Is it just me or the question “who am I?” creates a havoc is everyone’s body? How am I supposed to answer a question when I am yet to discover several faces of myself? In fifth grade my brother accidentally broke my front teeth in our veranda. I knew my face was heroic when I pretended to play it off like a knee scratch. I knew I was considerate as I did not want my sibling’s tender soul to be filled with guilt. Soon it was to be filled with several burdens but at last not mine. Next day, my reflection was not at all different to me in the mirror, but it was enough for my classmates to laugh at. Naïve, I mistook the snicker as a symbol of loyalty. This one incident had discovered my three faces, my three hues. Even though I was always giddy around colors, I was never able to differentiate the hues of my faces. Oh! This feeling of uncertainty always reminded me of the steel sky before the storm.
The storm that could either distraught my existence or provide me a new beginning. I was small then to foresee any of this, so, whenever I was asked a question “who are you?”, I had to concentrate hard to give a correct answer while also deciding which question was I answering. And often I would pull my innocent face—I hope it was a cherry hue—to buy time as I would relive my boring school afternoons where we had to listen to monks preaching important life lessons. And later the very same evening, I would yet again be a child.
Four faces and I thought I had discovered more than half of myself.
In eight-grade, when my lungs gave out and at midnight when I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, I knew I had discovered another face. Of course, there was no time to look at my reflection in a mirror as I unconsciously jiggled between stretchers only to be blinded by the surgical light. Red, nude, and purple. I was certain I saw these colors when I was restrained on the hospital bed—I had a pale face then. Nude was my mortal skin before red was spilled all over it only to leave purple bruises everywhere. For the first time, I had lost track of my own storm, my own faces. Hallucinating baby hands sprouting from my chest, I would scream and wake an entire floor in the hospital. But it had become my home then. They all had seen me lost and naked, so I was not scared anymore. My mother believed God saved me- resurfaced my red face- and I let her be golden as I turned several shades of quartz between dusk and dawn. I was in denial to accept that I had discovered yet another face, defeat. With needles poking every corner of my body, I could not afford my soul to wear that face for it was so dark. I always believed that the sun dipped into the ocean to reunite with its lover but the longer I stayed paralyzed the more my vision changed. Now, the sun seemed defeated to me- dipping into the ocean to wash away human presence from its glory. That is when I envisioned the hue of defeat to be orange.
Many relatives asked, ‘was I okay?’ but the question resonated loud enough to leave scars – as if to taunt my soul. As if I was anything except a corpse.
Who was I? the elderly would open their mouth as if to chew rotten air and vomit words of ‘almost dead’ to others. I was so grateful that I could pull the blanket to my face whenever I wanted –without it being deemed as rude – to laugh in the shadows. Oh, I mocked humanity.
Months passed but I bloomed again. I did not even realize when puberty had hit me on the hospital bed, but it had long done its injustice on me. My bosom had enlarged which I thought was a blessing, but I failed to notice the stripes of stretch marks that ran all over my body. It was mid-ninth grade, when I had the courage to reunite with my friends. I knew I had become a little more sensitive than I ever was, so, I stood in front of my friends, smiling for validation as my fingers were crossed behind my back. Desperation- are you keeping a count anymore? Even my parents stood behind me, afraid, that I will not be recognized or loved. My back was a salmon pink consoling my parents while my front was green trying to concede my shiver. ‘Please take me back’, I wanted to shout to my friends. What puzzled me more was that they did. A fourteen-year-old who had not yet adjusted to her new body was recognized by her friends—my golden hue had never been this blinding. And yet I was fooled like I was in fifth grade.
But the snickers of my friends were replaced by the murmurs of strangers. You see, apart from all the boys, even I was unaware that having stretch marks on my legs was a crime. And a bigger crime was to wear shorts during every sports period. I remember how a junior had dragged her friends to stand behind me and point toward my legs, as if to show her a unique species she had discovered. Ha! I had laughed it off in front of the world while at the same time I had begged a friend to cover me from their eyes. Surrounded by the whole school as we waited for the guards to ring the bell for the sports period, there I stood with my shameful face-my olive hue. That very evening, I had sprinted with my ‘zebra stripped’ legs to liberate my hue under the shower. Soon the shame turned into hatred and my olive hue had forced me to scrub away my stretch marks until I bled. With the yellow lather and my blood, orange stared mockingly at me as my tears drowned in the drain. Till the time the whispers disappeared, and the universe was inviting me to inhale freely again, I was already broken. A lilac hope was all I had then which I carried inside a box for two years to love my nude self again.
If you had lost count I had discovered fifteen faces by the time I was fifteen and I had been successful in assigning all my faces a color, an unexpected color and yet I failed to answer my career counselor ‘who I was?’ after my boards. After receiving an expected response, my session ended with my life traced over an expensive paper that I crumbled moments later to balance my shaky classroom desk while the others calculated their future salaries.
Later that evening when I was supposed to read my biology textbook, I found myself trying to remember what had those monks said when we were younger? I wish I could remember the lesson where they had told us how to identify oneself. I knew we were composed of five elements – even though I believed biology much more than this fictitious logic – but in that moment I believed those monks more than my existence. And as I brainstormed to answer the dilemma of who was I, I started recounting my faces. Was I as shy as I was when I had first kissed a girl? Was I as hypocritical as I was when I ran away from the tattoo shop without a tattoo? Or was I as reckless as I was while eating mangoes in fifth grade?
It was impossible for a waterspout to be under the surface of the ocean, but apart from the snakes tattooed on my chest, there were swallows fluttering in my throat choking my voice to be heard. Who was I? Lost, I did not even realize that my first panic attack – the deepest purple hue –had slithered into my life. I did not understand that how there could be more than one color for my face. And even if it were, why had no one told me that I was could lick my blood off the very razor I used to carve words on my body? Or be pink, blue, purple and still belong to a category
That evening taught me that I was an essence in one perspective and dust in another. Whenever the orange hue resurfaced, I am reminded by my shadows how I would be brave for my lover whenever he would trace my stretch marks or would listen to my cries under the moonlight. I would be beautiful for my friends when I would wear my imperfections on my sleeve. I would be a stranger for some who would conclude my life based on incidents that they would want to remember, an empty vessel as they would call it. I would be overqualified and under qualified to be cherished by everyone around me. Two years and now as I ink my experiences on papers, the thought of being an empty vessel still scares me. I have heard strangers say I am beautiful when my imperfections are covered and ‘an ugly hag’ when they are not and in these moments my faces collide as I struggle to decide to be proud or hurt, to illuminate a peach hue or a maroon halo. Blending and discording, I learnt how I was expected to be accepted by the society. Just like how I was taught that the sea retrieved from the sand due to the currents but now, I think the ocean often retrieved because it liked to surf alone and at times be reminded of the reason of his solitary –almost as if to be reminded that it could switch between indigo at dusk and apricot at dawn. I still find myself staring at a wall and feel as though I am floating between parallels while I would seem depressed to a stranger, a conclusion of several incidents, a series of several emotions, a web of several faces, or my personal hues.
Who am I if not one color for one face?