A long brownish-red mark runs along his gaunt face, from the right cheekbone to the bridge of his nose and all the way diagonally up to the corner of his temple. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when his face was like that of a commoner and his tan skin was at peace. Though fine lines defined his forehead and harsh pink spots stained his cheeks without order, he blended in with the ordinary. Now, there is not a person who passes him that can forget his violated face or more specifically, his unsightly scar.
The scar didn’t grow in stages like the stain of an ink drop does on a piece of cotton cloth. It was imprinted on his slender face in a fraction of a second and has stayed with him since. When it first appeared, it didn’t look like it does now. It seemed as if his skin cracked open and divided his face in two. Blood oozed continuously without stop.
What happened after remains in his memory in fragments, much like puzzle pieces that don’t fit together to form a whole, no matter how hard you try. The only thing he remembers with certainty was a blurred white coat closing in on him until all the light seeped out. When he woke up, the first thing he noticed after the blinding flashes was his reflection on the metallic surface of the drip stand by his bed. In it, he saw the fine work of a seamstress on his ripped face. It took a while for the imprecise bright red line to slowly turn into a sorrowful shade of maroon before darkening further into the color that it is now.
Not many care to know the story behind the scar. Of the few who ask, none has ever come close to knowing the truth. He simply continues his deafening silence, the only sound that now escapes him, and sits motionlessly while looking blankly into the distance, as if unaware of the words that were just uttered.
Every now and then, in the solitude that has engulfed him, the past flashes vividly in his eyes as if it were yesterday. In the still darkness at night, he can see her standing just a few steps away with the rusted scrap of metal in hand, clasped tightly in between her vengeful fingers. He can see her eyes consumed with rage, blue-black from the force of his knuckles. He can see the burns of his cigarettes tattooed on her dark lips that he wanted shut, except they are screaming with anguish as she charges at him to repay her debt to herself.
THE ELUSIVE STATE OF HAPPINESS
As a child, did you dream? What did you want to be when you grew up? Are you now what you wanted to become?
When we ask a child what he or she wants to be when they grow up, their responses might be more idealistic than realistic, or so us adults think. Some children dream of becoming astronauts while others might want to grow up to be like the friendly-neighbourhood superhero Spider-Man. As sceptical as we are, we would much rather accept the first answer with a strong sense of doubt and laugh at the second shortly before telling our children that Spider-Man doesn’t exist in the real world.
Children are not very articulate, but if we pay close attention, we might notice that their aspirations are synonymous with ‘being happy’. Spider-Man is obviously not real, but the idea of him is. Peter Parker is an altruistic individual who wants to make his city a better place for everyone, and in doing so, he achieves happiness, a state of mind that is elusive to many of us. In a way, by rejecting our children’s dreams, we might be crushing their chance at happiness.
Children begin to differentiate fantasy from reality at the ages of 3 and 4. From then onwards, we expose them to the social norms we have been adhering to. We tell them, either directly or indirectly, that they should perform well in schools so they can attend reputed universities and consequently get high-salaried jobs. We teach them, by having materialistic desires and glorifying others who have attained them, that they too should strive for big houses, fancy cars, and designer clothes. We nurture their minds to think that a person not attempting to achieve any of these ultimately fails and call it the “harsh reality of life”, absolving ourselves of blame without realizing that we became part of the problem the moment we reinforced those social expectations.
In a bid to fit our children into society’s mould of success, we don’t teach them to dream big and think outside the box. Instead, we teach them to think within the confines of one. We slowly strip them of their budding creativity that has the potential to change the world one day and worse, have them believe that their ideas are unrealistic. By making our children give up their dreams so they can pursue ours, we tell them that they take the backseat on the road to happiness.
If we tamper with the joy of the ones we’re supposed to love unconditionally, how can any of us be truly happy? You don’t have to answer me, but at least you owe yourself an honest reply.
I may not have children yet, but I wish to see a reality where we encourage our little ones to grasp tightly onto their dreams no matter what anyone says. As they grow older, I hope they find what spreads a smile across their faces and fills their heart with warmth and do more of it, even if it involves putting on a Spider-Man costume and helping the neighbourhood’s elderly cross the street.
THE STRANGER IN THE MIRROR
She sat on a soft-cushioned chair in front of the dresser and looked at her reflection in the mirror. The morning light seeped through the gray mesh curtains and lit up the room. The yellow rays warmed her skin and defined the lines on her forehead and the outer corners of her eyes. She looked on into the mirror and saw in it a reflection she no longer recognized.
She was aware that the woman in the mirror looking right back at her was herself, but she also knew how mirrors work, how they really work. They show you who you are when you are inverted, or what you pretend to be with all the layers of makeup caking up on the surface of your skin, concealing what is beneath, concealing you. Worst of all, they make you believe you are someone you are not, so that if your replica passes by on an empty street, you will walk on without faltering.
When you look into a mirror, you are never really looking at yourself. It’s because your eyes dart from the slightly smudged eyeliner at the tip of the wings you drew, to the red stain that leaked onto your teeth, and to the small strand of hair rebelliously sticking out at the side of your head. It’s because when you look into a mirror, your eyes never meet your eyes.
She gathered all her courage amid her veins crippled in fear and met her gaze on the silvery reflective surface, overlooking for the first time the things that did not matter, ready to confront the stranger she has become.