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ZANZIBAR, Tanzania—Dusty red was the blur of a young girl’s headscarf as she darted through the bumpy streets of the inner island, her stick-thin legs flying under a faded orange skirt, her silhouette a sunset complementing the Zanzibari winter air.
Blue was the water rising from depths unknown; we snorkeled through sapphire waves and white crests, and later I heaved my guts over the side of the boat, rocking so violently across waters whose calm colors belied their high-tide ferocity.
Eye-burning magenta was the fresh lobster, spiced and crisped in Stone Town’s night market, illuminated by shockingly yellow kerosene lanterns and roaring grills. Crumbling off-white fortresses newly converted to sleek restaurants and harem-pant vendors ringed the square under the full harvest moon.
Green was everywhere, from the newly burst leaves I fed a weathered old tortoise to the palm trees planted along a beach so white it could blind. My upper back turned pink and tight as I bent over the clearest waters I’d ever seen to collect small pink-and-purple shells at low tide. When I returned 30 minutes later from the artificially chlorinated pool, the water had swept across the vast plain, covering the shell beds as though they’d never been there. “Where do shells come from?” my friend asked, and I said I thought they’d all been animals’ homes before. If everyone collected as many shells as I did, how many would be left?
I knew the sun would burn red and orange across the water that night, but we had to leave the beach 15 minutes before sunset and never saw it. I projected past images onto the horizon, changing my memory so by the time I left I was half-sure I’d seen the sun sink in bloody colors.
I wore all black when I went out dancing because it was all I had that was clean, and little grains of sand stuck to the fabric like the stars I knew the clouds obscured. I tried to wash them off when I swam in the ocean, but then my clothes wouldn’t dry for days and my backpack kept the smell of the sea long after I emptied it.
The plane’s thick windows deadened the colors, muted the indigo depths and foaming waves, changed my perspective so the towering palm trees were the same size as the girl who ran down the street, whose feet fell silently by the side of the road, who never turned to look around but flew like a bird who knew its home and cared not for the strangers who gawked at the colors.
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