(Draft beginning of another chapter)
"Yellow represents hopefulness." said brother Yi Chien's art teacher, Mr Lai.
I remember that hot summer's afternoon in my brother's room, where he was having his weekly water colour lesson. I never sat in on these sessions but that day, bored with whatever I'd been doing, or perhaps it was the lack of anything to do, I'd strolled in. Besides, it was stifling in the August heat and they had the air conditioning on, which Mah Mah only allowed when guests were visiting.
They were painting skies. Before I knew it, I'd sat down at the other end of the long wooden table and immediately commandeered Mr. Lai's lusty attentions. The man, we retrospectively learnt, only thinly disguised his propensity for young ingénue females, claiming artistic license for his lascivity. My brother was obviously annoyed with my intrusion, but rumbled only under the surface. One has to watch out for silent but fuming volcanoes; they're the ones, when they erupt, spew venomous missiles from the deep belly of the earth for absolute miles, wreaking untold carnage.
I'd only watched for five minutes before I'd declared some statement of judgement or other, as I always did where younger siblings were concerned. I knew full well that my brother wouldn't dare show any bad behaviour before a teacher he wished to impress. He was caught between a rock of ingratiation and the hard place that was his older sister's typical disdain.
I watched, fascinated, how with utmost care Yi Chien had doused his art paper with a copious covering of water from the old Robertson's jam jar. Then with a feathery dab, the slightest dot of Cyanine Blue was introduced to the wet canvas. And at that merest touch, the colour oozed across the expanse and magically became sky and fluffy clouds in that one stroke.
It was then that Mr Lai deftly added his masterful hint of Saharan Yellow, because no real sky was anything less than half a dozen muted, subtle other tones.
“Yellow, I’ll have you know, is the colour for Hopefulness!”
He paused for maximum effect, to let this wisdom sink in, Yi Chien obsequiously assenting with a smug little nod as if he knew all about these artists’ secret colour codes. I was just miffed. Why yellow? While I was still pondering how to challenge this, Mr Lai took another small sample square of art paper and dotted it with water, then deftly delivered a smear of Geranium Red.
“Red skies denote Passion!” he declared, giving me a hot, meaningful glance, but only for a second, before he incriminated himself. He continued on a third snatch of paper.
“And blue is for Purity.”
With that, he bore into me, his lasciviousness now so openly obvious and unflinching that I blushed, despite myself. I looked quickly down at the piece of art paper that I’d been given to experiment with, and started to jab bluntly at it with any colour I could get off the palette.
“Ah you like rainbows I see; ambitious!”
He started to hover closer and closer behind me, threatening to take my hand to guide the strokes. I could smell the not too faint whiff of his eau de cologne mingled with sweat, and bristled. I stood up abruptly and only just managed not to smack him full in the face with my sudden motion.
“I’ve got other homework to finish.” I said, and left the room quickly.
I thought the man slumped ever so slightly with disappointment; but I was quite certain I heard a stifled snigger from Yi Chien as I shut the door firmly behind me.
Once outside, the sultry warmth of the day immediately clamped about my face as though a plastic bag had enveloped my head. “Load of pompous rubbish!” I’d thought, a bit hotter under my collar than I’d bargained for the close encounter with Mr Lech. Why is yellow for Hopefulness anyway?
But for some reason, the notion about colours and their secret meanings never left me. Years later, every time I looked at a pale lemony sky, be it early in the morning before the heat of the day had drawn in enough pollution to harden the hues, or at dusk after a long and overcast day, when night threatened to fall like a sudden, heavy curtain over what remained of the light – I would think “There’s hope in this yellowy sky…” And whenever I viewed a fiery sunset sky of Vermillion Red, I remembered about the passion, and secretly longed for it to spice up my humdrum life.
