Written by Alessandro Ghebreigziabiher
This short piece of creative fiction is an excerpt from Tramonto (Sunset), a children’s picture book, published in Italy. It is the story of a child born between two distant worlds, Europe and Africa, and two parents from different cultures. Like the sunset he lives an existence in the balance between night and day, looking for serenity by accepting his peculiar condition as normal, taking advantage from both sides.
Please, may I have your attention? I will tell you the story of a mask.
My name is Sunset, that magic moment between day and night, a fascinating and uncertain time, full of mystery.
I was literally born between two worlds. My father was Darkness and my mother Light, and although they were traditionally different, while Sunset was the only possible moment to meet, they had no problem to marry, live and love in that unique and beautiful time.
However, when I was a child, the first difficulties came up when I knew that mother Light has a world right for herself, where everything is white. I am talking about the realm of day, the good place for the lightness of things, where people with pale skin, delicate face and thin lips, live. I simply called them the day creatures.
Mother Light exists in this space according to her proper rhythms, she arises and disappears following a written road, with fitting lines and directions.
Nevertheless, father Darkness has his natural place too: the land of strangers and mysterious things. The reign of people with black skin – or not white, that is the same for everybody. Coherently, I named them the night creatures.
But, at the end of the day, what about Sunset? Where was my place? When was my time? Believe me, being born right in the middle of day and night is not easy at all.
The day creatures, since the beginning of my life, used to talk to me like this: “You weren’t born in our country, right? Where do you really come from? You speak like us, but there’s something wrong in you. It’s been a long time that you live here, with us? How is your country?”
“My country?” I used to reply. “I don’t need any country. I am Sunset, remember? I’m up in the sky, everywhere.”
At the same time, the meeting with night creatures was not so different: “Hi, brother. Yes, you’re quite black, but not so black… where do you really come from? You don’t talk like us. This is a very bad thing. By the way, there’s something too white in you…”
Too black for whites and too white for blacks. It might be a problem, sometimes.
Anyway, day or night, I learned that those people are suspicious, often superficial, but not so terrible. A lot of them are just afraid about themselves, if you see what I mean. And who is not scared?
The years passed and I understood that life’s problems were not just linked to human beings, who are fragile and complicated like me, but strange things hidden inside everybody: distrust, ignorance, rage, hate and others.
My first conflict with the latter arrived during my childhood, when I met the world of toys. It is made of imagination, plastic and fun; it is full of wonderful and funny characters, but most of the time made mainly for the day creatures. All too white for me.
This is a true story. One day, I was so exhausted… so, I took a puppet and painted its face with a black marker, to make it more familiar. The same with cartoons and movies. The principal characters were always day creatures. Can you see my frustration? It was like arriving at a dinner with food for everybody but me.
Let’s talk about comics and movies, like Marvel and DC superheroes. I was so fond of them. There was no Black Panther at that time. So, I loved Superman and Batman, Spiderman and Iron Man, most of all for their supernatural powers. They are heroes, I thought, because they can fly and protect the weaker ones. Maybe Ijust wanted to protect myself from the bullies…
Nevertheless, Hulk is the only one who is not a day creature, he is green but he becomes so when he loses his temper. I did too but I never turned green, not even taller and so muscled.
The first super star to become my perfect idol was a singer: Michael Jackson. At the very beginning of his career he was a night creature. I could not ask for more. Michael was loved by everyone. What a disappointment, when he changed his colour… I did not know he had a skin disease and I felt it was a betrayal.
However, the hardest time was on Mardi Gras. In Italy all the kids put on a costume or a mask. Initially it was funny, really, but after the third year dressed like Aladdin, a perfect one, I began to desire something new. The truth is that I wanted to be the Prince Charming. However, even when I finally dressed like him, my friends used to say: “What a beautiful Aladdin, you seem so real!”
Years ago, on one of those days, I put on a mask that covered completely my face. It was a kind of sea monster. Then, walking on the streets of my town, I put my hands in my pockets and so I felt quiet, because no one could see my true colour, hidden inside.
That was the time when I asked myself: what is our true colour? What we see or what the others see?
When I was a child, I had an argument with my parents because I observed the palms of my hands and I said: “I am pink, this is my colour.”
“Your real colour is on the other side of them,” they said, but I still did not get the difference.
After an interesting school time, I assumed that every student had a parent which saw colours in a different way. So, I made the following categories:
The curious ones, like my best friend’s mother. She wanted to know if African people spoke African. She thought Africa was a single nation with just one language. She wanted to know also if lions might walk around on the streets…
The admirers, who often exclaim: “Sunset, what a nice colour you have. You don’t need any suntanning, right?”
The jealous ones: “You don’t get a sunburn at sea, do you? You’re so lucky because you don’t have to protect your skin.”
Well, that’s not true. I may get sunburns and I need to protect myself too.
Then, there were the awkward ones: ‘What’s the name of that kid? You know, that one… you see, don’t you? Come on, I’m talking about… the… yes, the black… oops, sorry! I don’t want to offend him…”
I need to say this, now: there is no problem, I understand the difficulties, but why do you need to talk about offence? This is what ruins everything.
So, I finished with a fundamental question: who are the best ones? I don’t know. Maybe those who really think that we are all different and unique. Those who see colours as simple details, which are just part of the outline. The important things are inside us, inside our heart.
You know what? I can’t say I have understood it perfectly. Many times, I have given my skin more importance than myself.
Finally, is there something that makes us equal? Maybe, we all extremely need to know ourselves, understanding who we are. Other people could help us, or they could confuse our mind by concentrating our attention on very little stuff as skin colour.
If people could accept their true differences and once in a while, they didn’t blame the others for their problem, would colours be so important? But if sometimes you feel like me, try to ask for help, screaming with all your voice. If people will not hear you, scream louder, until someone, even just one, will be able to listen and understand.
Then, joined together, both of you will hear a music rising and you will start to dance, and fly, because this and just this we should have done, since all began.
First edition published by Lapis Edizioni (2002), second edition by Tempesta Editore (2017). In 2003 the story was included by the International Youth Library of Munich, Germany, in The White Ravens, an annual list that includes 250 children books from around the world considered especially noteworthy.
Illustrator: Valentina Rizzo for the children book Tramonto (Sunset), 2017.