NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 10

But that was not the end of our sibling arguments over shadows. We disagreed on the color of human shadows. Noting that ours were always black, my brother asserted, with absolute certainty, that it was simply because we were black. Black shadows were for black people; white shadows for white people; Brown, for brown people. The shadows imitated us in everything, why not in the color of the skin? When I pointed out that shadows from plants were also dark, he said it was because they were plants. Human shadows were different: after all plant shadows were stationary. We could only settle the dispute by checking with humans. There were no whites in our village; they lived on the other side of the railway-line, hidden behind big houses in big plantations, and inside automobiles. Our best hope was with Indians. They may not have been as white as the whites from Europe, but we could draw logical conclusions from any difference we detected between African and Indian shadows. 8 So one day we set out to the Indian shopping center, two miles from our village. In keeping with the solemnity of our mission, we had our single calico wear washed properly and dried the night before. Thus, we dressed in our clean best. We did not whisper the intent of our journey of exploration to our parents or any other of our siblings. Although I took a different view over the matter, I was not averse to my brother being right, a white shadow would be something to behold, and it was with great curiosity and anticipation that we looked at our first Indian encounters: children outside the shops. Their shadows behaved in the same way that ours did: the avatars followed and ran away but never completely detaching themselves from the body of the Indian original. And they were black. Maybe it was because they were shadows of children? It turned out to be the same with the Indian adults. Dark shadows. But whites, real whites? Real white shadows? And then good luck fell upon us. A white couple drove past in a car. A rare sight, this. We mingled with the Indian children who surrounded the vehicle to see the couple come out. The children commented on their clothes, shoes and jewelry, their gait: they were real Europeans with sun helmets to shield themselves from the sun. The couple walked out with stiff dignity almost brushing aside the anthropological gaze from the other but occasionally acknowledged it with attempts to deflect it by throwing some coins some distance away. They briefly watched the children run after the treasure, but a few would not take part in the scramble, almost as if these rejected the attempts to turn them into the object of gaze. But my brother and I were interested in one thing only: their shadows. Alas, theirs crossed with the many of the people still surrounding the couple. Thereafter, the couple walked under the verandah where their shadows became indistinct from those of the roofs of buildings. Even after all the other children had satisfied their curiosity and gone away, we didn’t give up but stalked them from one grocery to the next. The white pair tried to throw us off by flinging some coins on the ground. We did not budge. We needed their shadows not their coins. We wanted the pair to come out of the cover of the verandah. Eventually, they did come out of the verandahs. We followed them towards their car. And then we saw their shadows, clear, distinct. Alas, theirs behaved like ours, the Indians’, and they were as dark as ours. It was not enough for my brother and me, and we kept on following the pair expecting their real shadows to somehow appear. Out of curiosity, the couple stopped and beckoned us. The woman took out some candy. We shook our heads. What do you want? “Shake your hands,” my brother blurted out, casting a glance at me. I knew what was the meaning of the glance. The woman carefully put on her gloves and, with a bemused look, extended a gloved hand to my brother. I was not looking at the handshake: I concentrated on the shadows on the ground. It was my turn to shake hands with the equally bemused gentleman who did not bother to put on a glove. My brother did what I had done: concentrated on the shadows. We arrived at the same thought. We went home, silent, not arguing, nobody claiming victory, not even discussing the reaction of the white couple to our desire. But we were united by a discovery that needed no words. At home we told the other siblings that we had discovered a secret. We gave a day when we would disclose our finding. Word went out. On the evening of our disclosure, our hut was packed. Some stood outside. We noted that even some distant neighbors had joined the expectant crowd.