By Irina Echarry
In elementary school we had to draw a lot every day. The first thing I learned how to sketch was the sun – big, round and yellow. One day I didn’t have that color on hand to fill in the circle that I’d made in the far left-hand corner of my paper. I had no alternative but to begin crying, until my teacher came over and helped me find the crayon.
“You shouldn’t cry over such a trifling thing,” she told me. From then on I had doubts whenever tears rolled down my face. Was I crying for good reason? Was it over something silly? Maybe the sun’s not so important?
Pea-yellow was the color of my uniform in junior high school, when my father died after a brief but intense illness in his lungs. That was a good reason to cry.
Over the years I searched for the reason for his death, confused by the suffering into which he had plunged. That’s how I saw it until very recently. Then, one afternoon, the type in which everything turns a striking golden-yellow, nature came to my aid.
A small mushroom on the summit of a solitary mountain made me sense my father’s gentleness. I actually felt it again; it wasn’t purely memory. That afternoon I realized that he wasn’t suffering; on the contrary, he was in peace. A sensation of well-being settled in my body, in my mind. That was perhaps my best encounter with yellow.
In 1990s there were people around the island that become the symbol of an epoch. They were called “Los Amarillos” (the Yellows). This was during the “Special Period” economic crisis that impacted the lives of all Cubans. “Los Amarillos” were public transportation inspectors whose job was to assure that the vehicles picked up at least some people at bus stops.
After spending a few hours together under the sun, these gentlemen with the monkey-shit-colored uniforms (a weird yellow) were almost like relatives. The trip -our trips- depended on them.
Yellow was also the color of the double-humped M-3 “camel” bus that stopped at the side of my building, a place where I’ve seen the most intense fights. On those buses were people hanging out of the windows and on the roofs, while being hit with sticks, stones or broken bottles. They were all struggling with the same objective: to get back home after spending a day at the beach.
I can’t fail to mention the chickens (yellow ones) that turned out to be part of my life. This was during those same exceptionally difficult years. Food was scarce, so my mother decided to raise them at home.
But this solution turned into a kind of obsession with me. Since they couldn’t eat what they should have, the birds began to become deformed. So I would spend hours in front of the makeshift coop trying to give them vitamins or lemon water to prevent distemper. I got worn out, and it all depressed me. And in the end, I couldn’t stomach even a nibble of their meat.
Likewise, yellow is the color of the new Chinese P-11 double-length bus that now take me to the center of Havana. Catching one is worse on some days, but not as bad on others.
Generally I use yellow envelopes for sending my books to writing competitions. I’ve only won one, though don’t still know how. Literary prizes are almost all selected prior to the public call for writings. In any case, I’ll keep trying.
And every day I wait for some pleasant news.
I’d never thought so seriously about the importance a color can have when remembering a place. Havana seems yellow to me, the orange-yellow streetlights and walkways give an ominous tone to the nighttime illumination, as if one is in semidarkness.
A few days ago I was walking through Old Havana in a heat so oppressive that it blunted my senses.
My body demanded only water. I went into several stores, but all the drinks being served were lukewarm. I walked for an hour searching for something cold. Only a few cans of mango juice appeared to be refreshing. As I began to drink one, the sweet yellow juice and the cool air seemed to be devoted to quenching my thirst.
But several days later the same heat overpowered me. A friend came to my aid with another can of mango juice. I was bothered, tired from always having to work so hard to solve whatever problem, no matter how small. I told him that I was sick and tired of mango juice and wanted to try another flavor. I wanted to stop seeing the same yellow for a while. So much “tropicalness” is oppressive, it limits me.
I didn’t plan to write anything about this; they were only images that went through my mind. But the scene has repeated itself several times. Maybe it’s not hot enough? Perhaps it’s also necessary to drink what someone else fixes? Yellow is not such an ugly color. It’s even supposed to be cheerful, although at this stage that’s pretty questionable.
I don’t want to stop liking mangos or bananas or oranges. But, more than anything else, I’m afraid of getting tired of the sun.