The rain had continued to weep down the bus window as Nicky prepared to weave her tale. In a soft, tentative voice the young woman had begun, "Once upon a time -" and then stopped.
Then she'd cleared her throat and focused her eyes on her hands in her lap, as if she were watching her fingers spin out the scene.
"Once there was a land," she began again, more firmly, "where no humans lived. There were two kinds of animals: red ones and blue ones. The red ones mated with the blue ones, but their offspring were never purple - only red or blue.
"The animals had their own social structure. There were a lot of rules - like: blues were allowed to mate only with reds and visa-versa. No blue-blue or red-red pairings. The rules weren't enforced by physical violence; that wasn't the animals' nature and it wasn't even necessary. They were social animals and major conformists.
"In their evening gatherings, when they huddled inside their network of caves, they gossiped. Gossip was the glue that held the community together. It helped you know where you stood. If the gossip about you was admiring or envious, you were good. If it was snide or derogatory, you were dirt.
"In reality, of course, the animals weren't all the same. The blues weren't all the same shade of blue, and they were all different shapes and sizes. Some of the reds were more of a yellow-based red, and some were more a blue-based red though you would never admit such a thing in polite company. They said 'Reds are reds and blues are blues and never the twain shall meet – except to mate.'
"When they gathered in the evenings, the reds would be in one cave and the blues in another. They had a special cave for mixing. That's where they met their mates. They hunted separately too.
"Sometimes a baby animal would be born who didn't seem to understand the rules. The baby still had to accept those rules, and pretend to follow them, or else they couldn't live with the tribe. But their life wasn't going to be easy.
"There was one red child who had trouble telling the reds from the blues. When she was small she loved everyone and she ran around with an open heart trying to be everyone's friend. Most of the other animals thought her antics were cute and assumed that she would grow out of it. But she didn't.
"Her mother had been blue, and when the child was small and followed her mother to the blue gatherings, the others just smiled indulgently. Then her mother died, and the child grew older and wasn't so cute any more. She loved her dad and she didn't mind going to the red gatherings with him but she missed being with the blues. She'd sneak into their cave. They'd kick her out.
"And then she crossed the line – she fell in love with another red.
"The gossip circle whirled about that, and not in a good way. It was a little scary. They hissed that she was maladjusted and not properly socialized. They growled that her attraction to another red was a sign of egoism and narcissism, and that she was avoiding intimacy.
"There was even some snarling about her attachment to her father, who was red, and how it must have been warped and displaced and then projected onto the object of her affection.
"No one asked the red child how she felt. But she had just fallen in love because the object of her affection looked lovely to her. Sounded beautiful. Stirred wonderful feelings in her heart. It never occurred to her that such fine emotions could cause so much trouble. She was innocent.
"And then, to add injury to insult, the red child found out that her loved one didn't return her feelings. Didn't find her at all attractive or desirable or lovable. It was like losing her mother all over again.
"Except this time there was no one she could turn to for comfort. No one who would be sorry that she'd fallen and broken her heart. There was no one to kiss it better. Because no one believed in the authenticity of her love – it was all 'displacement' and 'delusion' and 'maladjustment' - and even if they felt sorry for that it didn't help, since there was no sympathy for her loss. It wasn't recognized as a loss.
"She even questioned herself: how could she have lost something she'd never had? She'd had nothing but her own feelings and she still had those. They seemed useless.
"But she did know one thing: she would love again. She didn't know if next time she would do it right; probably not, since she still thought red was a more appealing colour than blue and not just because she was red herself.
"And she knew one other thing: she would never fit in, and the tribe would never look at her the same way again.
"So she did the only thing she could think of: she learned how to fight."
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