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Tie Dye Skin by Julia Sokół

As part of our series showcasing new creative writing within DIY scenes, London-based Julia Sokół shares an excerpt of her Murakami-esque scifi/post-fanfiction with Threads—a heady and playful meditation on personal identity, clothing and makeup as tools for self-transformation, and the dream of a post-racial society through the concept of a “long-awaited skin freedom”.

I read in a book once, that a long time ago people used to cut their hair and wear clothes that covered them from head to toe. That was back when they lived on the ground and the seasons changed. I often wondered what it might have felt like to walk and feel the earth support you. Hundred miles’ worth of rock beneath your feet. Stable and connected. I imagined them walking amongst trees so deeply rooted they remember the dinosaurs, their steps radiating confidence, receiving the Earth’s support.

Life was different on the panels. We had parks, hospitals and banks of course, but I always felt the ocean’s current rocking my legs on the way to school. It annoyed me. It interfered with my day. It tried to take my independence. I disliked the ocean and the awful fishy smell that surrounded me from everywhere. It made me nauseous, but in a different way from my classmates, who had to take motion sickness tablets with breakfast every day.

‘Yagoda! You’re platting your hair again! Do you want the school to contact your parents?’ the teacher scolded me, pulling my hand away from my hair with force. I looked away apologetically. I wasn’t trying to be rebellious or anything. I was doing it unconsciously. Her bright green skin was reflecting so much light my pupils hurt looking at her.

‘I hate to agree with the teacher, but she’s right, Yag. You know people with hair like yours get far in life’ said Maya glancing at my thick, brown waves with a hint of jealousy.

‘Me, I’ll be an office worker at most’ she shook her head. Her fine, blond hair glittered in the unforgiving sun.

‘That’s not true! They say you guys are sensitive and caring!’ I tried to reassure her, though she didn’t strike me as a sensitive or caring person.

‘And who wants that in a workplace?’ she rolled her eyes at me, returning her gaze to the board.

‘Having good hair doesn’t guarantee success, you know. Most of it IS hard work’ Niko joined in. His fiery red curls seemed to be floating around his shoulders, unresponsive to gravity. Of course, he ignored the advantage he had been granted the moment he was born. It was said that people with strong, red hair were the most hardworking, sincere and passionate. Everybody wanted them. Even be around them. Have a lone, fallen-out red hair land on their arm by chance. Feel, just for a moment, what’s it like to be blessed like that.

‘I think both play a role’ I muttered quietly feeling the tension between Maya and Niko rise.

‘Anyway, we’re going to the skin-dye store after class. Wanna join?’ said Emi, munching on cheese-flavoured cockroach snacks. None of us have ever tried actual cheese. They said we didn’t have enough land to keep cows. Whether it tasted like the real thing or not, I loved that Emi believed protein from cockroaches made your hair grow thick and strong. The artificial flavouring muted the salty stench of the sea, which I was grateful for.

I agreed and we left after the bell rang, our locks bouncing as the sea beneath the panels was making our steps unsteady.

“Life was different on the panels…”

The shop was inside a big, glass dome with automatic doors and fans that spread a refreshing lemongrass scent across the humid air. It’s the only reason I went. There were three mannequins in the middle, presenting the most elaborate skin dyeing techniques. The first one was a peachy orange at the head that grew in intensity towards the feet. The bottom part looked like the evening sea when the sun was melting in it.

‘This is our most popular pattern’ said the shop assistant, catching me looking at it.

‘It’s designed to highlight the hair’ she added, but it was obvious this particular design would only look favourable on redheads. I nodded.

We walked into the aisles, with shelves stocked with bottles of skin dye and little square patches of synthetic skin displaying each one’s effect.

‘I think I’m between light blue and lilac. Guys, help me out!’ Maya exclaimed with a troubled look. We were about to graduate middle school, which meant we’d be able to start dyeing our skin these holidays. It wasn’t permanent. In fact, you could even change it every day if you were feeling adventurous. But for us, it would be the first time others would see us with our skin dyed, we’d take pictures to show our grandchildren decades later. We were trying to make other classmates jealous, in awe of how vibrant the colour we picked was, gleaming in the sun. Or they were.

