By Lungol Wekina
The room was bright and the man was dark. The warm, gentle light of the lamps seemed to soak into his brown skin, setting everything but him on fire. The creams of the carpets and the greens of the curtains burned softly around him, giving the illusion that his body was bringing light into the room. A beautiful sun wearing an azure shirt and a deep, purple lipstick. Without really meaning to, everyone eventually ended up in his orbit.
With a bottle of cold apple cider in one hand and the attention of the room in the other, the man gesticulated grandly, using his body to breathe life into the story he was hypnotising his audience with. No one stood too close to him for fear of either getting in his way or interrupting his rhythm. Even as more guests piled into the room, his stage remained untouched. He was magnetic. He pulled laughter from the dozens of lungs around him, breathing it in deeply before releasing it heavily with his own. He laughed unabashedly at his own wit, making up for what could be seen as narcissism with his participation in the wider space’s laughter at his own misfortune.
He was simultaneously homely and foreign. His company was warm and his energy was calming. Honey. His voice tasted like honey. It was sweet and smooth, soothing and sexy. Everyone felt at peace in his words. His smile was a conductor, compelling the corners of all other mouths around him to lift up in either joy or amusement, a symphony of souls falling gently and willingly under his command. Comfortable and familiar. Even to those who’d never met him before.
Strangely, he was also incredibly alien. On the surface, he already looked otherworldly. He was incredibly tall, kissing the ceiling with his long hair tied up into a messy knot. Stray dreadlocks branched out from the top of his bun, painting a vivid portrait of the towering, magnificent trees he emulated. And like said trees, he was obviously filled to the brim with age and experience. Most people forgot he was only twenty-one.
Adding to his mystique was his presentation. His lips were glowing violetly, seemingly reflecting the lilac eyeshadow that arched over his dark brown eyes. Though only visible upon closer inspection, the black hair of his beard washed into a thin shore of matching lilac highlighter. Large black men with beards weren’t too often seen wearing makeup. He didn’t seem to care. He wore it with pride and grace, daring anyone to question his beauty. Very rarely did such a masterpiece moonlight as both a weapon and a shield.
Only the bottom three buttons of his shirt were done. His bare chest held subtle scars and thick hairs just as dark as the leather harnesses strapping his high waisted pants snugly onto his legs. His physical appearance alone boasted a radical love and acceptance of oneself. It was intoxicating. It was also so, incredibly rare. You wanted to be him.
But what happened when the lights flickered off, if only for a moment?
Should his sun extinguish and the room be filled with ultraviolet light, he would be just as radiant. His skin would be a crime scene, vandalised by a million wounds, glowing like a sacred monument that had been set ablaze; tragic, beautiful, and deeply disturbing.
Every inch of his skin would be glowing a fluorescent white, pulsating beneath the rich purple hues of a light that could not be lied to. Gaping wounds wound themselves down his arms and across his bare chest, white rivers stretching across the vast expanse of his body and mapping the violence it had endured. The pain it must have caused still lay woven into the very flesh of the scar tissue, a memory that was far from recent yet all too fresh at the same time. It hurt to look at. It must have been hurting him more.
Some of the rivers sang softly. Older ones were quieter, calmer even. Their melodies painted pictures of childhood ruins and lost innocence. There were too many of these to count. They weren’t quite at peace, and it was unclear whether they would ever be, but their currents were gentle, far less violent than they used to be. Their banks had stopped eroding, and a couple even showed signs of recovery.
One river in particular sang loudly. Cacophonously. Its body was nowhere near as large or as wide as many of the older ones it was surrounded by, but it sang so gutterally it demanded the attention of everything in its vicinity. Like a black hole had somehow appeared on the heart of a sun.
Its currents were fatal, moving so fast the surface of the river looked still to the relaxed eye. It glowed white under the ultraviolet light, brighter than anything else in the room. Despite it only crawling across his upper left chest, the purple lights showed the man was drowning in it. The songs of the river were stealing his breath and breaking his heart. It was filling his lungs from the inside out.
But his sun remained radiant and the room’s light was uninterrupted. His audience could only see what he wanted them to. They laughed and smiled, oblivious to what a flash of ultraviolet light could have revealed. So the man kept performing, drowning in silence and keeping the attention of the room firmly in his grasp.
As his performance drew to a close and he excused himself to get another drink, a hand caught his wrist in its grip. The man looked back and the invisible river on his chest flared. The architect of that very river stood behind him, holding out another cold bottle of apple cider with a smile. The man smiled back, embracing the architect as the river on his chest tore open a little bit wider. The architect may never love the man back, but for now, the man was happy to be wounded anyway. The architect may not be a good man, but he made the man feel good. Besides, hurting with him felt so much better than hurting without him.