Today, I sat in a shiny law firm’s reception area, looking out of triple glazed floor-to-ceiling glass windows at the cityscape and the sky beyond. There was hardly any furniture in here, just a modern take on a Chesterfield that I was perched uneasily upon, a sliver of an onyx console table against one wall, with a single freesia lilting at an angle from a white Conran ceramic flute. The black marble beneath my feet was so polished I could see my anxious face reflecting back at me each time I lowered my eyes. They were so slick here, they didn’t even bother to pipe out any muzack on a tannoy.
I’d been summoned here to finalise my divorce proceedings. Against my will. There was never really any discussion that the marriage would conclude quite like this, without violence except for that of emotions, but it did draw blood from deep within my soul. It was a unilateral decision from a husband of nearly thirty years. One day all was as usual: he left early for work as always; I did whatever it was that a housewife and mother did in the day; eventually cooked supper, was doing the ironing as he came home, late, as was normal; we ate, in near silence and without the children, who were both out that evening; he retired to bed early as I washed up and shut the house down for the night. The next morning, just as he was dressing, he declared in a calm, flat voice that he would be instructing lawyers when he got back to the office to begin divorce proceedings. He suggested I found myself a solicitor as well, and a few hours into the day he sent an email to remind me to make sure I did that. A few days later, he moved out.
In the next months life dwindled into a single minded routine of emptying out what was a home, until the increasingly soulless rooms reverberated with fewer and fewer memories. Precious photographs and memorabilia were torn off their regular haunts, leaving sun bleached marks like small ghosts on the fading wallpaper. In the place of homely furnishings stood a mounting skyline of movers’ boxes, each containing mere ‘things’. I had to call them that to detach any feelings they carried with them – I knew every story of every item that we’d bought or somehow acquired together. I knew I had to let that go to survive.
I tried to imagine what this scene in our lives would look like if it was a painting. What colour would there be in the sky of a marriage falling apart? Would there have been ugly blotches of Midnight Black for despair, smudged into deep angry patches of Crimson Lake Red to indicate an exchange of poisonous words? Were there the occasional pious moments of remorse and reconciliation, gently swathed in light shades of Viridian Green?
I looked out through the smoky triple glazing, desperately hunting for a hint of any kind of yellow in the glowering skies: Chrome, Cadmium, Aureolin or Hansa – so I could muster some hope for reprieve. But it was just a glistening day of hot sunshine; everything looked sharp and clear; colourless.
The Suits arrived, clacketing their Manolos and penny loafers smartly along the corridors, emerging suddenly from hidden doors behind which they had been conspiring to murder my marriage. His suits, my suits, and their respective sub-suits, all in black like a mourning party of crows, and all bearing huge files, sly smiles and dead fish-like handshakes. Six or eight of us sitting in an airless, soundproof room full of panelling, coolly dissecting my personal details of marital dysfunction for an obscene amount of money. And passionlessly dividing whatever we had in common straight down the middle, or sort of anyway. I kept expecting someone to burst out from behind the wooden panelling, a clown perhaps, in a Harlequin suit of jewel tones, laughing and exclaiming, "Aha! Gotcha!" and reveal that this nightmare was only a dream afterall, that none of it was really happening. But the wooden walls remained mute and lifeless, like everything else in the room. Several times my hackles and my gall tried to rise, but I kept pushing them down again and again. No it won’t do to weep, rant or throw up, I told myself. Mah-Mah wouldn’t have borne any loss of dignity, no matter what the circumstances.
“Whoever is at fault, no matter what anyone say to you: you don’t show feelings, hah, An Mei? Always show you are strong. People respect you for this.” I could hear these oft imprinting words in my ear, and was really glad that my mother was no longer alive to witness this humiliation.
It was over after three gruelling hours. A lifetime of surrendered ambitions and lost dreams, all sown up in a couple of signatures on the bottom line. His chief suit began to congratulate me and faltered at my steely glance of disbelief. I withheld the desire to slap him, merely looked him hard in the eyes, and left wordlessly. But my best shoes were not quite sharp enough to make much of a clatter to register my disapproval. I retreated as fast as I could carry myself out of the premises, before I unravelled into little pieces of sorrow all over their shiny floor.
My insides, surely they were Bile Yellow then.