Jo had been sent to the shop with exactly the right money for his cigarettes. If the price had gone up and she went home without them, Jo's husband would hit her. So she hoped that they were still on offer.
A tag was bright on the wall she walked beside. JACK, in yellow and orange, unashamed sun-colours. Jo imagined being Jack, and seeing herself as something colourful to share with the world. Yellow, orange. She never wore them. Just the dark, baggy clothes that Simon picked out for her.
"You're too old for bright colours," he explained. "And you don't have the figure. You'd
look like an old whore."
That was after he'd thrown out her favourite dress. It was a soft blue and Jo had felt
happy in it.
Now, without realising, Jo had stopped in front of the tag.
"Graffiti. Disgusting," Simon always said. "They're animals. They should be birched."
I'm just glad that someone, somewhere, isn't ashamed of who they are, thought Jo.
She smiled at Jack's tag.
It smiled back.
The colours curved at the ends, and Jack was now grinning at her.
Oh great. Now I'm going mad.
But it wasn't scary and it didn't feel wrong. Jo had a sense of friendship and understanding.
She blinked away the tag, and trudged on through the greyness of wet streets.
Sanjeev's shop was brightly lit and he smiled a welcome. It hadn't occurred to Simon
that Jo might be friendly with the owner. Naturally Simon was racist as well as everything else, and he assumed that Jo, as a white person, would be too.
But Jo smiled at Sanjeev. "Twenty Bensons, please," she said. "How's Pritti?"
"As pretty as her name and as sweet as a wasp," sighed Sanjeev, and they both laughed.
"You'd be lost without her."
He named the price.
It was a penny more than the week before - the offer was over.
Fear hit Jo like a punch, and the weight of life dragged her face and shoulders down.
She put what she had on the counter and whispered, "Can I owe you the penny?"
"Of course! Just forget it. It's OK!"
Jo could feel Sanjeev's embarrassment and pity like slaps on her hot cheeks. He had
seen her bruises, when Simon had been careless.
"Thanks," she said, her voice husky, and she fled.
Her feet dragged on the way home. Simon would be there.
A red graffito caught her eye across the road. It was a space invader, a happy little thing.
Jo remembered the game: rows of aliens moving down the screen, only to be shot and destroyed. Yet still they came, a crowd of them, and they always won in the end.
Jo found this strangely cheering, and again, in spite of everything, she smiled.
The space invader smiled back and waved a red arm, or perhaps tentacle.
There are decent people in the world - friends you haven't met yet.
The thought popped into her head as if the alien had spoken.
I ought to be frightened by what's happening to me, thought Jo. But I'm only frightened with Simon.
Jo saw Jack laughing at her husband, and the invader pushing him away inexorably,
Further along the wall was a stencilled image - a political thing of a man in a balaclava, holding a bunch of flowers.
"Hello," said Jo.
The figure bowed to her, and offered her the black ink flowers.
Suddenly Jo could smell honeysuckle, lilacs and roses. Oh, so long since she had smelled them.
She reached her front door.
The key turned in the lock.
Change is possible, thought Jo. She could feel a strength rising in her. I am not as
helpless as he thinks. The possibility of colour and disobedience. She wouldn't mention the price increase. And Jo knew where Simon kept his secret stash of cash. Tomorrow, while Simon was at work, she'd get the locks changed and phone a solicitor.
She could do this.
Jack laughed. The invader jumped up and down with glee. The balaclava man danced.
All along the wall, graffiti applauded her, a crowd of letters dancing, figures waving, faces cheering.
(c) Cathy Bryant