The Colour Yellow

On ephemeral sources of hope and friendship

It’s not very versatile. I tried to paint my nails yellow and it looked like pale slush. The polish itself was lumpy, so maybe that was the real problem, but I don’t think so. Yellow and I have always had a complicated relationship. I don’t look good in most shades. I have one yellow t-shirt to my name and with the cheaply sewn checkered patterns that coat the sleeves, it looks like something you would wear to a go-cart race.

Is yellow just a “cheap” colour? A cop-out that’s not enough orange? But, damn, I like it so much better than orange, and it feels so rich. Like when I use a yellow highlighter on words I want to remember forever. Not words from course readings or grocery lists, but words like “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” Words I run over with screeching yellow until the ink soaks through the page onto the other side, where equally important but perhaps less transformative words lie. Those poor words who did nothing to deserve the yellow drowning. Do I deserve it? Do I deserve yellow? The colour of happiness, friendship, sunlight, eggs yolks and so many of my other favourite things. How do I make it my companion for life?

My downstairs neighbour died last summer, and someone in the building bought flowers for him. Their yellow was the friendship kind: bright and velvety. I wanted to touch them but was scared there might be bits of a ghost trapped in the petals. My mom and I were the people who talked to him the most. Is it okay to say his name? I don’t think I will. He seemed like a very private person. He had no family and he was angry with many of the same things that anger me. Capitalism, Trudeau, landlords. He felt unloved, I could see it in his attempts to smile at me. He might have hated me. He might have hated all children and I sensed it since I was young and was always afraid or apprehensive.

His body is property of the state.

“Rest in Peace, ____” read the makeshift plaque outside of our building. The words were written in black Sharpie and the wood was thin. It’s something a child might make. It gave my late neighbour a whole new personality. It made him early. It painted him brighter, as the always coming home early sort, the type to laugh at his own jokes. The addition of the yellow flowers sprouted for me a whole new appreciation of the dimension of him I never appreciated, that I can now conceptualize as soft, or as trying to be soft inside of a very hard world.

Let’s be clear because I sound sentimental. My favourite colour always has been — and will forever be — purple. I liked it a lot less after Justin Beiber made it is colour because you will never convince me to like him, but I rediscovered my love for it in so many tiny ways since I turned 20. It’s such a cute, trivial colour, not for much besides the enjoyment of its jovial uniqueness. It’s the colour of my birthstone, the colour of my favourite hairbrush, the colour that represents BTS’ ARMY fandom, the colour of my favourite childhood sweater, the one I always seemed to be standing out in at Christmas. Standing out even though all I really wanted was to hide.

I’m indebted to purple but yellow is my lemon-scented crush. I follow it around as much as it follows me. So many yellow memories that I hadn’t appreciate are popping up around me nowadays. Like this towel, my mom hung in the bathroom for a few weeks ago. I’d never seen it before and thought it was hers, but apparently, I have been its owner for over seven years. I love it so much and I didn’t even know it existed. It’s big and soft and wraps me up just the way I need to be wrapped after a cold shower.

I have been hugged by yellow but I have also hugged it. In high school, one of my best friends, my soulmate perhaps, had a retrospectively small but incredibly huge emotional crisis. I walked into the bathroom and found her crying about something that was out of her control. All I could say was, “it’s okay,” which it clearly wasn’t. Maybe I said something better than that, but I don’t think so. It’s a regret that I sometimes think about, but not more than I think about the sweater she was wearing as I hugged her. Her back faced the bathroom mirror and I could see my face cuddled into the baggy, almost neon yellow of her sweater’s oversized shoulder. I felt like was hugging an irony, a contradiction that was both bright and beautiful and mellow and sad. I still think of her that way sometimes. I still see the yellow in her. She stores so much of my happiness inside her, sometimes I think it’s sewn into her clothes.

Like friendship, yellow is a happy coincidence, a comforting kind of destiny. In fact, the first lines that BTS’ Park Jimin sings in his 2017 solo, “Serendipity,” are “all this is not a coincidence.” The palette of the music video is bright yellow, night/sky blues, and white. It’s the yellow that centres everything. As Jimin sings of falling into a healing kind of love and trust, a big bright ball rolls into an all-white room and stands still, contently taking up space in the corner. It fills half the room, towering over Jimin’s petite frame on the bed below. What’s nice about this big ball is that with its ambiguity, it could represent either the sun or the moon or something else entirely. I interpret it as an expansive, trusting feeling. An aura.

