When she came into the shop, I was slinging ink on a customer's tongue. The tat depicted a light blue sun; to me, of course, it looked light grey. She wanted her mouth to shine in her own personal colour, even when it was closed. Can you picture that?
Not that I'm judgmental of my customers' choices. I'll do whatever looney design they desire.
When the colours were lost after '48, no one imagined that tattooing would become one of the most lucrative jobs. Even the past seven years of war hadn't managed to dent the trade. No one yearned to view a monotonous grey in the mirror; and having found your personal hue, a distinctive design and a bit of inox sparkling here and there made you happy to see your face, your body, your tongue.
I watched her as she was glancing at the designs on the wall. She was hot, at least twenty years younger than me, around twenty-five. Born in the '50s, she belonged to the generation that had never seen colours. Light grey hair—the dirty blond of another era—about the same height as me, five nine, fit.
“Have a seat. I'll be with you in a moment.” I pushed out a little more ink and turned off the gun.
“Thinithed?” the customer asked. The xylocaine would take a while to wear off.
“Yes.” I helped her to her feet.
She stuck her tongue out in the mirror and then smiled. “I thucking wock!” she shouted.
I smiled back. It was nice to see someone appreciating your art. She paid and then it was just me and the stranger in the shop. As I approached her I could see that she had fixed up her body, as well. Flames the colour of graphite shot out from under her halter top, burning her back, chest, and shoulders and licking at her neck. Her face was clean, without any tattoos or piercings.
“Impressive tattoo,” I said. “Is that your colour?”
She looked at her reflection in the mirror. “Yes,” she answered, with a bitter smile.
“I'm Kleanthes.” I extended my hand.
“Azure,” she said, reaching out. A discreet perfume enveloped me, which awoke long forgotten images of colourful flowery meadows. Her grip was firm.
“Nice name. What can I do for you?”
“I'm looking for a tattoo.” She had a clear, deep voice, with a touch of sorrowful dark blue in it.
“You've come to the right place.”
“I hope so. It's the eighth shop I've been to.” She reached into a thin leather bag slung over her shoulder, pulled out a design, and handed it to me.
I examined the motif, which was very simple, not at all inspired. Seven vertical stripes in different shades of grey, each about one centimetre wide, equally spaced, with various combinations of letters, symbols, and numbers written on them. Stretched vertically under the stripes were three barbed wires.
I tried not to frown. “This is for you? What you've got is far superior to this one. Why would you want to change it?”
“It's not for me.”
“To be honest this isn't even fit for a gift, either.”
“It isn't a gift. I'm looking for someone who has this on his right arm.”
That changed things. Only cops asked for things like that. Pulling away I lost the smile and gave back the design.
She smiled. “I'm not a cop.”
“Even so, I can't help you.”
“Can't or won't?”
“How do I know if the person you're looking for wants to be found?”
She looked me in the eyes. “The colour I see, the colour of the flames that burn my skin. I saw it for the first time in his eyes.”
I couldn't possibly know if this was true, but I certainly hadn't heard a more beautiful reason for wanting to find someone.
I must have had a distrustful look on my face. She said, “Please.”
“And how come you didn't get to know him then?”
“I was fifteen years old. I was shocked. It was the first time I ever saw colour.”
I sighed and examined the design once more. I wondered who would get such a tattoo. No inspiration, definitely not made by any tattoo artist I knew, but I had seen it somewhere before. “I hope you're telling me the truth.”
I disappeared into the workshop and returned with four dossiers filled with tattered transparent folders. “I keep a record of all the designs I see,” I said. I handed one to her and we started to flip through the folders. Most of them have hand-drawn designs. Only a few are photos. Times are still hard and printing is expensive.
“I found it,” she cried after a few minutes, and turned the dossier so that it faced me.
A design much like hers was inside a clear folder. Instead of barbed wire five snakes slithered beneath the stripes.
I removed the design from its folder and turned it over. On the back, it read: “Paint it Black Bar, November 2078.” Eight months ago. I showed it to Azure.
