The Story of Color

Old Antonio points at a macaw crossing in the afternoon sky. “Look,” he says. I see the brilliant streak of colors in the gray mist of a gathering rain. “You wouldn’t believe one bird could have so many colors,” I say as I come to the top of the hill.

Old Antoni sits down on a hillside where the mud isn’t spilling onto the main road. He catches his breath while he rolls another cigarette. A few steps further on, I see that he’s lingered behind.

I go back and sit down beside him. While I’m lighting my pipe, I ask him, “Do you think we’ll get to the village before the rain starts?” Old Antonio doesn’t seem to hear me. This time, it’s a flow of toucans that’s distracted him. The cigarette in his hand is waiting to be lit to start its lazy design of smoke. He clears his throat, lights the cigarette, makes himself as comfortable as he can and slowly begins his story.

“The macaw didn’t used to be like this. It hardly had any color at all. It was just gray. Its feathers were stunted, like a wet chichen – just one more bird among all the others who didn’t know how he arrived in the world. The gods themselves didn’t know who made the birds. Or why.

“And that’s the way it was. The gods woke up after Night had said to Day ‘Okay, that’s it for me – your turn.’ And the men and women were sleeping or they were making love, which is a nice way to become tired and then go to sleep.

“The gods were fighting. They were always fighting. They were very quarrelsome, these gods, not like the first ones, the seven gods who gave birth to the world, the very first ones. And the gods were fighting because the world was very dull with only two colors to paint it.
“And the anger of the gods was a true anger because only the two colors took their turns with the world: the black which ruled the night and the white which strolled about during the day. And there was a third which wasn’t a real color. It was the gray which painted the dusks and the dawns so that the black and white didn’t bump into each other so hard.

“And these gods were quarrelsome but wise. They had a meeting and they finally agreed to make more colors. They wanted to make it more joyous for men and women – who were blind as bats – to take a walk or to make love. “One of the gods took to walking so that he could think better. And he thought his thoughts so deeply that he didn’t look where he was going. And he tripped on a stone so big that he hit his head and it started to bleed.

“And the god, after screaming and squawking for quite a while, looked at his blood and saw that it was a different color, one that wasn’t like the other two colors. And he went running to where the other gods were and showed them the new color, and they called this color red, the third color to be born.

“After that, another god looked for a color to point the feeling of hope. He found it, though it took him a while, and he went to show it to the assemply of gods and they named this color green, the fourth color.

“Another one started to dig deep into the earth. ‘What are you doing?’ asked the other gods. ‘I’m trying to find the heart of the earth,’ he answered. throwing dirt all over the place. In time, he arrived at the heart of the earth and he showed it to the other gods and they called this fifth color brown.

“Another god whent straight upwards. ‘I want to see what color the world is,’ he said and kept climbing and climbing all the way up. When he got very high up, he looked down and saw the color of the world, but he didn’t know how to bring it to where the other gods were so he kept looking for a long while until he became blind, because the color of the world stuck to his eyes. He came down as best he could, by fits and starts, and he arrived where the assembly of the gods was and said to them, ‘I am carrying the color of the world in my eyes’ and they named the sixth color blue.

“Another god was looking for colors when he heard a child laughing. He snuck up on the child quietly and, when the child wasn’t paying attention, the god snatched his laugh and left him in tears. That’s why they say that children can be laughing one minute and all of a sudden they are crying. The god stole the child’s laughter and they called this seventh color yellow.

“By now the gods were tired and they drank some pozol and went to sleep, leaving the colors in a little box which they threw beneath the ceiba tree. The little box wasn’t closed very tight and the colors excaped and started to play happily and to make love to one another, and more and different colors were made, new ones. The ceiba tree looked at them and covered them all to keep the rain from washing the colors away, and when the gods came back, there weren’t just seven colors but many more. They looked at the ceiba tree and said, ‘You gave birth to the colors. You will take care of the world. And from the top of your head we shall paint the world.

“And they climed to the top of the ceiba tree, and from there they started to fling colors all over the place, and the blue stayed partly in the sky and partly in the water, the green fell on the plants and the trees, and the brown, which was heavier, fell to the ground, and the yellow, which was a child’s laugh, flew up to paint the sun. The red dropped into the mouths of men and animals and they ate it and painted themselves red inside. And the black and the white were, of course, already in the world. And it was a mess the way the gods threw the colors because they didn’t care where the colors landed. Some colors splattered on the men and women, and that is why there are peopled of different colors and different ways of thinking.

“And soon the gods got tired and went to sleep again. These gods just wanted sleep. They weren’t like the first ones, the ones who gave birth to the world. And then, because they didn’t want to forget the colors or lose them, they looked for a way to keep them safe.

“And they were thinking about that in their hearts when they saw the macaw, and they grabbed it and started to pour all the colors on it and they streched its feathers so that the colors could all fit. And that was how the macaw took hold of the colors, and so it goes strutting about just in case men and women forget how many colors there are and how many ways of thinking, and that the world will be happy if all the colors and ways of thinking have their place.”

Story by: Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Artwork by: Domi Dominguez

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