I work through wet tangles in my hair as carefully as I would detangle my heart. De-knot, brush, smooth, repeat, the motions go. I catch my concentrated face in the mirror and for a second my reflection startles me. I almost don’t know the person staring back. She looks familiarly unfamiliar, like the woman in the Priority Seats on the H98. She rides the same route with me to work every morning. Yet she never alights.
Isnt it strange that you don’t really get to know your own face? I probably know the facial contours of the unsuspecting colleague sitting across me better than my own. I probably know his facial alterations – his sarcasm, his anger, his aloofness, his happiness – better than mine. I hardly spend any time looking at myself, even when powdering and rouging my sleeping skin in the wee hours of the morning in a monologue with the mirror. I merely look at the painted image I want to project to the world, quickly masking the delicate features etched over my flesh and bones. There’s somehow never any time to pause and learn about the face God gave me. I mean I probably know YOUR face better than mine. You, the news in my newsfeed. You have beautiful hair, you. And me? I have dreadful hair that I stash away with bobby pins, out of the way of that very face I show to you – the world – but do not know. Those pictures telling my stories on IG and FB? They are mostly half-hearted, half-told truths that cannot hold even half of me, called the ‘selfie’. I assure you I am not always locked away in IG-worthy selfie mode. The non photogenic moments don’t make it to instagram because #crying, #sneezing, #shouting arent exciting hashtags. Would you really want to see sierra-filtered tears streaming down my face? If yes, how many would you be able to take? There are tears of anguish, onions, and reluctant self-discoveries. How many do you want to see? How many do I want you to see?
A lost friend once told me I have a weird smile where I bite my lip and do something funny with my chin. I have never seen that weird smile. I have never seen myself sleeping either. I have seen others at it, eyeballs darting behind shut eyelids wandering places the body cannot. It usually looks peaceful. Do I look peaceful too?
I have been told that I look like my dad. I wouldn’t know, I do not remember his face. He left me when I was 18 months old, taking half my identity with him to the other side. I often wonder how he was at 25 – surely he had dreams of having kids, having me? Surely he had stories and laughter that he wanted to share? Whatever happened to them? Did they move on to the other side too? Or can I catch them if I look at mine – his – face long enough?
Unfortunately, these are pointless musings. That part of my existence, my body, my face, that miraculous genetic connection with another human being, was never mine to explore. I will never revel in the biological paradox of resembling a man and still looking like a woman. I always thought it to be so damn beautiful.
There are a few who tell me I look like my mum. A younger version of her of course. Struggles and hard work have taken away all that was once bright about her face. She suffered the loss of her husband when she was younger than me, a housewife with two girls aged barely 2 and 4. Death cast a darkness on her radiance, hooking its unforgiving fingers into every dip and slope of her features. Life never got any easier. Her face evolved shades and shadows till she bore no resemblance to the slim, petite beauty that had once blossomed loves at first sights. Her face had held so much power over others yet she never did see it much herself. And now the reflection tells her a story full of lies. That youthful face is forever gone, ghosts of if lingering in the framed B&W photos lurking behind dusty bookshelves in an empty living room. I cannot reconcile my mother with that young, child-like girl. Isn’t that a shame?
I look at the mirror and think: Is it my father’s face? Or my mother’s? Or mine? I am so eager to start my day at 8:00 am when I walk out of the door and restart at 8 pm when I return home that I almost always miss it. The mundane, undone me, I almost always ignore it. I cannot help but wonder – have I stared long enough at myself? Will I remember all my faces before they are gone forever in my own memory lanes? Before I get so old that my skin recedes, stretches over my skull, stifles every light in the passageways of my existence?
Strange thing, this face I have. I own it, but will probably never truly know it.