‘Definitely blue! I mean, isn’t blonde and blue the most classic combo? You’ll be like Alice in Wonderland! Just be careful not to blend with the sea!’ Emi giggled.

‘Ugh, lilac it is’ Maya grabbed the small bottle from the shelf.

‘I’m gonna go for this one’ Emi reached for the grey bottle, her long, shiny black hair floated in the fan’s breeze. From the back, it looked like a thick curtain.

‘I think I’ll do some black stripes too around my shoulders and hips. It’s gonna be sooooo goth’ she added, smiling.

‘You know, apparently, when people lived on the ground, they used to discriminate and have wars over skin colour. I read in a book once’ I said, touching one of the synthetic squares.

My classmates roared with laughter. Maya bent down, gasping for air.

‘Yagoda, don’t be ridiculous! Why wouldn’t they just dye it another colour then? You and your books!’ Emi wiped a tear from her cheek. I felt stupid for mentioning it. Maybe it wasn’t true after all.

I quickly changed the topic by pointing at one of the mannequins. It was a light purple one with pink vertical stripes.

‘This one looks cool, maybe I’ll go for something like this. I wonder how this pattern would look on my hair.’ I saw both of their jaws drop. They gave each other a horrified look.

‘That’s fucked up, what’s wrong with you’ Emi whispered quietly as if to even answer what I said was an offence. I grabbed whatever bottle was closest to me and we left the shop and its stupid lemongrass scent.

The day after our graduation was the first day of our long-awaited skin freedom. The group chat messages were making my phone buzz constantly, like an annoying fly you can’t get out of your room.

Maya: I’m looking in the mirror and I can’t believe it’s me! I think it looks good? Can’t wait for you to see <3
Emi: Omg omg I made my mother SCREAM! she says this kind of colour is for adults only… too bad the one I got holds for 1 month lmao
Niko: aw, she can’t accept her little girl is growing up :(((
Kiki: my sister helped me with this gradient effect on my arms, it’s so cute i’ll make the panels crack :O
Niko: yagoda, why u so quiet? hope you got your dye on time lol
Kiki: omg true, I heard they only had shit colours yday
Maya: yeah, literally the ones that don’t go with anyone’s hair, the ones for freaks!!!

I exhaled deeply, hiding my phone from sight. The ocean was exceptionally calm today but it felt as if the panels were being rocked like a child on a swing. I gathered the willpower to walk up to my body-length mirror and let my bathrobe slide off my shoulders gently. I looked at my reflection hesitantly. After having lived on the panels for so long, humans adopted some new features. Mainly, because of the constant heat combined with the constant use of sun protection, evolution simply ceased to see the meaning of our skin, apart from holding the organs together, of course. So it became thinner and thinner until only a fine, opaque membrane was left to hold us together. It reminded me of sticky rice paper wrapped around the contents of a summer roll.

I liked to think my skin still retained some of its substance. I wasn’t as see-through as people like Niko. You could see his muscles, ribs, stomach and liver as easily as you would view colourful fish in a freshly cleaned aquarium. My skin was a mixture of opaque cream and red depending on the light. What I liked about it the most, however, were the freckles scattered around me like the stars on a night’s sky. It gave me hope, made me believe that maybe one day I will be reborn, close to a different star, where people walked on stable ground undisturbed by the water. Where they experience cold weather and even snow. Where they are not obsessed with fucking hair and skin dye. I was worried the dye would make my freckles disappear, but the bath prepared by my mum was ready. A tub full of pigment waiting to sink into my skin. I wanted to cry. I didn’t understand why my classmates were raving about this new freedom, when what seemed to be happening was the complete opposite…

Julia Sokół is a writer, teacher and artist based in Hackney, London.

Editor: Alex Honey

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