“Is that where you saw it?” she asked and gave it back to me.
“I haven't been there for ages. A customer of mine took me there a couple of months after the war ended. Had just opened. They served beer, and spirits they distilled themselves. I saw the tattoo on a guy. It wasn't anything special, but the stripes got my attention. They were perfectly parallel and the shading was very clear and distinctive. Even I have trouble doing that.”
“Was he older than me? Around thirty?”
I nodded. “You know—,” I looked at the design again “He had the same tattoo on his face too. Maybe he's not who you're looking for.”
For a moment, I thought I saw a puzzled look in her eye.
“That's him,” she said. “What else can you tell me?”
I took a moment to think. “It's possible that one of the stripes was his colour.”
“Did he look at it a lot?” she asked.
“Yes, he kept turning his wrist to look at his forearm.”
She nodded. “Where is the bar?”
“Downtown, behind the American embassy.” I handed her the design she'd shown me.
“Thank you very much, Kleanthes. I'd started to think that I'd never find him.”
“I hope you do, and I hope it's everything you expect it to be.”
“Of that, I'm sure.” The way she said this made me think that she would have gladly tagged on an “unfortunately.”
“Just because the first time you saw your colour was in his eyes, doesn't mean you owe him anything.”
She shifted her gaze downwards, then immediately looked up again into my eyes. “On the contrary, I owe him everything.” She turned to leave.
“Azure,” I called as she stepped out the door, “what is your colour? What's the colour of his eyes?”
She glanced at her reflection in the glass door. “They told me it is like the colour of honey.”
“That's a beautiful colour, and a colour belongs to no one.”
“I know,” she said gloomily. “I know.”
She shut the door, and I never saw her again.
Ever since Maria died, Mohammad Asiyar wakes up very early, usually around four in the morning. And since he has neither a hobby nor any interests to keep him busy and alert, his mornings are spent torturously on his veranda.
During those few hours till sunrise, he sips his tea watching the sky turn from solid black to charcoal and finally ash grey, thinking about how he misses her white hair. He misses other things as well—her voice, her judgemental look when he forgot himself and ate with his mouth open, her hand in his when they took Sunday walks in the Ancient Agora. Nevertheless, it is her snowy hair he misses the most.
Since the colours were lost in ’48, he never searched for his own, or stumbled upon it by chance. Maria’s white hair had always been all the colours of the world to him.
White is not a special colour. Everyone can discern it, like everyone can see black. Mohammad is sharing his colour with everyone else, but he never cared, as long as Maria was there. But now, she's gone, and he’s afraid. Her white is not there to soothe him, to defy the dullness of a colourless world. His memory fades, carrying away her brightness and his interest in living.
He’s afraid of what will happen when he will no longer be able to bring that unique white in front of him. He’s afraid because he doesn't know if finding a personal shade will revive him or if it will ruthlessly pollute his eyes with shredded memories of a world long gone.
That morning, when the car stops in front of the building's entrance below, he bends over the railing and looks, as he does at anything that happens in those empty hours of the day. And he is stunned when a young man gets out of the car and rings his doorbell.
As he enters the flat to answer, he feels his heart pounding. “Yes?” he says through the intercom.
“Mr. Mohammad Asiyar?”
“My name is Kita Markakis, and I was sent by Violet Dima. I'm her colleague. She would like you to come with me.”
Violet. He hasn't heard from her since Maria's funeral, and for her to send someone round at this hour can only mean one thing.
“Give me five minutes, and I'll be down,” says Mohammad, and rushes to get ready.
She found me through Argyris, one of my colleagues. Well, let's say he's a colleague; from time to time he pushes some of my stuff. He told me she was his cousin. I wouldn't have cared even if she was his mother. She wanted something I had to offer and I never say no to business, no matter how insignificant it is. Competition is too tough.
