He walked slowly down the road into town. The slight breeze cooled him only a little as it brushed against his bare arms. They day was humid, and the sun smiled down from the early summer sky.
The town was not busy as it was the middle of the work and school day. Soon some of the cafes would start to see lunch customers, and there were a few people inside of the shops, but it was not nearly as busy as it would have been on a weekend. He wondered if he could do what he needed to do in town without…
“Hey! Your left arm is blue!” the speaker was a man about his age. He was dressed in a long-sleeved button-down shirt, his goggling eyes rimmed by glasses with dark frames.
“Everybody’s left arm is blue,” the newcomer said with a sigh. This had happened before, many times in fact.
“We don’t talk about that,” Glasses said. He unconsciously rubbed his hand down the sleeve on his left arm. “We are polite and we wear long sleeves. You… you bear your blueness for the whole world to see!”
“I am not ashamed of it. Besides, it is something we all have in common. Wouldn’t it be easier to accept it and carry it together rather than hide it away and pretend it isn’t there?”
“But it’s so ugly!” Glasses replied. “The worst color for an arm to be! And it makes other people uncomfortable to see it. They start to think about their own blue arms. Then they begin to worry that blueness spreads! What if their right arm becomes blue? What if their legs change color? Besides, not everyone’s shade of blue is the same. It makes people feel bad to see darker shades of blue on some arms and know that we can’t do anything to fix it.”
“It doesn’t need to be fixed; it needs to be accepted. How, then, can we say we love each other when we don’t love the whole person? Is it not more important what I do with my arm than what color blue it is? It’s not like I’m using it to smack you or hurt you, to steal from you or hold signs that tell you what color your arms need to be.”
“It’s hurting me to see it,” Glasses replied. “Please cover it up.”
“It’s hot out here. I don’t have a long-sleeved shirt, but even if I did, it’s too hot today. I wear long-sleeved shirts sometimes, but wearing one today would give me heat exhaustion. I still have a long way to walk under this blazing sun.”
Glasses looked at the blue arm, visibly shuddered, and then walked away. The man sighed. It was not an unexpected response, for society often acted that way. He had even heard stories of cities where they amputated the left arm at birth or soon after. Rumor had it that in those societies, other body parts would turn blue, but they were never mentioned and all things were covered up.
It’s not that he didn’t understand the societal norm. He, too, had once been ashamed of his blueness. He had grown up hiding it and covering it up like everyone else. It had taken him a long time to learn to see his blue parts with love and compassion. Sometimes it was difficult to maintain that love in the face of the disgust he was shown when he wore his blueness instead of sleeves.
It’s not like he didn’t cover it up sometimes. He covered it when it made sense to cover it. When the wind was nippy and the air was cold, he wore long sleeves like everyone else. If it was raining, he would put a jacket on, and his blueness would be hidden for a time. It is not like he wanted to flaunt it, either, like an emblem or a flag. It is simply that he wanted his blueness to be as much a part of him as the rest of him. He wanted to love his whole self and accept the blue part in the place where it belonged: his left arm. His right arm was not blue, and he was glad of it. His left arm was blue, and he was learning to be glad of that, too. Yet society hated blueness, and tried every day to shame him for it.
Or simply reject him. The first café he walked into for lunch gave him so many glares that he knew he wouldn’t be able to digest his food in such a hostile environment. The second café didn’t have as many people in it. He slid into a booth near the door and kept his head down as he scanned the menu. He almost felt cowardly, trying to hide like that, but it wasn’t that he was ashamed of the blueness in his arm. Rather he was afraid of the hostility of the group.
The waitress saw him, looked askance, but didn’t ask him to leave. “What’ll you have?” she asked, staying a little bit more distant from him than she might have with the other tables.
“Cheeseburger and fries,” he said. “And some black coffee.” He didn’t like black coffee, but the caffeine would give him energy. He did have a long way to travel today.
The waitress didn’t stand around to chat, and once again he was left alone in the booth. Sometimes he considered going back to societal niceties and wearing long sleeved shirts even on the hottest days. Then he remembered that had nearly killed him. His arm was a darker shade of blue, and so it took heavier materials to cover it up completely. The white cotton button down that many others could get away with wearing in the summer heat would still show the blueness of his arm, so he had to wear heavy fabrics and dark colors to hide his blueness. One day, when it had been especially hot, he had collapsed from the heat. He had been unconscious and had lain in the sun for long enough to badly burn his face. If his friend had not found him and moved him to the shade and given him cool water before the ambulance came, he would have been dead. The doctors said so.
It was then when he started to realize that it wasn’t the blueness of his arm that was killing him, but the response of society to the blueness. The next day he had cut the sleeves off of one of his shirts. Unfortunately, society’s response was killing him in other ways. He was lonely, and often he didn’t eat for days if there were towns where he wouldn’t be allowed into the restaurants. It wasn’t as bad in cooler weather when covering his arm wouldn’t pose him any risk, but in the summers things got lonely.
Sometimes, in order to get the most basic of his needs met, he would put on a light shirt and pretend his arm wasn’t blue like the rest of them pretended. Then he would be allowed to go into a convenience store or supermarket and buy some basic necessities. He’d get a loaf of bread and be sustained for a little while. But the bread would be gone quickly and the hunger would return. Then he would, again, have to figure out a way to fit in without betraying himself.
