Renate Oude Nijeweme
Rise into vibrance

Rise into vibrance

It still made him dizzy. It was everywhere he looked. Inside his house, his bedroom, his bathroom, even the living room. He had no choice. He wished he could just step outside, take a walk in the vivid colours of a green forest, or take a look at the endless blue of the sea. Instead, everywhere he looked there was grey. Light grey, dark grey, they even had new words for all the shades of grey in between. The soft greyness of a sunrise was soothing, nothing like the invigorating colours of the sunrise he used to know.

Even the colour in his dreams started to fade. As if he did not know what colour his favourite work of art was. As if he forgot the blue of her eyes, the rose of her cheeks. It worried him, if he forgot the colours, what else would he forget?

It kept him up at night and made his mind wander during the day. He wished he had the words to write about what he once knew, the gradations of synonyms that gave colour to life.

Every day started the same. After he opened his eyes he realised that the curtains were not blocking out colour. This was it. This would be it for the remainder of time. He knew he had to get up and throw some water in his face. Most of the days he did, secretly wishing the cold of the water would make it all go away. Next on his to-do list was making a hot cup of tea. Tea is often an answer to questions not asked yet. He would have options now, drinking the tea on his kitchen chair, going back to bed, or drinking it on the bench in his front yard. It did not matter. The day would still be grey, the tea would still burn his throat and he would still not mind. The weather was soft this morning so he chose the hard wooden bench between the long grown grass and the thistles he should have removed months ago.

There was still morning dew on the bench. It made him shiver the first few moments he sat down. Absentmindedly, he watched the swirling of his tea, the motion of his hand ever calming him down. He heard giggling. He first was not sure that it was giggling he heard, but there it was again. He looked to his left to see if he could find the owner of the soft giggle. It was a child, he saw, some five years old. He wondered how they did it. How they could still find something to laugh about. They never even knew colour, not like he did. “I asked you something!” The child’s voice was like a tinkling bell “I asked you if your bum got wet!” Annoyance fought with a little smile that started around his lips. It was a long time ago someone spoke like this to him. He did not know what to say. His bum. He could not think of a time he thought about his bum or how others perceived it. He focussed and thought of an answer. “The bum is wet alright” His hoarse voice started soft, his vocal folds straining. The bum is wet. Alright. Cogs were turning in his head. Was this the way you spoke, spoke to a child? The child clearly took his answer as encouragement. She slowly walked towards him, all the while babbling about the way the bum could be wet and why anyone would go on and sit on a wet bench. Without a towel to sit on, without even drying it. Before he could prevent it the child climbed on the bench and sat next to him. He whirled his tea some more and quietly started to listen to all the things she had to say.

He had not noticed the child’s knapsack before. And while she spoke about dew and benches and the thistles surrounding it she kept rummaging in her bag. As if she waited for him to finish his tea. With the last gulp still burning in his mouth the child’s focus started to shift. She was not rambling any more. The child sounded decisive as if she knew she had to be here, at this place and time. She gave him a book, a fountain pen and then took his cup from him and disappeared.

He sat there staring while minutes of his morning ticked away. Did he fall asleep on the bench? Did he make tea and drink it piping hot? It could easily have been yesterday that he did all that. But even if he did not make or drink the tea, he was certain that someone else had been here just a moment ago. The fountain pen had rolled on the ground but the book was still lying next to him. He needed a drink. An extra sweet tea was what he had to have. From the slate grey outside to the Marengo of his kitchen were only a couple of steps but it felt like it had taken him forever. With a strange feeling of Déjà vu he made tea.  The cup felt hot in his hands. Too hot to drink right now he thought. He placed the cup beside the book to allow it to cool down slightly and glanced out the window.

“Grey silent fragments

 Of a grey silent world.” 

These lines from his favourite poem seemed fitting right now.

Something caught his eye. There was something glittering under the bench. The fountain pen, he thought. It felt strangely familiar to look at the pen, to think about it. He closed his eyes and imagined how the pen would have looked in colour. How the ink could be blue, red or purple. How he would write his name with a feathery light touch. He almost felt as if he could sense the fountain pen in his hands, with the cool cylinder resting against his fingers. When he opened his eyes, he saw that he was actually holding the pen in his hand.

He looked at the bench. There was no pen. He squinted his eyes, shook his head. There was still no pen under the bench, there was still a pen in his hand. He got the urge to use it, to feel the nib of the pen on paper. He looked around the room for some leftover paper and saw the book that the child had given him.

The book cover displayed a beautiful grey swirling design of trees and clouds. It seemed as if the grey was glimmering in the artificial light of his kitchen. With care, he opened the pages and inscribed his name on the first one. As soon as he finished the final letter of his name, he felt as if he became the drying ink, as if he emerged with the letters he had just written. He got intertwined with the book, his body and consciousness merging with the written words on every page. He had no blood in his veins, only ink. He had no hair on his body, only letters. And for a brief moment, he had no body at all – he was the pages, and the pages were him.

He slowly regained consciousness, unaware that he had ever lost it. Piece by piece, he reconstructed himself, drawing strength from the words on the pages. Letter by letter, he emerged from the pages of the book. In awe he stared at his fingers and traced his gaze from his hand to his arms, relieved to find everything in its proper place once again. 