Baou, my bodyguard, showed her to my office. The asshole was slobbering all over her. Like he couldn't get it from the club's dancers any time he wanted. Even so, you always want what you can't have. And she was well worth it. A nice piece; classy. She had an air of sophistication, with a touch of severity. There was a tattoo on her body that perfectly suited her attitude, as if it were saying, “Keep your distance or I'll burn you.” Easy to imagine her as the main attraction of the club.
“Mr. Lahoi, this is Azure Halkea, Argyris's cousin,” Baou said and took his place beside the office door.
Azure. Her parents must have been the kind of people who became melancholic after '48. Those people who named their kids after colours, like that would make any difference. Lost causes that would commit suicide by the dozens.
She came in and sassily approached the desk. She was wearing a minidress with a wide belt and a carmen neckline that revealed her shoulders, all of which were the colour of ash. She carried a thin leather bag, one of those in which women manage to fit their entire existence.
“Have a seat,” I said.
“Do you have what I requested?” she asked, and she crossed her legs.
I opened up the humidor and offered her a cigar. She declined. I took one, cut the end, and lit it. “The tattoo is a military technique. It's given to members of Special Forces units. Every unit is made up of seven to eight people. Every stripe has a special colour that corresponds to each member's shade. It's a kind of identification, so that they don't kill each other. The numbers and letters are shade and unit codes.”
I took a puff of my cigar and blew out the smoke. “Any other tattoos, they've engraved by themselves, allegedly without anaesthetic. Military macho bullshit, if you ask me.”
She didn't seem bothered by my language. “What about the other matter?” she asked.
I opened the cupboard by the desk and took out a small long metal box that was the shade of coal. I put it down in the middle of the desk.
She went to pull the box towards her, but I put my hand over it. “The information's free.”
She opened her bag and took out a wad of bills, which she then dropped on the desk.
I took it and started counting.
She opened the box and pulled out the contents: a metal cylinder, the same shade as its container, with a few numbers engraved on it and a trigger button on the top.
I finished counting. It was all there. “That's it.” I said to her. “You pull the bottom part until you hear a click. Then you turn it until the small arrow reaches the time you want and then you push the bottom part to lock it in place.”
“Like this?” she asked me.
“Yes. Now, all you have to do is press the trigger on the top. The amount of time you set is how long it takes to explode.”
She stared at me.
“Once you've pressed it,” I said to her calmly, “there's no turning back.”
For a few moments we remained silent. I wondered what she was waiting for. She was lucky I was in a good mood, otherwise I might have taken the grenade and beaten the shit out of her.
I took another puff. The pleasure is double when you've got the upper hand. “Of course, without this, you won't get the desired effect,” I said and revealed a small metal vial that I had in my jacket pocket.
I glanced at the grenade and gestured towards the box.
She chose to put the grenade in her bag.
I gave her the vial. “I never give my clients an armed weapon. Especially those who seem to have a grudge against the entire world.” I smiled. “The shaft is turned and comes off. After that ...”
“I know.” She placed the vial in her bag, as well. “Thank you, Mr. Lahoi.” She stood.
“Always at your service.” I followed her. Baou opened the door for us. “I never ask my clients what they do with what I provide them, but you aren't like the others.”
“You'd do well not to ask.”
“Special forces and formic chemical fragments. A dangerous combination. I wish I could believe you know what you're doing.”
“Mr. Lahoi, have you found your colour?”
I turned unwittingly and looked at the small ragged doll that I had on my desk. It shone pink against the grey. “Yes.”
“So have I,” she responded, smiling. Her dark eyes were shining.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
She didn't answer. She just turned and left.
Baou took a step to follow her.
“Make sure she doesn't arm the grenade in the club,” I told him.
Craziness was certainly alive and kicking during the age of colours, but now it doesn't even bother to disguise itself. Which isn't bad for business.
The night fades away as the car heads for the General Hospital. Mohammad and Kita aren't talking much. There isn't much to say between an old retired cop and a new recruit.
Reflected in the windows of the car, images of the wounded city are changing rapidly before them. Mohammad shifts uncomfortably. This place is as old and hurt as he is. War has left its mark. He tries to remember, to evoke the old view. His mind is suddenly awakened, as rusted memories emerge.
