The world had long been painted grey.
Long before I was born, the world that everyone had known was destroyed. The world turned grey and dull, the colour leaked from the sky, the land, the sea, the whole Earth.
The world was uninhabitable. That doesn’t mean I don’t know the stories. About what the world was like before. About what happened.
The nuclear fallout.
The world turning grey.
My Mum tells me the stories. She always has.
Mainly because my Dad, always asks her to. You can tell by the way he looks at her, even in the candlelight, that he adores her and her stories.
My Mum used to tell me, my brother and sisters stories of princesses, knights and kingdoms, magic, wizards and witches, superheroes and supervillains.
Stories of good defeating evil.
Stories of true love.
Stories of an unassuming hero or heroine that saves the world through adversities.
My Dad says that I have now reached the age where it is natural to ask questions about life. About the outside world. About what happened. My brother and sisters also went through this stage.
Why can’t I go outside?
Because it is not safe.
Why isn’t it safe?
The Earth was poisoned. It’s bleak outside. Grey. Just different shades of grey. When your Dad and I met, the people were being poisoned by a virus. Covid-19. We had to stay indoors to stop it from spreading, but it continued to mutate and infect and kill people.
But then why is the Earth grey?
People believed that the virus was man-made. Countries blamed each other and as the virus continued to spread the tensions between countries grew. Eventually, they snapped. War started and it was only a matter of time before it became nuclear. That’s what scorched the Earth, turning the world dark. The colour bleeding from the Earth.
Those answers are always the same. Never changing.
But my Mum’s answer to what was the world like before always changes. It’s why it’s my favourite question to ask. Tonight my Mum was describing the different colours because in the bunker there are only dark colours, only candlelight lighting the darkness.
All the colours fit into the rainbow; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink. There’s also brown, grey, black, and white.
Red is the colour of fire and rage, when the red mist descends that’s when your blood boils.
Just like your deep red blood leads to the heart, so does the colour red.
Red is the colour of love, roses, lipstick and stolen kisses.
After all, the person that you love is the apple of your eye.
Orange is the colour of Autumn.
The fallen leaves that crunch underneath your feet.
In Autumn, there is Halloween.
Full of spooks and tricks or treats.
But you can count on the orange to keep you safe, that’s what Jack ‘O Lanterns are for.
Like a smiley face is yellow, yellow means happiness.
Or at least to me.
Yellow means sunshine and beaches, and the daffodils in Spring.
The colour green is a bit more difficult to explain, as it can mean multiple things.
You can be green with envy or if you are green around the gills it means you are ill.
But to me, green is the colour of nature.
Grass and trees, the open air.
The mountains around Dale Hollow Lake.
It is also the colour of luck if you find a four-leaf clover.
Blue is also the colour of nature and open air.
The sky on a sunny day without a cloud in sight.
The sea that separated your Dad and me for so long.
But also the lake where we spent away our days.
Just as the sea and lake are made of water, so are the tears that fall when you are feeling blue.
But to me, the colour blue is calm, just like the lavender tickled purple.
Which smell calms you to the point of sleeping.
Signalling the time to wake up, when the sun rises the sky turns pink.
The same happens when the sun goes to bed.
Pink is the colour of cherry blossoms and lotus flowers, which has the same effect as purple and blue.
Calming the soul.
Like most of these in this list, brown means nature.
The rough, jagged bark on trees.
Mud caking your shoes after a walk.
But if you walk into a city along the pavement.
High rises filling the skyline.
You’ll find grey.
However, in England, there are days where it is just grey.
The clouds waiting to drop rain.
In the black of night, you can hide.
That’s why black is the colour of mystery.
But you need to look up, to fully understand why the colour black is important.
Because without the blackness of night, you won’t be able to see the stars twinkling.
Blue might be mine and your Dad’s favourite colour.
But white is different.
Full of potential. It could become anything.
A blank canvas waiting for a splash of colour.
My reaction to Mum’s answer is different to that of my older siblings.
Celina and Arthur, the twins, are the oldest and couldn’t even be bothered to listen. But yet again they can remember the world before it turned grey.
Ophelia is pretending to not pay attention but she is secretly listening. You can tell because she is edging closer and closer to the small huddle of me, my Mum and my Dad.
On the other hand, all my attention is on my Mum, my eyes sparkling full of wonder.
That night, for the first time, I dream in colour. I normally dream in monotone, all shades of grey and black.
But little by little, splashes of colour painted my dreams.
Shades of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink.
It was like magic.
And then I woke up, back into the bleakness of the room we cannot leave. Back into the world of grey and darkness.
Even in the darkness, I can tell I’m the only one awake.
I want to see the outside world.
There won’t be any harm right?
I sneak out of bed, quickly tying my shoes before tiptoeing around the beds. Hoping that no one wakes up. Freezing in my spot as the floorboards beneath my feet creek. I don’t even dare to breathe as my Mum rolls over, thankfully cuddling into my Dad’s side. Reaching the ladders, I scramble up them. Pushing against the heavy metal door, it opens.
For the first time, I see the outside world.
My Mum was right.
For some reason disappointment settles in my stomach.
Almost like I was hoping to see colour. But it is just grey and bleak.
