. She shares a large house with several roommates, all with night jobs. She never gets to see anyone when she comes home in the evening, which is the way she likes it. She is always away during the day, sitting at work in her artificially tubelit cave, walking back after the sun sets.

            Her room is not very exciting. She is scared that she will never be able to get it quite as vivid and startling, quite as good as her imagination tells her it is, as it needs to be. So she leaves it bland-as-boring-heaven - hell to her would be a bright and exciting inferno. A futon-bed, a brown bookshelf, a table-with-chair. One walk-in closet with two black suitcases, and all her black and white suits, black and white underwear, gray nightclothes with white flowers.

            You would never guess at her dream-life. Unless you saw the ceiling, covered with those little fluorescent glow-in-the-dark stars that you buy for very little children, she had bought them once for a nephew but could never bear to give them up. She has never had a man lie with her in this bed. Never had the courage to bring one in and show him her stars.

            Men confuse her. They seem like borderline animals, have a sense of vigor and energy in them that amazes her, and seems to set her apart. She thinks of herself as subdued, wilting if confronted with a high-voltage whistle, the heat of desire, the sensuous flash of a steamy wink. She has never had to face an encounter like this, but plays imaginary ones endlessly over in her mind, and watches herself withering. Wonders what she would do. How she would react to a boyfriend equipped with flowers for her, hot pink shorts, lacy thongs. Would she like this to happen? Be overwhelmed, run? Or stand her ground and melt into his arms with a passionate kiss? Over and over again, covering no fresh ground, these thoughts chase each other’s tails in her head.

            She walks home that night, after lighting fire-crackers for over an hour. Stands under the shower to wash the smell of gunpowder out of her hair. Closes her eyes against the hiss of steam to fantasize: as always, the face is blurry, the figure indistinct, but she knows she will recognize him when they meet. When, not if. She knows he exists, is waiting for her, and will reach out through the mists that hide her from humanity, pull her into his arms where she can rest, be quiet, open her eyes to embrace her existence. She waits for him.

             That night, standing in the shower and thinking of the stars that exploded around her face a couple of hours ago, she can feel it. A sense of anticipation, quivering in her bones, her body buzzes with suppressed excitement. He will come, she thinks. Soon. Any moment now, she will open her eyes, and see him standing there, waiting for her. He will gaze into her eyes and meet her soul, with his soft brown eyes, fat nose, soft pink lips, soft, so soft his cheeks, covered with little freckles, kissable, soft skin. He will smile his understanding smile, and whisper that he loves her, only her. Tuck the curls from her forehead behind her ear, caress her softly, lay her to sleep. Feed her.

            Food: what must she have for him? She ought to keep something to eat. She goes into the kitchen, ready to prepare a feast. Takes a ripe, red, crisp radish. Slices into it, carves with infinite care, converting it into a rose with delicate tipped inner-white petals, resting gently on a pale-green bed of lettuce, center radiating rays of orange carrot-slices alternating with fresh sprigs of mint, the tray bounded by paper-thin wedges of lemon. Squeezes her eyes, shuts out images of salt-n-pepper standard-normal-usual/boring-day salad.

            The bell rings. She smiles in anticipation. Walks over to the door, balancing her perfect salad on one hand, opening the door with the other. He is standing there, his face wreathed in smiles. Hello, he begins, opening the conversation with one foot inside the door. She looks at his face, and his hands, what he brings to her must be a sign from the heavens that he is hers, that it was meant to be. Stars explode all around her, her body is on fire and her mind has divided itself into a thousand million slithering tendrils that stand on end, the world is a disoriented whirlpool that drags her towards the swirling void of crazed infinity…

            And what of poor Pete, the handyman? Poor guy…. he’d been called out to a house on a touch-up job, rang the bell in a new strange neighborhood with his three cans of white paint in one hand, was greeted by a monochrome woman in black who threw a plate of salad at his face and collapsed into his arms whispering with her last breath, “Darling, you’ve come.” Put him off salad for years.





©2002 Harini Suri


Harini Suri is an ecologist by profession. Ever since she can remember, she has been fascinated by the power that words can wield. She has previously written and published fiction and non-fiction articles for children, and has recently begun writing for adults.

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