It is March of 2070. Mohammad is in his office at the police headquarters.
A few yards away, a colonel is looking through the glass door at the teenage girl sitting outside the office. The weather is still cold and he is wearing a long trench coat with shiny stars and small medals pinned onto it. “Do you think that in a short time three deaths will matter?” the colonel asks, but not because he expects a reply. “Nobody will remember them. The war has already begun. Everybody knows this, although most people still don't want us to participate.” He is making an effort to sound solemn. “I understand them. I agree with them. I hope something will change at the last minute. I hope it will pass us by without knocking on our front door. But we must be prepared.”
The man's voice sounds steady and sure, making Mohammad think in disgust that the colonel is trained to inspire people to do the unthinkable; because war is on their doorstep—the “War of Colours” —how ironic. The colours were lost twenty-two years before the conflict even started. In this war, the blood that will be shed won't be red, but black.
The detective feels more tired with every word. I should send him to hell, he thinks. He gets up out of his desk chair and approaches the colonel. Guarding the girl is Violet, newly recruited on the force. But if he's right?
“I promise you, if that bastard comes back alive, I will turn him in myself so that he can pay for his sins,” the colonel continues his monologue. He turns to Mohammad. “For the time being though, do me a favour and freeze the case. He's on a mission, anyway.”
The war hasn't officially started and a maniac has already taken his first victims. In this war, he most certainly will be useful.
“Are we in agreement, detective?”
Mohammad feels an urge to say something. He is in his office, not in the colonel's. There has to be a response that will fix everything. But his mind is stuck on one thought: if he's right ...
The colonel opens the door and leaves.
The young woman observes him as he walks down the corridor, then looks at Mohammad. Her wet gaze traps him. Somehow she already knows, but unfortunately, this doesn't mean he will escape from having to give her the awful news.
“Azure, come in, sweetie,” says Mohammad. He feels tired and he'd prefer being somewhere else, but he has no choice.
He is here and he has to end this.
Kita kills the engine and steps out of the car. They've reached the hospital.
The everyday greyness might have been something inevitable, like the rising and the setting of the sun, were it not for a damn random and personal colour that we all found at some point to remind us of what we had lost decades ago. To remind us that some of us had been born after the fact.
For this reason, my job at "Paint it Black" is neither a mundane nor a tiring activity. I work in a place full of music, where people come to get away from their troubles. Even if they don't want to, some alcohol and a few happy faces help most of them to leave their problems at the door. Those who aren't capable of letting go usually don't return. They can't stand it.
That night, the place was crowded, but not packed, and I wouldn't have noticed her, except she sat on my side of the bar. She set her bag down and I leaned over to take her order. From the speakers, a guy was sorrowfully singing: “They give you this, but you pay for that.”
“Pour me your colour.”
I was quite taken aback. How could she possibly know my colour?
She smiled at me and raised her shoulders, like she was answering my question.
“OK,” I replied and grabbed the green vodka. “How did you know?” I inquired as I filled a glass in front of her.
“Intuition,” she answered.
“Come on ...”
“It's true.” She gave me a wink and took a sip. “Azure,” she said and extended her hand.
“Flora.” I accepted the handshake. “Now you're going to tell me that you know what colour I see ...”
“Green,” she answered and my jaw fell. “You're lucky. Your parents really nailed the colour.”
I laughed. “That's crazy! How did you know that?”
“It says so on the label.”
“Alright. That was easy. Tell me though, how did you know that a drink has my colour?”
“I've been here a couple other nights and it's the only thing you drink. Always straight up and you always look at it in a strange way. A combination of love and hate, I'd say.”
That was it. I liked her.
The night went on. I served the customers, but I always returned to Azure. “Nice tattoo,” I remarked at some point.
“It sort of looks like yours.”
Indeed it did. Both covered the same areas, but mine had thorny stems with flower buds on the ends.
“To beautiful pictures that hurt us,” she said, raising her glass.
