Text by Aditya Ghosh
Drawings by Cameron Ringness
Have you ever landed on a strange land and thought “Oh, this is what this place looks like…”? The journey from surprise to acceptance is so effortless that you take barely minutes to trust your eyes. You don't pinch yourself or look for cracks in reality, it is here and real, your city. The smells are new, the colors are exciting and the people are intriguing, and very soon the smells are familiar, the colors as they should be and the people predictable.
When I found myself in the yellow city, it was with very little restraint that I set about exploring it. The streets were cobbled, impractical but charming. The buildings looked like stacks of honeycomb towering over me, except for the older houses, which were much more like pats of butter. And the people were machines or mice, carrying along with their day. Some of them happy and some sad but most of them bearing the mundane expression of routine. I decided to walk around all day, ambling into neighborhoods and enjoying the warmth of the sun. The pavement was a tawny grid, and the lamp posts amber. Chrysanthemums and Black Eyed Susans filled the planted road dividers. A new towering skyscraper had managed to seem like it was made of gold, the windows embossed into a solid metal façade. The brightness of yellow seemed inescapable, lighting up the sky and every surface around it.
“Isn't it beautiful?” I heard a voice behind me. I turned around and saw a yellow man with sharp features and an outfit to match beaming at me. “My people built it, from concept to conclusion.” He looked pleased. I looked at the skyline, “Yes, quite pristine.” I replied. He smiled at me “People of all colors live together here in peace and harmony. Like living in a dream. This city is literally a manifestation of men’s dreams.” His tone sounded insincere, like sentences varnished over to make them seem polished and pretty. But I figured he was right, and nodded in agreement. It was order that made him confident. Laws to put us all in our rightful places. “Like clockwork” I said to him, the order of the place gently making a machine out of me. Bidding him farewell, I ambled along.
Soon after, I came upon a green man. I hadn’t paid much attention to the different colors the people were here but suddenly became acutely aware of the spectrum around me. The green man was laying down green cobblestones on the street, replacing the yellow ones to make a green road. “Why are you doing that?” I asked. “Green men get punished here for walking on yellow streets” he said, too busy to take his eyes off the job at hand. That sounded odd, and a little extreme. “Who told you that?” He looked at me this time with sad eyes, “Everyone knows it, and we had no idea what to do to stop it. Someone came to me and said I simply had to build a green road and the persecution would stop.” He considered me a minute longer and went back to laying the bricks. It seemed unfair and I wanted to know more, but was too afraid to probe him further. I left him to his work, deciding to keep an eye on the color of streets I walked on. I wasn’t even sure of my own color.
I was lost in thought about what I had heard and reached an intersection of the streets. A woman walked up to me and asked “Which is my left?” “Your left?” I was perplexed. I looked up and saw the signs and lights at the intersection and realized I couldn't read them. Oddly enough even what should have been arrows or stop symbols looked like alien hieroglyphs to me. “I can’t read them either” she said, studying my expression. “I don't know the language of the men who have built this city and so have always been lost.” Looking at her hands she continued “Someone I met advised me to turn to the left at every turn I encounter and I will end up in a house for lost women just like me!” “Lost for now” she clarified, “not gone forever.” I told her which hand was her left and she followed it, thanking me as she walked away.
I stood there, now unsure of where I was. I had been here for just one day and already had three different versions of the city. Now the place looked different. It was a yellow city slowly changing hues. Tinges of pink on some walls, green cobblestones at places. Did everyone know that some flowers come in other shades? Wouldn’t the trees be naked soon and green when spring came? Now the people looked different, yellow men arrogant and confident, green men dejected and skittish, women turning left at every opportunity. And that would change. The filter had been lifted from my eyes and I no longer saw or thought in monochrome.
In the distance, I spotted a cloud of red. On getting closer I saw that it was a bunch of balloons. A little girl was handing them one by one to passersby and as I approached her, looked at me and asked “Do you want one?” I saw the others who had accepted the balloons, suddenly smiling and carefree as they rose up and away into the yellow tinged teal sky. “Only if you are tired” she added smiling at me with understanding eyes. In that moment, I was grateful for her, surprised that I had such an easy way out of those streets. I remembered watching the skyline recede while on a train, so relieved to escape the city while knowing that I would miss it in time and yearn for it soon. The balloons on the other hand seemed to encapsulate the person in bliss, do more than levitate just the body. “Thank you” I said as I grasped for the string, all the colors around me draining away as the balloon slowly lifted me into the air.