Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • FUTURES

Blue eyes

Artistic image of a blue iris with a no entry sign superimposed on top of it

Illustration by Jacey

I stand in line, shaking like a sick dog. My fake ID is immaculate, though. Sunny already used it to cross out and back as a test. Doesn’t stop me quivering. Sunny works for Rev Gas in a suit job. This is as close to the perimeter fence as I’ve ever got, with its towers and guns. It’s taller up close, its shadow over me for what feels like an hour as we inch forward one at a time, showing papers and opening purses. Through the two walls of chain link I can see this glittering sea of cars waiting to carry people away from this shit town.

When I reach the front, the guard doesn’t even look at my papers. He looks at my eyes and says: “Go on back with you. You know the rules.”

“But I have —”

He raises his gun. “Go on back!”

My bowels clench and I go on back as fast as I can without running. I’m crying. I don’t have any disease. Some of us came out good. But all my life people have looked at me like a warm bag of shit, fit to break.

And I can understand the fear, when so many of us died horrible or popped open an artery in public, but it’s been 20 years and nothing’s broke on me yet. Some of us came out good.

No one would know if it weren’t for my damn blue eyes.

I find my friend Sunny. His dark eyes are wide. “You didn’t make it?”

“Didn’t even try to look at my ID.”

Sunny takes this personal. He curses the guards to high heaven and back down again.

I have to interrupt before he goes all night. “What am I going to do? I don’t want to live here forever.” I’m mad at him, but don’t say that. Of course the ID worked for him. No guard would stop a suit for nothing.

*****

I asked my mama once why modified kids all had blue eyes, if it was so they could tell which babies they’d tinkered with, but she said, “No, child. The doctors asked us, ‘what colour eyes do you want on her?’ and who wouldn’t want to have blue eyes?” I found out later that there was an upcharge for the blue eyes. Easy money for the gene doctor, too, because of course they’d figured out eye colour ages ago.

All around my neighbourhood, kids with brown faces, but the whitest, bluest eyes. We’ll never look enough like the people on the other side of the fence.

*****

Sunny stands with me this time, both of us in suits, both his, but we’d spent some time with pins getting the one to fit me good.

That cold shadow from the fence. The guard’s narrowed eyes. I take a step back but Sunny holds me at his side. “Aren’t you going to check her ID?” he demands.

The guard looks at him. “She has blue eyes.”

“So? Some people are born that way.”

I force my head up high. “Yeah.” I try to sound annoyed. How would a natural blue-eyed person feel? What would she call me? Boojie tech-baby of upward-reaching parents, illegally modified to fool the world into considering her as good as the well-born. How dare your nose bridge so high, your cheekbones slant so sharply, your unnatural eyes a sign of the masses too stupid to stop at fixing what is broke.

I shake with anger at myself and my not-self, and I almost miss the guard handing my card back. “Get out of here, kid. This is obviously a fake ID. I’ll let you go this time if you walk away now.” The chilling edge of his voice is a machine gun.

*****

The black market bioprinter was in a dirty shanty worse than the chicken shack we won’t eat at, but the contact lenses still cost as much as the ID. My eyes itch the second I put them on, but Sunny says: “It’s psychosomatic. You look great.”

We wear the suits again, as itchy and ill-fitting as my eyes. It won’t work. Neither of us has any money left to feed ourselves if it doesn’t work. Yet I almost hope it doesn’t work.

The guard doesn’t even glance at me. He scans my ID, hands it back and steps aside. I stare hard at him. A speech wells up in my guts, a hot gas ball of How Dare You? He sees my anger, looks alarmed. I see the edge of contact lenses around his brown irises.

Thank goodness for Sunny’s hand on my back, pushing me forward.

And we’re through. In the successful crowd, more suited, more uniform than those held back. All the blues eyes here are accompanied by pale faces.

I start to take the contacts off, but Sunny stops me. “Not yet. It’s not safe.”

My tears run. I’ve fantasized this walk enough times that it feels routine. There is the train, behind the cars. The ticket machine. I’m out.

On the train we find a pair of abandoned dark glasses and I can take the burning contacts off at last. The minute I have citizenship, I’m showing everyone my proud blue eyes, but when I have kids, I’ll just fix what’s broke.

The story behind the story: Blue eyes

Marie Vibbert reveals the inspiration behind her latest tale.

I was listening to Mika’s song ‘Blue Eyes’ and it made me think of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye … the ending still chills me. This beautiful girl, destroyed in her quest for blue eyes.

I thought of Asian women getting their eyelids cut, Jewish women getting their noses eroded … there are all these stories of signs of ethnic diversity being painfully removed in the name of ‘beauty’.

So there I was, this song stuck in my head, these thoughts circling anger, and I thought, ‘what if the blue eyes were a negative thing?’ Ah, of course. The poor and downtrodden never win. The goalposts are always being moved. I could imagine poor parents paying some gene doctor to make their kids look whiter. I could imagine the investment backfiring, becoming a symbol of poor taste and over-reaching.

I ended the first draft with the mother’s words, which I wanted to echo the feeling I got from Morrison’s ending. “Who wouldn't want blue eyes?”

It felt flat. Something was missing. Also, as I re-read it, I feared the whole thing could be misinterpreted. Too close to some absurd ‘reverse racism’ garbage. I made sure to add in clear language that our protagonist is still brown, and that’s still the reason behind the discrimination.

Then I thought about gene editing itself, about CRISPR and the fears we have about it. What if the blue eyes weren’t hated for themselves but as a sign of compromised health? That gave me an opening to insert more of the tech backstory and, I hope, open up the story a little more.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-01352-2

Nature Careers

Jobs

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing

Search

Quick links