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Black and White
by Valerie Anireto
aged 13 from Abuja, Nigeria
The sand was softly golden with just the right amount of warmth. The forever stretching sea was masked with an apricot colour, the beautiful umber flowing into turquoise. From the upper left the gulls cried, circling until the fishing fleet returned. The air had that salty, seaweed smell she could still remember nearly fifteen years later.
Little Tammy toddled around in the sand, her pale little fingers clutching at anything she could find from grey dusty pebbles to colourful pink seashells. Ria stood with her arms folded, shivering uncontrollably in her red tank top as the wind blew through her hair with powerful passion, scattering the locks like leaves in the Fall.
Ria felt the golden yellow grains of sand under her feet, watched clouds chasing themselves across the sky, until she saw something: a silver-like metal, twinkling under the gaze of the sky. Her eyes followed the object until she came across it lying on the sand crusted over next to a patch of drying seaweed. It was a necklace.
She picked it up; eyes scrutinising. It had jade stones, the biggest carved into the image of a small dolphin. The necklace awakened memories long forgotten like the ebbing tide, echoes of the past jarring her mind as a lone tear escaped and trailed down her cheek.
Ria was black and he was white. They were from two different cultures but with an unbreakable bond. They’d grown up together. Her mother had been his family’s household maid, so they got to be around each other a lot. Oh, how she wished to return to those meadows, among the trees which had been planted a long time ago; where she frolicked about the vast plains of the open country. If she thought long and hard enough, she could still remember her mother’s forlorn apron, stitched this way and that with all its colourful designs, from teapots to palace guards. She could smell the aroma of freshly baked scones straight from the oven.
Ria could recall the serenity of that world; her world. There was that crackle that came from the Morning Time newspaper, the whistle from the old blackened kettle, the swish from her skirts when she ran under the bright, blue sky as Damien rushed to keep up with her. Ria once had long, thin legs; now they were thicker with the stress of adulthood. She had been extremely pretty back then, with an undeniable symmetry to her features, her body lithe and athletic, without abundant curves. Her figure hadn’t mattered then, but the darkness of her skin had.
Ria remembered fleeting moments where someone staring would inadvertently catch her eye and then hurriedly look away. Their faces were etched with distaste, as if it was her fault they felt offended and annoyed. All because she had brown skin and an inky, black Afro.
It was Damien that taught her to love herself. That beautiful couldn’t be described by those starving adolescents they put on magazines—faces that looked so pale and gaunt. Inner beauty wasn’t about being anemic and frail and gangly. He taught her that true beauty was all about simplicity and a tenderness of the soul.
Damien was a white boy with brown hair and eyes of mischief but a heart of gold. His smile was the purest she’d ever seen, for it extended to his eyes and deep into his soul. The way his lips lifted upwards and his one dimple dented his cheek. His teeth were perfectly aligned. She missed all these, but most of all; she missed him.
She summoned up strength from deep inside her very being; her hands trembled with fear and sadness as she wiped away the pain and grime from her face. She slowly stood up.
“It will be okay. Mama’s here,” she said as she enveloped Tammy in a warm hug.
Her home was the scent of lavender, the delicate blooms placed in one of her mother’s old jam jars. The perfume brought out the exquisite purple hue of the walls, the very same shade the colour of spring forget-me-nots in the morning. It was furnished with everything rustic, new paintings daubed on perfect squares of canvas. She collapsed on a mahogany wooden chair, pulling her daughter into the embrace of her arms; her big brown eyes retelling more than just a story.
It had been summertime in Oxford. The month of clear blue skies and colourful plants and shrubs. The air glistened with multi-coloured kites; all trying to overtake one another. It was also the month of freedom, for Ria could go where she pleased, head held high, wearing denim overalls and shorts just like everyone else.
Even as a child, Ria never really had any friends. They either bullied her, called her names, or mocked her. She remembered once when they had all went straight for her hitting, kicking, biting. Her left eye had become swollen, her face a bloody mess. The shadows of the beating were still on Ria's skin and on her heart. Something that would remain long after her skin and bone disintegrated.
In all the years of her existence, in the many things she had seen, she had come to realise that loneliness was her only dependable friend except Damien. He was the only friend she’d ever had, who stood beside her. She could remember the days when tears would flow unchecked down her cheeks, the magnitude of her pain overwhelming to wail or cry out, only because she was born with her father’s skin. All those years she was taught to be strong, she had to be. But the look on his face brought the tears back like water from a dam, her walls she’d built up collapsed. She’d let him rock her slowly as he comforted her, her tears soaking his chest. He had pulled her back, wiped her tears away with his sleeves, and stared her in the face.
“I got this for you,” he said, pulling out the jade dolphin necklace. The very same one she had picked up on the beach.
“Why?” she asked.
“So you can always remember that you are loved and you don’t need to be like them to be happy. You’re perfect just the way you are.”
Ria had wrapped him in a warm embrace, pulling him close. She never wanted to leave. She felt as if in his arms all her pain had gone away especially the depression. If only she could stay in his arms forever, safe from the world’s harmful people.
“I want you to promise me that you’d never pull the necklace off, as long as you live.”
She mumbled, “Yes.”
If only she had known she would never set eyes on him again. For Damien was… dead. She buried her head into her daughter's hair, mourning the death of the only friend she had ever known.
Moss laden marble pillars stood as despairing guards on either side of the cemetery threshold. Behind the wrought iron gates were rows upon rows of crumbling gravestone, like the sea of the dead. Porous trees hunched over most of the void spared by the sickening expanse, plunging the rest in shadow. The place echoed mournful and deathly. As the wind blew across the graveyard harshly, a number of wooden crosses fell off. The smell of old stone filled the dry air and Ria pulled her skirts close to her, eyes searching for Damien’s grave.
She found it. His name had been carefully unscripted on a white tombstone, and she knelt down, slowly placing red orchid on the brown dirt. She could hear the subtle sound of feet, and out of the shadows a tall figure emerged. His skin was as pale as the moon and his features flawless. He smiled; she could never miss that smile anywhere. Damien.
She stood, eyes wide, fingers covering her mouth to prevent her from screaming out loud.
“Why aren’t you dead?”
“Because I’m a vampire.”
Featured stories still to come.
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