I agreed and took a sip of mine.
At around twelve o'clock, Carmine, the boss, arrived. He motioned to me from the other side of the bar and I went to see what he wanted, leaving Azure alone for a bit. When I got back, she stared at him as he was walking to his office on the first floor. “Are you OK?”
After a moment, she turned to me. “Yes.”
“Are you sure?”
“Can you pour me another?” She pushed her glass in my direction.
Her attitude had changed completely and I couldn't understand why. Up until that moment, we were having a great time and I was afraid that I'd done something to offend her. I'd find out later that evening just what had caused this reaction.
For the next half hour, I couldn't get one word out of her. Then suddenly she asked me how long I've been working here.
“About six months,” I answered.
“The décor is cool.”
I looked around me. The walls were covered in graffiti with the titles of songs from the previous century. Perhaps it had helped that the EMP bombs had destroyed all the contemporary storage devices, leaving only old CDs and DVDs untouched.
Brown Sugar, Red Red Wine, Back in Black, Yellow Submarine, Grey Day, Crimson and Clover, White Rabbit. The colours were written in giant fonts. I liked that background, too.
“You should have seen it a few months ago. It was a real shithole. The boss did a really good job.” I was kind of relieved she was talking to me again.
“Did he design it?”
I rolled my eyes. “He's not capable. He just placed his trust in the right people.”
“He sounds like a smart person. Has he been in the business a long time?”
“I don't think so. From what I've heard, he was probably in the army.”
“Really?” she asked. “At least he's doing something with his life now.”
It is common knowledge that most veterans who survived the war returned to an unfriendly world.
“He's doing his best,” I replied.
“Was he the guy you spoke to before?”
“Yes, that was him.”
“You know, Flora,” she said, “I don't have a job at the moment. Do you need some extra help? Do you think I could talk to him?”
I thought about it for a second. The club was doing real well and business was getting better and better every month. It was just a matter of time until Carmine would hire another person. Why not Azure?
“Normally, I wouldn't do this for someone I met a couple of hours ago.”
“Thanks, Flora. You're a lifesaver.”
“It's no big deal.” At that moment, I didn't think I was doing anything important.
I told her to wait, asked a colleague to cover for me, then went upstairs. I spoke to Carmine and came back down to the bar. “Go upstairs. He's expecting you.”
She squeezed my hand and smiled. She looked straight into my eyes, grabbed her bag, and turned to go.
“You can do it,” I called after her.
“I know,” she replied. She wasn't smiling this time.
I watched her as she moved away. Every few steps, she would pause and glance at someone or something. A young girl dancing, a couple kissing, someone laughing. A bit later, she disappeared into the back rooms of the club. When I saw her again, she had completely changed.
A couple of police cars and ambulances are parked in the hospital yard. Nearby, hospital staff are smoking and drinking their coffee. They glance at Mohammad as he gets out of the car.
Kita points to a building. “Second floor.”
The old man stares towards the entrance. He knows exactly what awaits him inside. Closure is desirable but not always inviting.
A few minutes later, he arrives at the second-floor reception desk, where Violet is waiting for him.
“Good morning, Mohammad,” she greets him with a smile. It isn't the same warm smile she used to offer him when they worked together. She'd rather he was anywhere but here.
Mohammad sympathizes with her.
“Please forgive me for bringing you out at such a time, but ...”
“I know,” he cuts her off.
The smile disappears. She looks him in the eye.
“The Halkea Case?” he asks.
She nods. “We are in the dark. We need the missing links.”
“I want full access afterwards.”
“I can't ...”
“You know better than anyone, Violet. Isn't that why you brought me here?”
She doesn't answer. She just smiles; in a familiar way.
“Can I go in now?”
He turns and heads down the corridor. A policeman is sitting outside the room. Violet gestures to him from a distance and the guard lets him pass.
Mohammad slowly opens the door. The only light in the room comes from a small nightlight on the wall; the rest of the room is shrouded in darkness.
He enters and closes the door behind him.
