The Beauty of Color by Keh'ara Kirkland

The Beauty of Color by Keh'ara Kirkland (McCrimmon Honorable Mention)

As the car stopped, he caressed me immediately; in synch
with the stopping of the engine was the start of us. I say us
because I feel like that’s what it is to become intimate with someone, you merge,
mesh, mix into some form of a united being. I enjoyed him. Intimacy was an act
of passion. It didn’t take love to feel passion, and it didn’t take an appropriate
union to become a part of another person. We were one as he kissed me, touched
me. I felt him and he felt me. One.

“You like that,” he said, panting like some needy animal.

Please be quiet.

“Say it if you like it,” he panted some more.

Shut the hell up.

“Is it good?”

“Quiet!” I yelled without realizing that my thoughts were
vocalized. He pulled back and stared at me as if I were some whacko, needless
to say the look was returned. A quick awkward expression and a not so melodious
cry ended the moment. Now, the only sounds we heard other than the heavy breathing
of us both was the zooming of passing vehicles. As I licked over my dry lips
I recognized the taste of sweat in my mouth, kissing his neck I guessed. As
he got up and scooted to ‘his side’ of the van I scratched my head noting that
my hair felt like shit. Relaxed hair need not get sweaty; I felt the naps I
tried so hard to conceal creeping back into the roots of my follicles. No ‘good’
hair here. His eyes were closed and I could see the moon reflecting light off
of his caramel-complexioned skin.

I got up and moved, naked, to the front of the van to roll
down the windows; the dankness of the vehicle was enough to make me gag.

“When are you going to take me home?” I asked. Without opening
his eyes he shrugged his shoulders and gestured for me to shut up.

“I would like to get back before my show comes on,” this
remark was stupid considering I had no “show” to come on at one o’clock in the
morning. Yet and still, no reply. I was becoming irritated watching him bask
in the light of the moon, knowing that my body was covered by shadows. Black
shadows. Black like me.


I always heard that they called Paw-Paw ‘Ethel’s little black
boy’ seeing as how he was the only dark-skinned kid she had. Ethel was my great-grandmother,
and Paw-Paw was Momma’s daddy. Despite the assortment of colors my entire family
sported, Momma and Daddy both were dark, a blend of chocolate-mocha endlessness.
Well, once I was born and Paw-Paw saw me and my dark-brown complexion he nicknamed
me the Mahogany Monster, said I was gonna terrorize the world with my beauty.
And as I grew, Paw-Paw complimented my deep almond-shaped eyes, my full hair
and lips, and he incessantly praised my color. Black was my world, and I loved
living in it. Despite my good looks I remember, not so fondly, being in the
Miss Brown Bowie Scholarship pageant when I was thirteen. All the girls in the
pageant were African-American, and many of the black girls in the pageant were
bright-skinned, ‘red’ as they affectionately liked to be called.


The beauty of color is taught to us all at a young age. Light
colors stood for happiness and sincerity while the dark ones stood for fear,
bleakness, and ignorance. In spite of my proud upbringing, for a long time my
complexion was a hindrance- something that made me hate myself. I say hate and
I mean it. The type of hate that plants itself as a seed, a seed that another
has sowed in the soil of my soul, and grows slowly but greatly. As my color
seemed to darken the angrier it made me. I considered myself brown like everyone
else until a young boy in my childhood called out “Blacky” on the playground
and I winced. Then I was darker than average until an old woman called me “Tar
baby” at a restaurant and my eyes began to water.
style=""> After that I was just plain black until, that is, a boy at my
school called me “Midnight” in a heated argument one day. It took nearly three
twelve-year-olds to hold me back, I clawed at him viciously and nearly ripped
another hole in his ass. I hated the look of black and the misery it brought
to my life. Very young I learned to define the color of beauty and from that
knowledge I despised my darkness.


“So do you have a boyfriend?”

“Yes” I answered her shortly, lying, because the question
was dumb. We didn’t know each other and probably would never see each other
again, so whether I had a boyfriend was as obsolete as the rest of their banal
conversation. The pageant was to begin any minute and we were impatiently chatting
backstage to calm our nerves, not saying I was nervous. Girls formed cliques
around the backstage area. I stood around the rest of them, the light ones,
in this tight-ass mocha colored dress that Momma picked out, and listened as
the girls talked of boys and bullshit hobbies. I felt bigger than them. I read
Toni Morrison and the classics and didn’t believe that talking on the phone
was a hobby. Dark-skinned girls passed by and acknowledged my bravery, standing
firm in foreign territory. And there I stood, waiting for the show to begin,
in the midst of the enemy knowing that these ‘lighter’ girls thought their color
mattered more than their race.


