The Color Red
(CONTINUED FROM PAGE 73)
home. Today she gave her good
fortune. In the embrace of two old
women holding each other, I saw
the architecture of human grace.
How astonishingly simple: mental
poverty ends this way. A person’s
status can change, not by receiving
but by giving.
If life is a march toward owning
more and having less, it can also
walk backward in its tracks, creating riots of inexplicable compassion, spinning straw into gold. It
can change the rules, and dance.
Menuka now stood up with her
mother-in-law. The other mothers
came forward with a plate piled
with red teeka powder, the adornment forbidden to widows. By the
handful they scooped up the color
red giving it back to this daughter,
rubbing it onto the crown of her
head, covering her hair and face in
a cloud of vermilion. She fell backward as the older women passed
her from hand to hand, wrapping
her in a red shawl. They had made
a decision: Menuka should walk
forward into her life, wearing color.
Tears streaked scarlet tracks down
her powdered cheeks. Schoolgirls
and mothers cried for her joy,
which was also theirs.
Now Menuka thinks her mother-in-law should wear red, too. Young
people will change, she says, when
the older ones do. As the crowd
walked home, I took off my scarf
and gave it to a girl who’d been eyeing it. Red isn’t mine—for what on
earth can be owned that hasn’t been
given away? The poinsettias wilted,
and the village looked ordinary
again. But untouchables had been
touched. A widow danced barefoot
in a red shawl. Today, in this place
on earth, there was enough. ;
Barbara Kingsolver’s 12 books of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction
have won numerous awards, including the National Humanities Medal.