The assortment of colors studded on her back shimmered forcing a reconfiguration of the rainbow into a story she could no longer recognize. Watching the different lights shift reminded me of the first time I flew across the country. We don’t have those anymore: airplanes. The first time I sat in one of those metal containers, I remembered looking down on the mountains and seeing how tightly they held the water. We flew from border to border with nothing more than laminated papers and an outdated photo. These airplanes would drift above highways and skyscraper lights before landing in a different city decorated in the same manner.
It’s not like that anymore.
I used to hear stories from mom about the Stable People—a sedentary species for the most part. They often lived in the same country by the same body of water on the same land. Mom had a wild imagination. She would tell me about a time before jewels and studs. I alway believed that perhaps it was one of her jewels that gave her the power to dream. I grew up fascinated with the idea that the words “travel”, “migration”, and “refuge” were meant to describe a difference in leisure. Now, they all mean the same. I loved her stories. My favorite was the one about the Stable Peoples jewelled faces. From babies to adults, their ears and noses would be pierced with diamonds or shiny metals. It was one of the few piercings accepted during the Modern Era. Right before the end of the Modern Era, people would pierce any and all parts of their body, from knuckles to genitals to toes. They would ink their arms with images of clouds and water. Mom said they weren’t even for the Cameras or Immigration Centers. They were for beauty. They were decorations meant to tell a story only you would understand. And as I listened, I would touch my ears and nose pretending there were piercing for me to feel. I would have her repeat these fantasties. She would illustrate as we walked, waiting and resting as we crossed through rivers and borders. The first time they pierced me, they stripped, washed, and scanned me. I was seven and it was the beginning of a life on the move. Mom had given birth to me in an Immigration Center-- a word she told me to never use. It was a dirty word, a lie she said. These were Death Camps she said. She never said them loud enough for the Cameras to hear, but she never failed to drown my head with the fear of what these places were. I entered a puedo room where the grid lock bars served as a transparent barrier. They took a set of gloves, dipped a yellow opal stone in a bowl of alcohol and injected it into my back. The perfectly circular piece of stone sat on the surface of my skin, bathing in the sun and before I could focus on the pain, I could feel it shining.
A decade ago, the State needed a new way to keep track of migration. The Wall Movement started after the Nomadic Era. Walls around every city, state, and country not already divided by the water was being built. But soon after the First Movement, they had to build and rebuild the walls because no one could predict the floods. They tried several times before stopping a few decades ago. I laugh thinking about it now because it was a sign that even the waters and wind knew it was a disastrously hilarious idea. A large number of people were moving out of France and Italy because of a WASP- 4 outbreak and countries were afraid of being unsafe. The rise of fake identifications kept growing. So they stopped having State identification and then completed abandoned papers and passports soon after. They were too easily faked. Instead, they took the skin and created a map of all the lands, diseases, and climates traveled through. These gems are a passport for all the places I’ve been. It is a story of what I’ve done and a code for how much of a risk I am now.
I turn to get my face to against the sun and walk out of the waterbank. My back winces and I am reminded of several piercings laying in valleys between muscle masses. I’ve never seen the constellation of jewels on my own back. The adoration of prized jewels is not for me. I found a man with his entire back painted with colors I’d only heard about during the time of the Stable People. He knew the directions of an old mythical city rumored to be called the Gold Mountain. It was the only mountain still alive on a peninsula that drowned its own land. When I arrived, my toes hugged the grass, choking their stems until they ripped. Their breath was taken and they pleaded to stay rooted. I threw my body backwards, my head melted into the lava and I knew this is where I was meant to be planted.
The jewels on her body melted like pieces of broken circuits. The paint and dye cracked open exposing a faint light flashing under each color coating. No wonder they alway shined.
Linda (Pitzer '21) is named after her sister—sort of; her name is Lily, and for immigrant parents who don't speak English, her name only has three new letters to remember.