There was a fragrance in the air that he remembered vaguely. It reminded him of a forest after the rain, a scent that he had really missed. He looked around the room, it was a grand hall with a glass ceiling. The ceiling-high windows were encased in hand-carved woodwork. In the centre of the room were comfortable chairs and sofas, and the edges of the hall were lined with hospital beds. He was shocked to find that he was not alone. There were other people like him, gazing in amazement at their limbs, turning their heads to see the hall, the grand scheme of things. And then it hit him.

It was strange that it took a while for him to register, considering all the different shades of grey he was used to, but there was colour everywhere. The windows, from floor to ceiling, looked out onto the most beautiful green forest he had ever laid eyes on. There were flowers everywhere and birds in the most interesting browns. The people who were waking up were also in colour, with the blackest hair and the pinkest lips; everything was there. Was he in colour too? He took a second look at his skin. There was not a single trace of grey left.

Just then, a person approached him with a friendly smile on their face. “Welcome,” they said, their voice warm and reassuring. “You are safe here. My name is Nayma, and I am here to help you get oriented.” They reached out a hand to help him up and led him to a comfortable chair. “I know this must all be very confusing for you,” they continued. “But do not worry, we will explain everything in due time. For now, just take some deep breaths and try to relax. You are amongst friends here.”

He was dizzy. Was it because of the colours or was it the complete change in scenery? Everything was different. He really needed a drink. Someone came up to him. The only word they uttered was “Colour”. He felt an instant connection to all the people in the room, coming alive after – after what? What happened? The only way he could soothe his brain was with a hot cup of tea. As if someone had read his mind, the doors of the large hall opened and a trolley with thermos flasks appeared. A robotic voice announced, “Tea anyone? I’ve got hot tea!” “Here! Me! Yes please,” he said with a cracking voice as he started waving at the robot, making it utterly clear he needed the tea.

The tea is different then he is used to, and an overwhelming array of aromas reach him through his nose and taste buds. He felt his body relax and he took in his surroundings once more. There is a lot to see. The chair he was seated on supported him as he turned his head in all directions. There was not a corner left unused. Next to the stunning window panes, he saw something that looked like a propagator. Meagre plantlets were just sticking their heads above the sand. They were being warmed, and he thinks he spotted solar panels. There was a workbench at the other end of the room. Tools and appliances, which he characterised as antique, were laying there waiting to be used. There was even a phone, he can’t remember the last time he actually saw a phone. Gradually, the chairs around him fill with the people from the beds alongside his. Each got a cup of tea pushed into their hands and looked around, dazed, at everything there is to see.

Nayma also joined in. Softly they cleared their throat to get their attention. All the wandering eyes found peace with them. “We hope you are coming around slowly,” they begin. “How long has it been since you have spoken to anyone? I mean, before Skuld stopped by your place?” Everyone mumbled the time they have been alone. He stayed silent. Time is not something that was on his mind. There were mornings, dreadful mornings where he knew he had to get out of bed but he did not know exactly why. Why did he have to experience the entire day consciously, in another place than the bed where his duvets gave him at least the illusion of comfort. 

 “That is what I thought,” Nayma’s soft voice brought him back to the room. “We try and get the loneliest of you lot first.” He felt a cramp in his stomach. Lonely, is that what he had been all this time? He could not remember how long he had been alone for, it all just felt like it had always been this way. “We have tried so many times, in so many ways,” Nayma continued their story. “We’ve created a different world, a world in which all of nature is equal. We all live in peaceful symbiosis with our own nature as humans as well with the nature surrounding us. We reached out but never managed to reach you. There were so many barriers. We saw how much you were suffering, how much your world was hurting. That is when you met Skuld. She has got destiny in her pocket and gave you the opportunity to write your own, with the fountain pen and the book. She visited more people then that are here now, some chose not to do anything with what she gave them. But you all did. We gave you the opportunity, and here you are.”

It is strange how quick the mind forgets. Not the blue of her eyes nor the rose of her cheeks, it was foolish of him to be afraid of such a thing. He forgot the greyness. The dizziness, the quicksand that kept him low. The notice of what had happened before was there, somewhere in the back of his mind. He smiled as he looked back on the first days in the big hall. Where Nayma took the lead to show him a new way of thinking. Together with the others who just woke up he had to unlearn a lot. The emptier his presumptions the fuller his life got. 

Every day started the same. He woke up to the sun’s soft rays that shone in his eyes as a breeze gently blew the curtains open and closed, open and closed. The gentle rhythm stayed with him for the rest of his day. He didn’t need to coach himself out of bed. He did not have to choose where to drink his morning tea. His favourite spot was in the garden with the sun just peaking through the vegetables. He enjoyed the silence. It was a different silence than the thick grey slices of stillness he once knew. This silence would end. After he finished his tea he would go into the community garden to work with the others. A diverse group of people would greet him; those who had been there for years, those who had just arrived, and people like him who were somewhat familiar with the flow of their new lives but still unsure of its exact contours.

Everyday anew he would start colouring, working on different skills, as if they were crayons, adding radiant hues to his life. Sometimes he borrowed a colour from someone else, and other times he shared his own, working together to fill this vibrant world.

*The sentences “Grey silent fragments / Of a grey silent world.”  are from the poem ‘The Horses’ by Ted Hughes.