Cooler stars are yellow. I took astronomy in my third year of university. When I first learned that cools stars are yellow I thought wouldn’t it be nice if we could reach out and touch them? When that big yellow ball touches the edge of Jimin’s bed, I want to know its texture, I want it to roll over me. I want to be smothered until it feels good.

I paused on writing this reflection on yellow for 8 months after I asked my followers if I should write it. They’ve probably all forgotten about it by now.

I turned 21. I still like purple. I still like yellow. It’s now almost the end of winter and I’ve been burnt out multiple times. I’ve bounced back. I am not well but I am not failing. My soulmate (the one with the yellow sweater) sent me a mini painting for my birthday and I nearly cried. The only reason I didn’t was because my eyes were too tired from screen time.

The painting is of a scene in “Serendipity,” of Jimin sitting at the edge of a room in the water, a yellow balloon in his hand. Five years ago we cried in a dingy high school bathroom, and now she’s perfected a palette of yellow for me to enjoy every day. It rests on a shelf on my desk and brings me joy. Though I’m numb, it brings me joy. You are me, I am you. There’s a small message on the back that says more, but I won’t share it with you. It’s all mine. The coincidence of the gift that is more like destiny to me now, is all mine.

All this is not a coincidence.

I am learning how to own things, most of those things being my own emotions and opinions. I am sitting in a class that’s talking about Marx’s concept of use-value and I am looking at the painting to keep myself from spiralling. I am focusing on that yellow balloon.

The problem lately is that I can’t handle anything. I’ve been breaking down at the slightest things. I was in the bathroom with the bulbs blown and the light that streamed in from the living room created a pool of pale yellow that made me want to cry. Perhaps I would feel better if the world was black and white and I didn’t have to open my windows and try to see the edges of the buildings two blocks down. Or perhaps that would be a sign of the end. Complete and utter failure to go on or imagine. I thought I reached that point but I’m still looking at that painting and thinking how we live in a world where things mean things, where everything can be construed as a metaphor for love, for friendship, for cleanliness, for prettiness, for music.

For the past few days of reworking this little reflection, it’s been sunny. It is spring after all. Spring is the kind of metaphor that you’re almost obligated to write about as a poet or writer. If you paint, perhaps you’ve conspired with your senses to recreate the texture of a cherry blossoming on your canvas. If you sing, perhaps your voice takes on that light-heavy-rosy tone that Mitski draws on so well in “First Love / Late Spring.”

Please hurry, leave me, I can’t breathe, please don’t say you love me.

It’s almost a year since my neighbour died and I don’t think anyone will remember him. I don’t think there will be any yellow flowers.

I don’t feel much about it, though I probably will guilt myself into picking my nails in the early morning when I am at my most vulnerable.

Do I deserve yellow, and how do I make it my companion for life? I think these were silly questions. I think I am a very silly person for mulling over a colour that does not have the sentience to adore me. I have already forgotten why it matters. Past caring about the heaviness of metaphors, I have retreated into my little web of pre-pandemic nostalgia and depression.

I can’t think, so I shower. I use my big yellow towel and pretend it’s a hug.

I can’t think, but you don’t really need to think to remember. I remember my best friend’s tears in the bathroom of our dingy high school. I see all the ways she has healed and my love grows, more massive than a colour could ever be. Colourless and bold. Transitory. I know her spirit. I know what it is like to burst an egg yolk in her kitchen while my other best friend cracks a shell, all charm and no grace. I know the sound it makes when the three of us laugh away our little baking accident, other accidents, other jokes. It is almost a decade old, the sound of us. And now, I took to my left out of my tiny (open) bedroom window and hear the telltale sign of birds chirping after rain. It is another year of spring.

Fiction writer, poet, and freelancer. Indo-Guyanese. Professional yawner. Twitter @hahadiyyah Kofi:

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