The Color Red

Shafts of red would spear the mountain peaks at sunrise in the Philippine archipelago I grew up in. Later tinged blue-gray from mist the forests exhale, dawn would seem to bruise the mountainsides, and then, fade in pink as if to heal.


dawn from the balcony of Angeles Estates

I would catch that last tint—such tenderness—but always on the rims of sleep. Once awake, I would trudge through the day steeped in the sun. Even in shadow, it wrapped me and things I touched. One day, I discovered the truth about the sun.

Its color is red not gold as most perceive it to be. Its heart is like a man’s, although it flickers not throbs. It takes on an illusion of absence at its zenith but in living things, it lends its flare.

In things, red either seeps in or withdraws. Red blossoms vermillion in camellias, frangipanis, and azaleas, or it metamorphoses into a flower itself, like fuchsia and the rose.

When blossoms shed petals, leaving a litter of brown scraps it is then when the color red deserts the flowers.  Or so it seems because some fruits do blaze like all the berries, persimmons, apples, and even chestnuts, or others when juiced spurt red like what oozes from cherries, grapes and pomegranates.

I had thought growing up and reflecting on red, that I alone possessed this secret: the Sun after coupling with Earth left it with its fire so much so that most things birth smouldering.

This secret interwove with life in my childhood. I often sauntered along church walls on my way to school, crushing chipped off terra cotta bricks. By midyear, my slippers wore a mitt of rust, a tint that looked to me more red than brown. I was awed not surprised.

When a granduncle died, I thought my red organdy dress would lift the shroud my family wore; flitting through drawn faces, I was tossed frowns instead. My granduncle rang the church bells and transcribed Latin prayers. He and the monsignor, I learned from random tales, shared after evening prayers tubs of basi, a brownish-red wine of fermented sugar cane; the monsignor himself not only officiated but also arranged for my granduncle’s burial.

Up close, the monsignor struck me as no more than a man but glancing at the red piping of his black cassock, I had thought he was more than a priest. He told me, eluding my question that red like my dress is but a color special to him.  He also pointed out we both wore socks that matched the red in our clothes and he even lifted the hem of his cassock for me to look.

That shade of red is carmine, the color of fresh blood which symbolizes martyrdom; I learned about this in religion class at the university. But the symbolism has nothing to do with the color of their robes; instead it is in how they ought to empty out their own selves to serve or give their lives for others, my professor explained.

But the lesson unleashed counter images of selfishness. One such image leaped off my childhood catechism pamphlet—a red heart that dies from love of self and turns black, which is the color of blood when it dries up. Soon, the drawing en-fleshed among people I knew.

The color red then began to dance before me as a two-faced Diablo, an apparition that sneaked in at night—one face masquerading as love, the other as death. This haunted me for years.

One such Diablo in my mind incarnated as an art director who trailed me in my job as a writer in the government media office. He sent me a bouquet of red carnations every Friday, which terrified me.  Until one morning in the course of our jobs part of which entailed travels to the islands. We started often before dawn. I begrudged waking to the hour and he, seated beside me. I seethed through those bumpy rides. 

Our trip began an hour earlier that morning. A full moon yet grazed the eastern sky to set. I eased into a groove by my window seat to snooze when the jeep throttled and coughed to a stop—a tire had burst. We had been cruising through the highway that spanned acres of rice fields. In the moonshine, rice paddies glowed like silver pools. But the bamboo groves hissed and groaned. I felt goose pimples growing on me. No one passed by this stretch for hours.

Fretting, I stepped on a stone that in the moonlight looked like a mound of earth by the root of a mango tree. Pain shot up from my twisted ankle and wrenched my body. I fell on my side. The art director leaped off where he was holding a flashlight on the driver replacing the flat tire. He tore off a sleeve of his shirt, broke off a branch and wrapped a splint on the back of my ankle.  Then he took off his shirt, lifted me off the gravel and laid it where my face was bruised by the stones. The pain eased and I must have dozed off. Soon, scarlet spears shot through as in my childhood dreams. My name came to me like a deep breeze—he was waking me up.

In the moment it took me to blink, it seemed lilac swatches had swirled down as if a violent hand withdrew and with a sleight unfurled pink tulle over the fields. He coaxed me to reach up as he scooped me to carry. I turned in his arms toward the mountainside and was stunned not at the sight but at the recognition of what I had always thought was a recurring childhood dream. In a flick the color red, its varied tones and moods, switched off my fears, smothering with its most tender tinge the Diablo slung in my heart. I was freed.

Copyright © 2010 By Alegria Imperial

Published in Timeless Spirit Magazine, Vol. #7, Issue #6, August 2010 Also posted in