The Earth scorched to the point that it no longer can hold colour. The sky was grey, clouds covering the sky as far as the eye can see. Making sure that the Earth stays painted grey.
I can’t stay up here any longer, tears stinging my eyes as the harsh winds push me back inside.
Disappointed and feeling rather blue, I sullenly climb down the ladder making sure that the door is closed behind me. I jump out of my skin when I reach the bottom, Ophelia is there, waiting.
She grabs my hand and drags me to the bathroom, where she strips me of my clothing and pushes me under the boiling water. My pale skin quickly turning beetroot red and blotchy as Ophelia passes me different bottles, half full of liquid. She tells me exactly what to do with each one.
“Arthur and Celina did the same thing with me” Ophelia shouted over the roar of water.
“You went outside?”
“Yeah but not as long as you”
“How did Arthur and Celina know what to do?”
“They did the same thing when the world turned grey”
Both Ophelia and I freeze at the sound of our Dad’s voice. He turns off the shower and passes me a fluffy grey towel. Wrapping myself in its warmth, I listen to my Dad.
“When the world turned grey your Mum was pregnant with Ophelia, she was struggling with morning sickness so was already down here in the bunker. I was moving everything down here and we thought it would be best if we let Arthur and Celina play outside one last time”
“What happened?” Ophelia asked, passing me clean clothes.
“I had just moved the last box down here when the world turned grey. Celina had become transfixed by the sky as the blue sunny day became dull and grey. The ground was becoming scorched and still, Celina wouldn’t move. Arthur dragged her down here and closed the door behind him. We both panicked, me and your Mum, but she told me what I needed to do”
“So that’s how they knew what to do with me?”
My Dad nodded at Ophelia’s question as he brought us back into the main room. Celina and Arthur were still asleep. My Mum, on the other hand, was halfway between the land of sleep and awake. Turning restlessly in her sleep. Mumbling about rain, colours and my name.
Maybe I can bring back the colours.
Maybe, just maybe, I can save the world.
The only question is how?
I catch my Mum praying sometimes when things get difficult. She’s not religious, well not anymore. But when she does pray, she prays to anyone that is listening. Maybe that’s where I should start. So when everyone is back asleep I pray.
To anyone that is listening,
I need help.
I just want the colours to be back.
I just don’t know how I can.
Please help me bring back the colours.
Every night I pray. Asking for whoever is listening to bring back the colours or to help me bring them back.
One night about a week, after I had started praying, I had a dream where I was back outside in the bleakness. The harsh winds whipping around me, kicking up the scorched Earth. The dirt stinging my eyes and bare skin. Rubbing my eyes, trying to get rid of the dirt that inevitably buried itself in my eyes. But when I opened my eyes, it looked like someone had painted the landscape red. Everything in sight was different shades of red instead of the grey bleakness.
I awoke in the darkness and found a single red rose on my pillow. The red, the deepest red I had ever seen. I looked around the bunker, Arthur, Celina and Ophelia were fast asleep. My Mum was tossing and turning in her sleep again, and my Dad was holding her tightly. No one could have put the rose there. Anyway, where would they even get a rose? The outside world is scorched beyond repair. I carefully place the rose under my pillow, falling back asleep.
I continue to pray and the same thing happens again. Each item representing a colour from my Mum’s description. An orange leaf, a yellow daffodil, a green four-leaf clover, a blue shell, a purple lavender flower, a pink lotus flower, a piece of jagged, brown bark.
I continue to pray, but the next item doesn’t show. Nothing grey, nothing black, nothing white. I wait.
And I wait.
And I wait.
One night, months after I had started praying, and months after the items had stopped appearing. I was almost giving up. When I had another dream. I was back standing outside in the bleakness. The harsh winds whipping up the dirt around me, but no longer to the point where the dirt gets kicked up into my eyes. The wind dies down as splashes of colour paint the landscape. Returning everything to life.
“The time is now”
I woke up to that voice, telling me that the time is now. I don’t know what the voice is referring to, but I feel an urge to go outside. Like a rope is tied around my waist and someone is pulling on it from behind the bunker door. Someone is leading me outside.
I have to go outside.
This time I do not even bother with putting on my shoes, or caring if I make a sound, I run across the cold floor. My bare feet stinging as I clamber up the metallic ladder. Pushing against the metal door. It opens.
The world outside is still grey. Just different shades of grey. Disappointment settling further into my stomach than the first time. But I have a spark of hope, remembering all of the items that someone was bringing me. Alive. Full of colour. So I hope. I pray. For the colours to come back.
Taking a few steps out of the protection of the bunker, the winds swirl around me. Shading my eyes from the scorched Earth, I bring my arms over my head. But just as soon as the winds start, they stop. In the distance, a rain shower had started and was heading towards me. Like a wall of blackness. Just like Celina had become transfixed by the skies when they turned grey. I was transfixed by the heavy downpour as it quickly approached me.
As it got nearer, I realised something.
It wasn’t normal rain.
It was the rain that fixed the world.
With every drop, a splash of colour was added to the grey dull landscape. It rained and rained until everything that I could see was full of colour. Bright. Beautiful. No more grey. No more bleakness.
Reds, oranges, and yellows.
Blues and greens.
Pinks and purples.
It was magic.