Beauty is a hunted down beast, a double-edged sword slitting slayer and slave. You hate the ones who have it and hate too those who don't. Those who have it eventually reach a need in their satisfaction for life, to have more, searching deeper than what their beauty holds, what it has made them hold, or who. When you're on the side where strangers call you the devil's child, the curse of the cursed, you are on the side of a lot of lonely times, a lot of times where you've wanted to die because of this lonesomeness, this thinking, "Can anyone truly ever love me like this?" You're on the side of anxiety, doubt and fear. Your arms are always folded; sometimes to shield yourself from the stares and cower into the center of your chest with your head, sometimes with rage when you're crying out to the universe, and other times, to feel held.
I bend forward into a stretch and come back up. I bend again. I might be flexing, I might be offering a prayer to the universe, a 'thank you that I'm here'. I push my hips to right as I bend my torso to the left, then do the same thing on the other side. I count down from three in my head and on one, I hear the echo of the lights go out. Murmurs litter before fading away, and into sweet silence we seep.
In my village, the rebel warriors killed my father for having allowed the birth of a cursed child into his home. As for my mother, for having brought a curse upon the village. They were beheaded and their bodies were burnt. My last look as I scuttled off behind uncle was the fire and smoke of our home. Uncle took me to Our Lady of Mercy Orphanage where he left me at the door step. I suppose he tried his best to give me a smile before he knocked on the door and disappeared into the trees.
I was orphan number 27 at the orphanage, four years old and starved to near death. When the first nun came, she took a step back with eyes so wide I widened mine. And then another sister came and another, gasping and perplexed to a halt. They murmured to each other, some saying they have 'never seen one before'. Eventually, they took me in. That day in the mirror, I looked at my skin; my melanin with white spots all over it from my face to feet. I clawed at my head with my fingers but I couldn't shed my skin like a snake, like to explain all this has been a magic trick, just a bad bad dream and something that can e explained to make sense. I slept with scratches on my face and since I arrived after dinner had already been served, I slept hungry, anxiously waiting for breakfast, not knowing hunger would be my punishment for being the least liked orphan by the sisters. Most days I cried and felt unworthy of life, that I should leave this earth because I have been marked for life. Number 27 got the smallest portion of food. Number 27 got the last choice of clothes. Number 27 got blame for broken items in the house, sudden fires and accidents. Number 27 was tired, tired, tired.
As it goes, one light is powered on, directed at the center of the stage. From behind the curtains, I take in a deep breath and place my hand on the nude inset attached to my blue bodice. 'I am worthy' I say and repeat. Another light is powered on and a small choir of murmurs alight from some throats, and one 'woo-hoo!'
I am worthy.
Sister Beatrice dressed me up in my pink sundress, the one she'd specifically bought for me because she knew The Meyers from England wanted an African girly girl, but mostly because she believed seven is an angel number. Surely the seventh couple to come adopt from our village would want me, right? Surely the eighth! She never spent another cent on me after the eighth. She said she left it to God.
I never made a friend at the orphanage. People came and left, and those who stayed the longest knew it best to avoid any side effects of my curse by avoiding its owner. I had my own separate toys and plate. My cup and cutlery were kept in a different drawer, God forbid they catch my disease. Only later, in my early teens, did I come to find out that vitiligo is not a communicable disease because all the while, people had been acting like it was, is. They could have loved me, but not at the expense of their peace or name. Not the children nor the adults. Not the mothers or sisters let alone boys. We went for a walk with Sister Beatrice one day, and, for her betrayal to the community, her belly was split open in front of my eyes by rebels of the civil war. Little did she know that she had been with child. A small boy with a knife was standing among the men in machetes. I thought he'd be pushed forward with his the weapon in his hand and given one command, "Kill her." The boy volunteered, pushing the steel through my flesh. While the sand soaked in my blood, I had one thought alone; everyone I love dies. In the climax of commotion as wailing women flooded the streets in numbers, I escaped back to the orphanage, with the intention of never setting foot outside again. My fear that I will never have anything good in my life was solidified.
With my eyelids shut, I hear the heavy curtains zip open as my heart swells. I smile, and blind, I dance.
When family number twelve came around and left as they came, I stepped outside and run through the trees, looking for the rebels who hated me so much, looking for their stares, spears and spit. I run into a tree branch which jabbed my eyes right out. Lying on the fallen leaves with blood running down the sides of my face, I thought I was going to slip away into a permanent sleep because my head was pretty badly hit. The irony of God not taking me away baffled me when I woke up in a hospital bed, cursed and blind for the rest of my days. I was thirteen.
Three weeks after my accident, a white woman from America said she'd love to have me join her family. I heard her converse with the other nuns. She was warned of my conditions but said, "Everyone needs a family. We will love her as she is." It felt strange to hear her say that and I didn't believe her. The nuns left the part about sister Beatrice out because later in my twenties, when I told her the story, she was stunned.
Father, know that I have made something of myself. Mother, they say I dance like the wind with technical prowess and a tenacious spirit. I wish you had been friends with my adoptive mother, you would have mistaken her for your sister. Sister Beatrice, I don't relax my hair. You taught me that is not the way of our natural mother. As a daughter of the soil, I let my woolen hair grow up towards the sun like the flowers and plants. When I dance, I am in this 'up'. I'm dusted up from the shame of how I am, and I have found love in myself through dance. Dear self, take a bow. Look at how they stand and clap. Look at how they nod and ask for your autograph. You are a warrior with a battered heart, and on your tip-toes, the world screams, "Put on your shoes and dance."