My palms were hot and sweaty, heart beating fast and hard in my chest, face burning, sick to my stomach, regretting every word I’d written. How could I have misunderstood. It was nothing like any of the lines that Mr Erasmus was reading. The other poems were fun, and feisty. Nazeem, the laserbeam, Alice who lived in a palace, Frank who went to the bank. I hoped somehow the page with my poem would get stuck to the back of someone else’s and be missed. As he finished reading each poem he placed it face down on the table. It seemed like an eternity, anticipating with dread that each poem he was about to read might be mine, and the embarrassment of it. I almost thought that my wish had come true. Then as he looked at the last paper in his hand, he paused a minute. Looked up and took two breaths. In words I should remember vividly, he proclaimed that he’d saved this one for last because this was the work of a future poet. That it was beautiful and filled with emotion and artistry and imagination. And then he read it. It was my poem about Spring. I knew he was sincere. I knew and I nearly cried because I also knew he was wrong. I felt small enough to walk under the door. I was nothing wonderful. How could it be?
written for the Weekly Writing Challenge: The Golden Years
Being a child in South Africa, at the time when I was, was a very strange time to be a child. At that time, somehow, I don’t know where I got the idea from, but I did not think I was pretty. I must have got it from the wider South African perception of beauty. My hair was not quite kroes, not quite straight. I had brown eyes, not blue, green or hazel. And of course there was also the color of my skin. For some reason, I thought I was also fat. Which I wasn’t. All these things were also affected by the fact that the cousins I was closest to were tiny, and had smooth, long shiny Indian hair. Whenever we would have a beauty pagent amongst ourselves, it was always one of them winning. Once I asked my mother why she had to marry a man with kroes hair. I swore one day I would get married to a Chinese man so that my children could be pretty.
In South Africa at the time, inside brown circles, beauty was at a high level if the hair was straight, skin light, eyes hazel, blue or green. If you looked more Malay, more Indian, more white. Truly, at the top of the beauty ladder was anything white. At least in my mind that was it. That thought must have come from somewhere. People were big on admiring other people with these politically beautiful characteristics. I did not get admired much. My sister did because she had dimples. I will always remember being offered a compliment on being ‘pragtig‘ after the person realized they were complimenting my pretty sister and that they thought I would feel bad. Looking back even now, I’m sure that’s the way it was. I’m sure.
Today I look around me and see people who look like me walking around looking and feeling beautiful. No special dainty, or other facial features, hair half kroes, half straight, brown eyes, not surfboard flat abs or other picture perfect bodies. People born at least a decade later. And yes, I too think they are beautiful. Because yes, they are, and also because confidence is beauty.
After three decades, this warped perception is somehow living inside me still. Its hard to change something that has become so deeply part of one’s psyche. In the future I suppose everybody will have to come to terms with losing their physical beauty as age slowly erodes it. I look forward to that time when beauty is irrelevant.