Reading the city in colours


February 2014

She stood on the threshold of a discovery. The concrete floor of her house was littered with A2-sized tissue paper, 62 times the same drawing, but different, the colours blurring into each other in water. This is where it happened, the light broke, the light broke on her sheets of paper, but differently, different from what others believed. It was the light of the city, no, not the light, the reflection.

This is how it happened: she wandered through the streets, usually at the end of the day when the sun was low and the horizontal bars of the windowsills marked the rhythm of the streets like white stripes. She always walked a different pattern, allowing herself to be led by the signs of the light: to the left, to the right, and then, if a yellow or red light fell onto a window above, it was at the next corner that the next, different light awaited her.

She read the city, but she read the city differently; for her, the city broke into colours, she did not know the street names but knew every window, every mirror, every surface of water on which the light broke. She was the breach, the breach through which the city light broke, she was the dark room that captured all the colours in the dark, she was the one who developed it.

That was a meticulous process. After arriving home 32 minutes before she had drunk tea, letting the colours subside, before she had laid the papers on the floor, mixed her ink, prepared the water, before she could print off her city pictures. The window on the corner on the second floor, then the deep dark shade of a shiny slate doorstep, the flash of a lorry, the deep green of a canal with ochre, all colours broke open, blending with pieces of the city.

She had seen the city and she knew she was the only person who had seen the city in this way, she was the one who unravelled the city, who understood the light, who knew that the soul of the city lay in the low light that broke into all colours and landed on her sheets of paper. The city had seen colour, was nothing but colour. And she, she was a dark room, darker than black. Her body trembled. She stood up, turned away from the 62 sheets of paper, stood on the doorstep of the house and looked over the roofs but saw the city no more. The light was everywhere and broke her into all colours. She reeled.


This text was part of a correspondence in fragments by myself and Maria Barnas, originally in Dutch for literary magazine DW B 4/2014 as "Een huis van huizen". The text was translated and presented in Delt at the Writingplace conference, session Scriptive Experiments.