Jacqueline Kolosov: Inked Into Skin

Though he could not see the blue lines without the help of a mirror, just knowing they were there carried him back to the intricate maps that once adorned his grandfather’s mahogany-walled study, its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the main harbor in the Port-of-Spain. How proud his grandfather had been of their family’s history. Only later did the boy realize that his ancestors’ authority had been defined within the parameters of British rule.

Now, more than fifteen years after he’d marked himself, the bold turquoise of the lines had relaxed into the dark chocolate of his skin. Yet sometimes when he was either very angry or simply afraid, he could still taste the blood where the needle had gone astray, puncturing not just flesh, but the inky blue of vein.

Touching the tattoo touched memory and tested his knowledge of the country of his birth, with its lush green rainforests and incandescent, chattering birds. His hometown lay on the thick trapezius muscle he forced himself to strengthen after his parents sent him to England to be educated, a thing he could not understand or initially forgive; for hadn’t Trinidad gained independence from the British the very year he had been born?

Having always been shy and awkward around women, it seemed a miracle—or at least an irreplaceable gift—when his parents introduced him to his bride, a half-Hindu beauty whose smoky eyes were immediately riveted by the country he would forever wear on his back, having inked it into his skin in a seedy London shop when he was sixteen.

“I have no sense of direction,” she told him that first night, her long fingers following the outline of the southernmost point of the island where was born after her parents left India, a country where a Hindu wife and Moslem husband had been, as she said, “Neither here nor there.”

The fact that he could orient her by encouraging her to navigate the map of his body seemed a potent and intensely pleasurable sign that they were destined to be together. And then there was the thrill of her hands on his skin, and the gentleness of a touch that almost disavowed the creeping shame he’d felt among the pale boys who’d known him first only by his foreignness.

Some nights after they made love and rested side by side in the buoyant cushion of night, he would tell her of the triumph he’d felt after scoring the winning point in his school’s cricket match. That warm afternoon, he even tore off his shirt and let all the parasol-ed ladies marvel at the man who was and was not England now.

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