He finally opened his eyes and saw me staring. It must have
startled him; here I am sitting Indian style, stark-naked, with my head cocked
to the side and my eyes solely focusing on him. The sweat that covered us both
a while ago was dried and transparent. Its salty smell sat still in the car,
so much for open windows. The breathing was no longer heavy, and the van smaller
than ever.

“What the fuck is your problem tonight?” he asked, the boldness
of his question offended me, and even if it hadn’t I would have become defensive
anyway; he shouldn’t curse at a lady.

“I beg your pardon?” This always threw boys off, they expected
an excuse drenched in attitude, “Do you mind showing a little respect tonight,
I don’t appreciate being talked to any kind of way.” Momma always said assert

He just looked at me bewildered, I know I weirded him out,
but it’s what he liked about me. My reflective manner and sassy comments is
what made him want me. I stared a moment more and then answered his question.


“Me what?”

“You and your light-ass skin,” I replied.

“What about it?” he was grinning now and his parted lips
revealed a set of gleaming white teeth, seemingly perfect on the top, but bunched
brutally together at the bottom. Whenever we kissed I licked over his teeth,
it was in admiration in a way. I admired the mouth that made me stare. Then
I thought about his question. His voice caught me off guard, our relationship
wasn’t built upon a whole lot of talking, but I always liked his voice. It’s
strong, raspy, and smooth all at the same time creating a sensation in my ears,
like new age jazz. I didn’t know what to say. He was waiting for an answer.


As we prepared for the talent portion of the competition
I was nervous. Not because I was trying to impress anyone, that ain’t my style.
I was nervous because I would be doing something different. While other girls
danced or sang, I was talking. Orating is what my mother called
it, but I knew what I’d be doing standing in front of that packed auditorium.
I would be talking loudly about something personal and dear to my soul; Beauty.
“Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated
in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.” Toni Morrison said
it first and I quoted it at the beginning of my oration (Momma
had corrected me in saying that talking was what you did on the phone). I went
on to discuss beauty’s origin beute, or bealte
– the state of being handsome. Then I began to inform my audience of the way
it is portrayed by the media and how it lies within each and every one of us.
I spoke beauty as if I encompassed every part of it for about four minutes and
despite my well-researched facts, not once did I know of a true definition to


He was staring at me and I liked it. His eyes roamed my body,
from my full lips to my collarbone, all the way down to my inner thighs. I pictured
what he saw, my dark silhouette curvy and inviting. I sat with my legs curled
up to my body revealing my chest and with my hands grazing against my ankles.
I guess he liked the view. I was attractive, and my appearance was why he continued
to deal with my flippy comments and sporadic ways. My color was a coat of elegance
to him. He wanted me from the moment he saw me. I liked the look in his eyes
when he wanted something badly. Whether it be me, or money, or a cool drink
of water after running a mile. It made him seem greedy and greed was a characteristic
I found stimulating. Greed was a sin, like lust, and just like passion they
were both inescapable. His greed. It moved me to act. I teased him when he wanted
me the way a stoplight teases someone who has to pee real bad and is two blocks
away from home, bound to change but just...not...yet…


Down to the last five. We were all called back to the stage.
Lined up with forged smiles we strolled on with the applause of our parents.
The only dark-skinned finalist, I stood there feeling fabulous. I was already
a winner. They announced the results and I came in third place, or ‘second runner-up’
and following the phony congratulations back stage one of those little red heifers
spoke words to me that I will never forget.

“Congratulations, I knew you’d do well,” she said “you’re
pretty for a black girl.” As if she wasn’t black.

The words echoed in my head. The anger that boiled inside
me showed heavily on my face until I thought about it and realized that to her
she wasn’t. Black was the color of darkness and unfortunate African-Americans
who weren’t yet blended with the brown and beige of the world.

The memory of the phrase and flowery smell of the pageant
girls still haunts me. Some fucking beauty pageant! Who the hell measures beauty
by color anyway? So I looked it up in my Webster’s when I got home that day
and found out that beauty if defined as the quality that gives pleasure to the
senses of sight with such properties as harmony of color, form, and originality.
It’s kind of funny because despite my striking good looks, Paw-Paw was the only
person in the world to ever call me beautiful.


“You are
not like me.” I said plainly. I opened my eyes to see that he was no longer listening. One thing about us, we connect during intimacy, but other than that we play tag. I want to tell him, though.
Shake him and explain that his color makes me squirm. The way others of his ‘paper-bag-brown’ have talked down to me, made me question myself. Tell
him that it took years to reverse the hatred that I grew for myself. I was
eager, wanting to spill it all to him, make him understand. But I mellowed
Looking at the moon on his skin I just pulled him towards me into my
shadow, my dark shadow. Instead of telling him how I felt I would show him. Show
him my hatred, my love, my curse, and my blessing. And in that van, in the
dark of my shadow, we were both as black as we wanted to be.