This is the day.
It’s not fitting weather for losing one’s identity. Non-descript. It wouldn’t be featured on a postcard showcasing sandy beaches adorned with red and yellow umbrellas. The sky is a baby-powder white. It’s a blanket of bland. Black clouds have threatened to roll over but I haven’t seen them yet.
It suits my purpose. Today is my rebellion.
Most rebellions are born in flashes of scarlet red and golden yellows. Bras enflamed, effigies burning. The raging fire silencing the loudest roars of a frenzied crowd. Yet here I am in ivory white. Still, silent and ready to take the most important step in my life.
This is my freedom. Black and white with nothing in between.
“Do you know how much shame you’ve brought on me? Do you have any idea what people are saying about us? Why are you running away?” mum screeches, throwing her arms to the ceiling. The peacock blue of her dress shimmers as sun streams through the window. The magenta scarf cascading down from her shoulders reminds me of the market in Marrakesh she dragged me around when I was supposed to be finishing my last year of primary school.
Quiet fills my heart. I’m not angry or upset by the past. I am at peace.
“Why aren’t you saying anything, River? You need to tell me why you’re doing this. Why me?” she rants. Our ginger cat, Nivana, runs from the room, his nails scratching the surface of the beech flooring because the tattered violet mat doesn’t reach the edges.
But my rebellion is in silence. It’s not the roar of armies, led by an auburn-haired warrior, charging down mountains. There is no crimson blood splattering faces or silver glinting off daggers that pierce pink flesh.
“You can’t leave me,” she wails.
It’s not the emerald greens dripping from her bohemian lifestyle that catch my eye as she howls in anguish. No, I am drawn to the white of the china plate smashing against the wall, thrown in her fury. My grandma left the plate in her will. I’m surprised we still have it. It doesn’t fit the décor.
Still I say nothing. I don’t need to explain my rebellion.
The buzz of the clippers fills the room. I kneel to ease my elder’s aching limbs. Am I scared? No. When I’d struggled to sleep, caught in a tangle with my mulberry sheets, I’d wept at the prospect of losing my hair.
But as the raven clumps drop beside my knees stress flows from my body. Relief fills my heart.
Is this what coming home feels like?
“They’re going to chop off your hair? Are you kidding me? You’re going to be bald by choice?” Chantelle, my best friend, asks. Every aspect of my future leads to a lecture I have no hope of escaping.
The alabaster white gum rolling around her mouth has turned into the colour of old lace.
This is exactly the conversation I expected during my leaving party.
Bright orange, cerise and evergreen balloons surround me. The tablecloth reminds me of the night I drank my first alcoholic drink. My vomit, expelled on the floor of the club Chantelle had illegally dragged me into after we finished our GCSEs, was the same turquoise.
Something else grabs my attention. It’s the whites of my father’s teeth as he gnashes them in my direction, they glint in the candlelight. They’re framed by his lips curling around them. He grinds as he glowers.
This isn’t what he wanted from his only daughter. I’ve overhead him say it to mum. He refuses to talk to me anymore. He thinks his rejection will force me to stay.
“You’re running away from your problems. Why are you running away from life?” Chantelle continues. But as my gaze drops from my father’s eyes, I’m transfixed by her white patent stilettoes, shining as they catch the light.
I’m not giving up on life, or anything else.
As I make my vows and release control over my spirit I meditate on all I am gaining; security, resilience and peace. It’s eluded me from the day I was born when my mum dragged me into her world and forced me to confront it. On bended knees I gulp in the air. Gratitude flows through my limbs. I’m being given an opportunity that was stolen from me at birth.
But there is one chink in my joyous experience. It repeats like bad tasting bloody meat.
“You’re leaving? I won’t see you for at least another year?” my little brother asks. The whites of his sunken eyes stare me down.
“It will be okay,” I tell him. “I’ll write you letters.”
“You can’t call or text? What about email?” The pinpricks of his pupils remind me of opals.
I shake my head. “No emails. Only letters are allowed once I live there.”
He clasps my hands tightly. His knuckles turn white as snow. “I won’t let you go. You’ve never been religious. You can’t leave me.”
That’s when the tears start. They flow from his face before staining his crisp white school shirt. He looks like a boy in the baggy black blazer and trousers. He will become a man while I’m gone.
But I can’t explain myself to him. I drop my head. They warned me rebellion would involve sacrifice.
“You’re one of us now,” the abbess tells me before I take the silent walk to my dormitory.
I’m not River, the bohemian mistake, anymore.
I have no identity.
I am free.