They sat in a small group under a full ash tree. The grass was damp, but that didn’t seem to bother them at all: they were far too involved in their conversation—a heated conversation that was, to the impartial eye, threatening to spill over into an argument. They didn’t see it; they weren’t aware of their raised voices or of their animated gestures. They were too involved in their own private world shaded by the deep green leaves of the towering ash and dampened by the lush green grass. Their neighbours noticed. Other people who were using the brightly warm park for relaxation and recuperation: a smiling young mother pushing a buggy containing a child happily chewing on a Milky Bar; a group of shouting and running teenage boys kicking a battered old football towards a pile of jumpers; a running man wearing blue shorts and a red face and an iPod strapped to his waist; a middle-aged man throwing a ball for an eager, leaping young dog to chase and fetch; a kissing couple of freshly new young lovers intertwined on the grass making their declaration to the world. They all noticed the small group under the tree and heard raised voices, but they were also all in their own worlds: the young mother with the child was trying to think of ways out of having to go to the supermarket, her child wanted more chocolate; one of the boys playing football was cursing, wondering why he was always the last one to be picked and why he was always in goal when Peter was a much worse player than him; the running man was singing along to the Arctic Monkeys tune that was coursing along the wire and into his ear; the man with the dog was looking forward to a nice cold beer, while the dog just wanted to continue proving his devotion and usefulness by fetching and carrying the ball that his owner kept dropping; the young lovers were both thinking the same thing, and wondering if it was too soon to take it to the next level, afraid to mention what they both wanted because they didn’t yet know each other well enough.
The small group under the tree consisted of two young men and two young women. They were all dressed in black: they thought it was a fashion statement, a uniform that bestowed membership and acceptance on this group of close friends. One of the men, a tall, thin man-boy with a shock of unkempt red hair framing a narrow bespectacled face interrupted the flow: Green makes me think of the environment, he said, much to the bemusement of the others. A small woman with too much makeup and long, straight black hair ridiculed him. Do you have a single original thought in your head? I mean, the environment? Those middle-class self-important environmentalists have hijacked the colour and turned it into an elitist cause; a cause that big businesses are using to hike prices, emotionally blackmailing the poor into spending too much of their money on ‘environmentally dolphin-safe organic potatoes’. It’s a bloody shame to extort even more money out of those who can least afford it, while the green brigade take their organic honey, fair-trade coffee and recycled toilet paper out to their huge planet-killing 4-wheel drive cars that they use to drive little Johnny the three miles to his private school—people who have never seen the inside of a bus, let alone know what it’s like to live on benefits and have people look down their noses at you because you can’t afford to buy carrots that have been grown in cow-shit rather than immersed in artificial genetically modifying fertiliser. The other girl, taller and slimmer, burst in. But your mum drives a big car and buys all that green stuff, doesn’t she? It wasn’t so much a question as an accusation. The others all laughed and nodded in agreement. The red-haired boy smiled and said. So who’s the hypocrite? He didn’t get a chance to say any more as the smaller girl defended herself. So what if my mum drives a big car and buys shit-nourished sugar-free baked beans. I’m not my mum. Do you see me with a big car? When do you ever see me buying anything but the supermarket own brand tins from the bashed shelf? I’m not my mother’s keeper; I’m not here to defend her. She quickly moved the conversation on. When I think of green, I think of money and of exploitation. I think of the ‘man’, of American imperialism, of the ‘mighty’ dollar—the ‘greenback’. I think of oppression and how ordinary people are kept in their place, how their dreams are stolen from them just to keep a small number of people rich and powerful. Green is the colour of oppression, and red the colour of liberation. The last of the group, a young man who was lying on his back counting the leaves on the ash tree with a lit Marlboro cigarette hanging languidly from the corner of his mouth interjected. That’s bloody heavy! Do you really think that when you see the colour green, or are you just telling us what that poncy politics lecturer told you in class the other day? Jeez! Get a bloody life and stop being so serious! D’you want to know what I associate the colour green with? I think of Ireland. I think of grass and trees. I think of spring. I think of that rich bastard with the big house and the big car and wish that I was a 40 year younger version of him: I wish I was his only son, who will inherit the lot. Most of all, though, green makes me think of puke. And I don’t like thinking of puke. I like thinking of beer. The union’ll be open now, who’s coming? He didn’t wait for an answer: he just stood up, flicked his cigarette away and started off. The others sat, not sure what to do. They were all already bored with the conversation, and their leader had made a decision: their task was not to debate or delay, but to follow.