He wasn’t sure why society was like this. It’s not like the blueness was a secret. Everyone was born with a blue left arm. Yes, some shades were darker than others, and the lighter ones were more accepted, but everyone had blue in them. It would have made so much more sense to accept the blueness and help each other learn to love and carry it, but of course society was built on an ancient set of rules that said blueness made you bad, blue was ugly, and the goal of life was to rid yourself of blueness. They still had buildings where they met weekly to discuss the blueness and how to rid yourself of it.
Who wrote that stupid book anyway?
His cheeseburger came, and he thanked the waitress, who walked away without a word. He ate quickly, knowing that at any moment someone could come and attack him for his blueness. Leaving a generous tip, the man walked outside.
You can’t get rid of your blueness, he thought, you can only hide it.
The sidewalks were a little more crowded as the lunch hour came on. He walked quickly down the road, dodging the people coming in for their lunch breaks. The crowd thinned as he got away from the center of town where all the cafes and diners were located. There were some of the buildings where the anti-blueness was preached in this part of town. One of them had a crowd in front of it, and a man was speaking loudly to the crowd.
“The blueness is a sign that you are wicked!” the man was saying, “for only your choices can cause you to be blue. If you would do things differently, you would not be blue! Change your evil ways and be all the same color!” He rolled up his left sleeve and there was no blue on his arm. The crowd gasped and cried out in amazement, but the traveler was not fooled. He had seen such things before in the many towns he had visited. Men like this would hide their blueness with special makeup and colorings. Sometimes the colorings would last months or even years, but they would wear off eventually and the blueness would return. Sometimes the men who applied these colorings would forget they really still had blue skin underneath the colorings, and they would be surprised by its return. Other times they knew they were charlatans, fooling the people for money or fame or adulation or the heady rush of power that comes from the ability to control a large group of people. The traveler shook his head and moved on.
Just once he would like to find a group of people that celebrated blueness. He had been to many towns that rejected blueness, but none that celebrated it in its place. He knew that it could go too far in that direction. He had seen some groups that honored only blueness. Instead of hating their left arms, they would hate their right arms and all the rest of their bodies. They would paint themselves all in blue. They would even go out and cover others in blue paint without their permission. It was a pendular swing in the other direction. These fringe groups were decried as insane by society, and while he understood the drive to celebrate what society detested, to try to convince society to love what it had arbitrarily determined to be unlovable, he also knew it was unhealthy to worship any part of yourself more than the other parts.
He wanted to find a group that celebrated blueness in its place, that loved and honored it as much as any other part of the self, but not more than any other part of the self. His right arm was beautiful, and society agreed with him. His left arm was equally beautiful, but society called him crazy to think so.
He felt like he would never fit in.
It’s not like having a blue arm was easy. Blueness was heavy, and the darker the blue the heavier it was. Surely, though, it would make more sense for everyone to admit their blueness and the difficulty it brought and carry it together. But he was a thinker. Maybe he was overthinking.
This part of town was nicer to walk in because there were many trees shading the sidewalks. The businesses, cafes, and anti-blueness buildings gave way to homes and yards with pretty lawns. He knew that if he kept walking, he would leave this town and make his way to the next one where he would stay for the night. He admired the architecture of the homes, which had clearly been built some time ago. They had nice, wide front porches, perfect for sitting in a cool breeze and sipping cold lemonade or iced tea.
One house had a woman sitting in a sundress on the porch. Her arms were bare. When she saw him walk by, she quickly got up and wrapped a cardigan around her arms. It was acceptable to show your blueness to those you lived with, sometimes, but not to the public at large. She had been relaxing on the porch of her home, a relatively private place, and so she had felt free to relax and cool off without the coverings, but now that he had interrupted her solitude, she covered up again quickly.
She didn’t need to do that for him. He clearly wasn’t covering up his blueness, but it was so ingrained in her to cover it up that she didn’t stop to think that he might be okay with it.
He reached the end of town. The houses began to recede into the background, and he continued on in the shade of the trees hoping that maybe in the next town he would find what he was looking for: a place that would accept him and all of him for all that he was. He was a good person. He worked hard and contributed to the society he lived in. He didn’t hurt people on purpose. He did not engage in abusive patterns. He tried his best to love, accept, and help all the people he met. He wasn’t perfect. Sometimes he himself would jump at certain shades of blue. Sometimes he wasn’t quite sure how to give people what they wanted or needed. But it wasn’t the blueness that caused any of his problems, and he was glad he had learned to stop hating that part of himself.
He wished others could love their blueness, too. He knew they would never love his blueness until they could love their own. He knew that blueness could be hard to carry, but it would be easier if everyone carried it together. He knew that the time to accept blueness was coming. There were many anti-blueness books in various languages and cultural expressions, but the anti-blueness books were no longer seen as the only truth. Still, being blue was uncomfortable, and it was hard to accept what had so long been deemed unacceptable.
The next town, he thought, the next town might be different. Maybe there they accepted blueness! He knew it was unlikely, but maybe, just maybe, there lived in that town a person or small group of people who would see his blueness as an important part of who he was. Maybe that group of people would befriend him and love all of him and he could settle down and build a life with them. They wouldn’t have to have the same shade of blue in their arms. They wouldn’t even have to believe the same things about why the blueness was there or what its purpose was. They would simply choose to love and accept each other and all of each other. It would be glorious. It was this hope that kept him putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe this time, maybe… maybe…