That day marked the one-month anniversary of the last time I saw my colour. A month is neither a long time nor a short time. And I'd be relishing its absence. Don't be disillusioned. But this time, the absence had begun after one more misstep. So a month meant nothing whatsoever.
When Flora left, I sat at my desk and opened the drawer. I looked at its contents and started to justify what I wanted to do. White sheets of paper, a stapler, a small dagger, a roll of tape, a tube of glue, pencils, pens, white-out, ink, wax, and matches. Just a thin line, Carmine. Deep inside, I knew that every one of my rationalizations was a load of crap. Despite my efforts to distance myself from anything that enticed me, there was always some deeper self, someone who was well-trained at lurking, who managed to camouflage temptations and place them right in front of me.
A whole month. That's a long time, Carmine. See a bit of colour. Just enough to get us straight, so we can get through another month. A thousand excuses to get off track one more time and only one plea to hold out: Don't do it. How feeble it seemed.
Luckily for Azure, she knocked on the door just seconds before I surrendered to temptation. Time had slipped by. If she had come a few minutes later, things may have turned out differently.
“Come in,” I said and slammed the drawer shut. When she entered, I had a smile across my face. Suddenly, I found the entire scene amusing. Lady luck is on our side.
She closed the door behind her. I didn't recognize her immediately. I saw a very pretty woman with a flame-covered cleavage. What would our colour look like on her?
“You must be Azure,” I said. “Please, have a seat.”
For a moment, she looked upset. I thought she might open the door and leave. Nevertheless, she took a step, and then another step, and sat in the chair in front of the desk.
I was still smiling. She, though, was somewhat sombre. At first, I mistook her expression for hesitation and modesty. We're scaring her. But she was looking straight into my eyes with such intensity that memories started to flood my mind.
“You don't remember me,” she stated flatly. And then she added, “I find it very sweet and precious.”
At her words a memory hit me so hard that it slammed me into the back of my chair. “Impossible,” I managed to mumble.
“Is Carmine your real name?”
“It is,” I said. What does she want? Our eyes! In my head, my thoughts were racing. You shouldn't have let her go. “You've grown.” What a stupid thing to say, but in my mind, she had remained a teenager.
“I survived.” There wasn't a shred of fear in her voice.
“How did you find me?”
“It wasn't easy. The war erased your tracks. But every monster like you gets messy eventually.”
Her last words brought me to my senses. She was the only one who had escaped my colour. Don't waste any more time.
She put her hands in her bag. What are you waiting for? My adrenaline piled up but I didn’t stop her. I didn't want to, at least not yet. This encounter was like no other.
She produced a folder and threw it on the desk. I opened it. Inside, there were newspaper cuttings. I took one out. It was an article dated February referring to the murder of a young prostitute. Nora. Just one more woman who fell victim to post-war poverty. I pulled out another cutting. A homeless man was found butchered near the highway, just outside the city. Alcohol and layers of filth. One by one, I took out the rest of the cuttings: four more deaths. They were similar in nature. The victims were immigrants, beggars, drug addicts and were murdered around the city right after the war. They wouldn't be missed.
“How were you sure?” I asked. You made mistakes, Carmine.
“I discovered what your colour is.”
“And now what?” She came to kill us.
She didn't reply.
“If it has even the slightest significance, I want you to know that I'm sorry.” No. You're not. “If I could change what I am, if I could bring back your parents and your sister, I would.” And then you would do exactly what you did anyway. “But I am what I am. I see what I see.” You like what we like.
“I couldn't care less.” The intensity in her voice was growing. Her eyes were shining, tearing up.
“Then why did you come?”
“I want to hear you say how important your colour is to you. I want you to tell me that it defines who you are, your entire life. That without it, you're nothing.” She could barely contain her rage. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
I took a deep breath: “I confess that in my youth there were times when the sight of blood made me feel like the king of the world. Not any more. But that doesn't mean that it has ceased to be the most beautiful thing around me. It's a gift and a curse, but it's what I've got and I wouldn't ever change it.” Half-truths, Carmine. Just before she came, I was ready to cut myself again for a line of warm blood. One month ago I'd killed again and I'd felt the same pleasure as always. However, I knew that with every life I took, I removed colours from this dreary world. Oh, how I miss the alibi of war.
