The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. “Madam,” I warned,
5 “I hate a wasted journey—I am African.”
Silence. Silenced transmission of
Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
10 “HOW DARK?” . . . I had not misheard . . . “ARE YOU LIGHT
OR VERY DARK?” Button B. Button A. Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
15 By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis—
“ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?” Revelation came.
“You mean—like plain or milk chocolate?”
20 Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wavelength adjusted,
I chose. “West African sepia”—and as an afterthought,
“Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
25 Hard on the mouthpiece. “WHAT’S THAT?” conceding,
“DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.” “Like brunette.”
“THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?” “Not altogether.
Facially, I am brunette, but madam, you should see
The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
30 Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused—
Foolishly, madam—by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black—One moment madam!”—sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears—“Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
35 See for yourself?”
1. This poem dramatizes a battle. Who do you think finally wins, and why?
2. Paraphrase what happens in this poem, and then state what you feel is the poem’s theme.
3. What does their dialogue reveal about these two characters?
4. This poem is full of colors—and not just of skin. What colors do you see in the poem? What does Soyinka want to communicate through these images of color?
5. What irony do you find in lines 23–26? What irony do you find in the description of the woman as well-bred?
6. What do you think of the speaker’s final question?
Connecting with the Text
7. Since the speaker was prepared for prejudice, why do you think the woman’s question disturbs him so much?
8. If you faced this kind of discrimination, how would you react to it?
Challenging the Text
9. Do you think Soyinka’s poem is an effective way of making others aware of prejudice. Is it more, or less, effective than other ways? How so? Explain.
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