Black and White

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On the fridge, fixed by alphabet magnets, hung Josh’s drawing of his family. Mum, Dad, sister Izzy, Snowy the cat and Bouncer the dog were all coloured in, but Grandma wasn’t. Grandma was left in black and white because she was from the old-fashioned days.

Mum came downstairs early to get breakfast ready. She was wearing a red t-shirt and pale blue jeans. She took a loaf of white bread and also brown bread out of the bread bin and then took some yellow eggcups from the cupboard.

Izzy came down still in her pyjamas which were pink and white with blue flowers. She sat down, stretched her arms out and yawned before helping Mum put the cream-coloured plates on the light brown wooden kitchen table.

Dad and Josh came down together. Dad was running because he was late for his football match. He was wearing his team colours – a green t-shirt and white hat and scarf. Josh had also put on green and white, even though he wasn’t going to the match.

Izzy watched the light brown toast pop out of the pale grey toaster as she reached across for the orange marmalade.

“No, wait!” said Josh “Grandma isn’t down yet. We can’t start breakfast without Grandma.”

Grandma usually liked to get up a little bit later than everyone else at weekends, but she always came down for breakfast. The tap-tap of her feet could be heard slowly coming down the stairs. She went and joined the rest of the family in the kitchen.

She sat down at the kitchen table in her black and white clothes and white slippers with black pom poms on them. Mum gave her tea in her usual black mug. Grandma asked Mum to put a couple of slices of white bread in the toaster as she reached out for the butter.

The toast popped up and Mum put it on a cream plate whilst Grandma sipped her tea. Sometimes, if he hadn’t been able to do it the night before, Josh would ask Grandma questions about his homework. She always seemed more patient with him than Mum or Dad or Izzy.

He often thought that there might be a whole choice of possible answers, but Grandma would always say it was only one thing or the other – “It’s all in black and white,” she would say, meaning that the answer was really quite simple.

One day Josh handed in his homework at school. The question was: what is 6+3? I’m sure you’re thinking the answer to that is really easy – it’s 9. But that wasn’t the answer Josh put. Josh wrote down 12. His teacher was really cross.

“Josh!” she said, “You really should be getting these maths questions correct. I know you can do it, so why haven’t you?”

“Well, Miss…”

The class sighed, knowing that Josh was going to go into one of his lengthy explanations.

“Suppose there were six cats sitting on a garden fence. And then our family cat and the cat from next door and the other neighbour’s cat went to join them. That’s nine cats in total, right?”

“Yes.” Josh’s teacher let out a very long sigh.

“Well,” continued Josh, “you would never get only nine cats sitting on a fence. If some cats came and sat on a fence where I live, you can bet there wouldn’t only be nine cats for very long. Every other cat in the neighbourhood would figure out some kind of cat party or at the least very important meeting was going on and want to be there. There would be at least another three cats so we need to add three to the sum of 6+3. So, 6+3+3 = 12.”

This was of course the right answer to Josh’s sum, but it wasn’t the right answer to the maths question he’d been asked.

“Very clever,” said his teacher, “But I didn’t ask you to make up some kind of cat story for homework. I asked you to add up a simple sum! Stay behind and see me after class please, Josh.”

Now it was Josh’s turn to sigh. Why did no one understand him? His world was full of ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs’ and ‘perhapses’, but it seemed that school was only full of this or that. A bit like Grandma who was only either black or white. She was so old fashioned…

Later that week, Mum and Dad came home after a parents’ evening at school. They were angry with Josh. “Why were you being cheeky towards your teacher?” they asked him. Josh was upset.

“But I wasn’t!” he said. “I was just wondering about some what ifs and things that might really happen, but my teacher said I was wrong.”

Josh was sent up to his room without any computer time that evening and this upset him even more, especially as Izzy was allowed on hers.

Bouncer the dog nudged open Josh’s bedroom door and came in. He was usually light brown, but today he was light brown with patches of black and dark brown. That was because he’d been out rolling in mud. He jumped on Josh’s bed.

Josh knew Bouncer wasn’t allowed on the bed, even when he hadn’t been in mud and Bouncer made Josh’s superhero duvet all dirty. Josh didn’t tell him. He just cuddled him. Not wanting to be left out, Snowy the cat also crept into Josh’s bedroom, only today she wasn’t very snowy. She had muddy paws and just like Bouncer, she’d left paw prints all the way up the stairs. Unusually, she hadn’t licked her feet clean.

She jumped on the bed. Josh realised that someone else was on the landing – Grandma. He knew she’d come into his room. Even though she was very old-fashioned, she was very kind and always knew when Josh was upset or angry or sad. She didn’t even yell when she saw a muddy duvet and two pets on the bed.

“I know why you’re in a bad mood Josh,” she said. She sat down gently on the end of the bed. Snowy jumped on her lap and she didn’t try and shoo her off.

“Some things just are black and white,” she said. “Do you remember what the kitchen floor looks like?”

Of course Josh did. He saw it every single day. “Yes Grandma,” he said, “it has big black and white squares.”

“Correct,” said Grandma. “What about Bouncer? What about Snowy?”

“Bouncer is all black and Snowy is all white.”

“Correct,” said Grandma again.

“Except…”

“Except what?” said Grandma.

“Except for their tongues,” said Josh. “Their tongues are pink.”

“That’s true,” said Grandma, “But mostly they’re in black and white.”

“I suppose so,” said Josh.

“OK…” said Grandma getting up slowly. “Come over here and look out your window.”

Josh and Grandma spent quite a long time looking at the oak tree that was in the back garden. They both agreed that the colours of the garden were mostly green and browns. But there were all sorts of shades, from the palest most beige of branches through to the deepest, darkest green of moss.

“You’re a very lucky boy Josh,” said Grandma. “You can see all kinds of variations, whereas lots of people will only see a few things.”

Then Grandma went to her own bedroom and came back with a big photo album from the old days. Josh loved looking through that. It was how people kept pictures in the days before computers. There were photos in there of Mum and Dad and pictures of Grandma when she was little. There were photos of Grandma’s parents and even grandparents. Lots of the people in the photo album were only in black and white.

“Is that because they were very old?” asked Josh.

“Well, they weren’t old then,” said Grandma. “In fact, when that photo was taken, they were quite young.”

“So why aren’t they in colour?” asked Josh.

“When photos were first invented and television, they only came out in black and white. They hadn’t worked out how to get colour into them yet. It has nothing to do with how old people actually are.”

Josh stared hard at Grandma. “Then why are you only in black and white?” he asked her.

“I’m not really,” said Grandma. “You’ve just decided I am because you think I’m from the olden days. It all comes down to the way you decide to look at things.”

“But…” Josh was going to say more, but then something incredible happened before his very eyes. He suddenly saw that Grandma’s hair was reddish coloured and that her cardigan was mustard yellow. Her skirt was made up from pale green and pink checks and when he looked into her face, Josh saw that she had the rosiest pink of cheeks and the most sparkly blue, twinkly eyes.

Then Josh realised that Grandma really was in colour. Sure, some things were just black and white, but Grandma wasn’t. Not really. That was just the way he’d been seeing her. He took the picture of the family off the fridge door and Grandma passed him his coloured pencils.

And he coloured her in, because truly, out of all the colours there were, Grandma was the best colours of all.

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