“Once, they told me that I see a shade of red,” I said calmly. “Red, crimson, scarlet; words from a different time.” Lost words; misplaced, insignificant words. “For me, this is the colour that gushes forth. The only colour that exists is blood.” Blood. “That night, you told me that in my eyes you saw something sweet and precious. I still don't know what colour my eyes are and no matter what name they told you to call it, I'm sure that there is none more suitable than the one you told me before I spared your life.”
“Sweet and precious,” she said as she started sobbing, “is what you wanted to hear. The colour I first saw in your face, a face painted pitch-black with the blood of my family, was despicable and beastly; whenever I see that colour, I hurt. It's a curse. A curse that I have borne for years, something that reminds me of what you did to us.”
Tears ran down her face and her voice was hoarse. It was truly a sad spectacle. Like most are. She stuffed her hands in her bag and I thought she was rummaging around for a tissue.
“I'm glad you adore your colour, I'm glad you wouldn't ever change it,” she said as her hands came out of her bag, “but I'd do anything in the world to change mine. Even change it for plain, grim blackness ...”
She was holding a small metal cylinder. I recognized what it was instantly. Kill her, you asshole!
“... as long as you accompany me.” She held her thumb over the trigger.
I stood up slowly and held my arms out to her. “Azure, that will kill us both. Why should you die as well?”
“You don't deserve to die, Carmine.”
She pressed the trigger as I hurled myself towards her. The only thing I managed to do was to get myself closer to the explosion. It was a small blast, with just enough strength to scatter minuscule chemical fragments into the room.
I fell on top of her, but it was over. We were alive. I got up and looked at her, puzzled. What did she do to us? Azure was smiling. Look at her blood, Carmine! She got up and stumbled away from me. She reached the door and felt around. By the time she turned the knob and opened the door, my vision was already blurry and it felt as if small needles were piercing my eyes. At that moment, I realized what had just happened. See blood! See some blood!
“Formic fragments, Carmine.”
I could barely make out her shadow.
“They don't kill. They blind. Forever.”
I fell to my knees and tried to see my colour on my forearm. See the blood! A giggle escaped my lips. Scarlet. I placed my palms in front of my eyes. Crimson. I couldn't even make out shadows anymore. Sanguine. The needles in my eyes were burning. This is some kind of relief, Carmine. I forced myself to remember the colour of blood, but my mind had filled with darkness. You shouldn't have returned to the city. This was the only solution. We should have found another war. War is my element. War is blood.
I lay on the floor and turned face up.
I stayed there until the cops arrived.
He approaches as quietly as he can, but not quietly enough.
“Who is it?” The woman's voice is full of pain.
“Detective Asiyar Mohammad.” He opts to use the rank he had when he was in the force.
“Mr. Mohammad, I did it.”
He takes a few steps and reaches the bedside. He can barely make out the familiar features of the woman lying there. Her eyes are covered with bandages. Black flames lick her neck. Her voice is flat. But the old man doesn't need to see all this to know what happened. He knew from the moment Kita had come to his house.
“I found him and I took from him the most precious thing he had.” Her attempt to smile ends with a grimace of pain.
“Calm down, Azure, calm down.”
She swallows with difficulty. “I took away his colour, and I was released from mine.”
He stretches out his arm and strokes her hair.
But instead of calming, Azure begins to tell him about her adventure, her persistence, her decision; about tattoos, blinding weapons, and night bars with coloured songs. As her story unfolds, he thinks that since '48, when the world became grey, he never searched for his special shade, and a small sting of guilt pinches his soul, as he realises that he is not afraid any more.
He finally knows that he doesn't need a colour just for himself. He knows he’s lucky not to have stumbled upon it by chance.