Before I moved to Neopia, I had never given much thought to the color of my fur. In fact, it was a complete non-issue in the barren lands of Happy Valley; everyone was so covered in winter clothing all the time. Every morning I would trudge to school with thick black boots and a fluffy blue coat on, only my face and ears peeking out to show that I was an Acara. The only real concern was cleanliness, and even at that, no one was about to tell you to clean the dirt from under your claws.
It never occurred to me that in different places, people and pets had a very different view on the way you looked. In fact I only learned this valuable lesson the moment I set paw on the front lawn of my new home in Neopia, a small cabin-like home with not a speck of snow in sight.
My sister Kendra and I had moved from Happy Valley to Neopia in the Fall of 2006 for reasons that our mother never explained to us. Kendra was extremely happy to be in what she liked to describe as "the center of the universe", where everything she'd ever dreamed of lay in waiting. She was in love with the idea of living in the city where she could go shopping without donning a parka. I was less than excited, seeing as I'd have to leave all my friends and join a new society that didn't know a thing about me. I was mournful even to the minute that I first stepped into the classroom that unfortunate morning in September.
I had gone back-to-school shopping with Kendra and my mom three days early and bought all the necessary components: a school bag, erasers, pencils, and the like. However none of my regular gear seemed to matter, because as I opened the door to room B12 every head in the room turned in my direction. Unbothered, but a little confused, I hurried in and took a seat next to a beautiful rainbow colored Ixi. When I turned to speak to her and introduce myself, she only gave me a dark look that seemed to emanate a message- "Stay away". I looked around incredulously. It was then that I noticed a difference about Neopia that I hadn't noticed in the week prior to the beginning of my education; almost everyone in the room was painted, and the only three who weren't were clumped together in a corner of the back of the classroom. It set my head to thinking, and I looked down at myself. I saw immediately what was wrong; I just didn't fit in.
Aside from the rainbow Ixi and not including myself, our classroom had a total of ten pupils. There were three more rainbow pets, a Quiggle, an Acara, and a Korbat, two faerie pets, a Mynci and a Lupe, and two christmas pets, a Cybunny and a Kau. In the back of the room where the light of the windows didn't touch and the floor was tinted a strange green color from mud and grass stains, a blue Gelert, a green Zafara, and a yellow Bruce sat watching me with a dismal expression, as if I'd done something unthinkable.
Suddenly, I felt a cool trickle run down my spine and in dismay I yelped, jumping out of my seat. When I turned to look at what had happened, most of the students began to explode into laughter. The rainbow Quiggle had a smug look on his face, and in his webbed hand a leaky water bottle. With a harsh squeeze, water squirted once again at my eyes. I moved out of the way just in time fortunately, but unfortunately, right into the teacher who had just come in the door with a large stack of papers.
I looked up at the pink Zafara in misery.
"You must be Natasha," she forced herself to say with a hint of a smile on her lips. Her tone held no trace of said smile, but she pointed to a desk in the back of the room and, gathering my things I hurried there with a blush rising even darker than the red of my fur. From the back of the room, I could feel the eyes of several students burning into me. I concentrated on my notebook as if the geography lesson was the most interesting thing I had ever experienced and when the bell rang, I ran all the way home.
I refused to go to school for the next few days and my sister Kendra, who was blue, held the same rebellion. Together we spent our days mourning for a haven, anywhere we could go without being made fun of, rejected, or told off. The days grew longer until one morning our mother came home with what she said was a surprise for us. She took us each by the paw and we went on a walk, all the while having explained to us about the importance of being an individual and the balance of outer beauty to inner beauty. The way she explained it, I had never thought of before. Realization began to sink in.
Didn't I like the way I looked? Wasn't that what mattered?
When we finally came to our destination, a tiny marketplace hut with a blue roof and red windows, she knelt down and told us to each pick one item for ourselves, and then return to her as soon as we had paid. We ran inside eagerly, wondering what the surprise could possibly be. When we got inside we understood; the place was stocked full from bottom shelf to top shelf, wall to wall with paintbrushes.
With an excited squeal, we took off racing to examine each and every brush with valour. My sister chose right away a pink paintbrush and to go with it bought a baby blue bow to tie around her neck. I took some more wandering, knowing that this had to be special. This had to be right. When I finally made my decision, the speckled Blumaroo behind the counter gave me an odd look.
"Are you sure this is the one you want?" she asked, steely voice accusing. I nodded enthusiastically. She sighed and boxed up my gift, holding her paw out for the money. I stuffed the neopoints into her hand and left speedily.
The next morning, my mother took us to the Rainbow Pool. I could hardly contain myself as we walked up to the deep, clear water, surrounded by a haze of milky color. Kendra was the first one in, and because she couldn't swim, she only waded around the shallow end of the pool with her paws sinking into the sand at the bottom. My mother assisted her in the painting and when she emerged from the gentle waves, she was a bright pink color, smiling from ear to ear with pride. I handed my mother my paintbrush and hopped into the water as soon as Kendra was out. My mother peered at the brush in her hand.
"Natasha, are you sure about this?"
"Of course I am!" I exclaimed, throwing my paws up in the air hopefully. Then, with a splashing kick of the heel, I swam out to the deep water.
My mother followed tiredly and painted every section of my fur twice before heading to the bay to dry off. I swam around for ten minutes, waiting for the paint to sink in. Because I'm an underwater pet, I didn't have to breathe. I wanted to make my appearance a surprise so I stayed beneath the surface until I decided to get out. When I emerged, my sister gasped and a shocked pose held my mother's face down. There was silence as I shook out my fur and turned to show off my small, stubby tail.
"So?" I asked, turning and jumping. "How do I look?"
Kendra burst into unhappy tears. My heart sank.
"I can't be seen with you anymore, Natasha!" she cried, burying her head in her arms and running. I watched her in awe. Was I not interesting now? Was I not different, as my mother had explained I should be?
I looked down at my paws in confusion and saw the green, soft fur swaying in the wind. When I turned to look at myself in the water I grinned. I was green all over, and I liked it. This was what I had wanted, and I was happy.
The next day at school, Kendra gave me strict orders to stay away from her as she donned her blue bow and marched proudly into the doors. I heard the gasping and the squeals of approval as my sister joined the society I had so vehemently hated for the past while as I lay sobbing on my bed. That didn't matter now. I smiled and hoisted my bag over my shoulder. It was time to go.
As I walked through the halls, it was like the first day all over again. There were stares and giggles and mutters as I passed through the sea of rainbow and infinite color. Everyone in my classroom gave me a dirty look or a snicker as I dropped to my seat in the back corner where the stained floor made a mess of my paws. When I pulled out my notebook, I didn't stare at it to escape the close glares of people around me. I sat with my back straight and my ears perked up high, waiting for our teacher to enter the room.
"Hey." I heard a whisper beside me, and I looked over to see the yellow Bruce looking at me in question. "You painted yourself green?"
I nodded and noticed that several people glanced over at us, as if expecting him to make fun of me.
Instead, he leaned on his fin and smiled. "You know, it's weird but I've never been to Happy Valley. What's it like?"
For the first time since I'd moved to Neopia, I had a conversation with someone that I didn't regret. Maybe Kendra liked the attention of being something that she wasn't, but I sure didn't enjoy it. And if unpainted wasn't good enough for the people around me, then it was their loss. It's better to be color blind, I thought as I talked to the Bruce, than blind to everything but yourself.