Wearing Faces

by Emmerita Amado

 

   YOU CAN NEVER TRULY KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT SOMEONE. Maybe you think you do
because you share an extensive, memory-filled history highlighting their pet peeves, dreams, successes,
failures, first loves and their relationship with their parents and siblings. You’ve come to the point of
knowing the first thing they do in the morning or the meal they’d have on their death bed. You fool
yourself into believing that everything they say is a reflection of their true self, them allowing you to read
them like an open book.
   You can never truly know everything about someone, much like I never truly knew you.
   Now, fair warning, this is going to sound insane. At some point, you’ll think ‘Beth should really
abstain from drugs’ even though you know deep down that’s not the reason it happened. I don’t have an
issue with the crutches that have an ability to catapult us out of our worlds and right into space amongst
the satellites, moons, planets and stars. You like to believe that because seeing someone’s flaws is a surefire
way of ignoring your own.
   And that is true, isn’t it? You have flaws that run marrow-deep but no one sees them – correction: you
don’t allow anyone to see them because at some point in your life you got it in your mind that a child of
the man that lives above the clouds can’t possibly have flaws.
   Well, it’s no better time than the present to tell you that I know who you truly are Mary.
   Let’s start at the very beginning, right around the time my life was literally falling apart and you saw
it fit to insert yourself in the matter with your holier-than-thou principles.
   I’d zombie walked out of my bedroom, pyjamas hanging from my limbs like they wore me instead of
me them. With bloodshot eyes, heavy eyelids making it impossible to keep them open, I dragged myself
into the kitchen finding you, Devan, Irya, Xana and Peter scattered around. I paused in the doorway,
acutely aware of my tornado-swept appearance as the guys stared me up and down.
   “Be advised children, this is a living, breathing representation of the aftermath of midterms.” Devan
broke the petrified silence, mimicking the voice of a zoo tour guide right when they introduce a boa
constrictor with enough flare in their tone to make you giddy with excitement – unless you’re like me and
end up cringing.
   “And no, college isn’t like one of those Zac Efron movies,” Peter added, bumping his fist against
Devan’s with an exploding effect before picking up his can of beer.
   Children.
   They tended to morph into one exasperating human when they were together but as separate entities,
they were likeable. Devan’s eyes, blues complimented by laugh lines, were a portal to his complicated
soul while Peter’s gentle browns had the ability to draw interest even though there was nothing exotic
about them.
   Flipping them off, not minding that the action would make your blood boil, I proceeded to the
refrigerator like I wore a ball gown and a face full of makeup.
   “The results are out hey. Have y’all checked them?” It’s like you know exactly why I’d gone mute that
morning. I pulled my head out of the fridge, meeting your gaze as you lifted a spoon full of oatmeal to
your mouth.
   Wheat blonde hair rested on your head like noodles, waves running from root to tip past your plump,
ever-rosy cheeks. You might as well have had a permanent halo floating above your head. That would
explain the glow and cheeriness you had day and night.
   Once everyone burst into boisterous conversation, ranting about difficult papers they thought they’d
fail, cryptically hinting at distinctions for certain courses, boasting about the next semester and the promise
it held, I hovered in the background trying to find a way to teleport out of the kitchen.
   Silence overcame the room like shade from a cloud covering the sun. Momentary but noticeable. Eyes
locked on me, trapping me on the spot.
   Exams took a toll on me, hence why I looked the way I did but receiving the results was worse. I didn’t
have any distinctions to brag about because I tittered on the line between pass and fail. For one course,
one I had so much confidence in, I tripped over Red-bull-hangover hurdles and fell into the red zone.
   The second I read the words Fail. Supplementary exam available, a wave of heat coursed through my
body, halting my breath and exploding in my mind. My head throbbed with an onslaught of tears building
up and I couldn’t stop myself from sobbing in my cupped hands.
It only hit me so hard because I put so much time and energy into that paper, and though I did have a
minor panic when I leafed through it at the start of the exam, I gained my confidence back by the end.
   “And you, Beth?” Irya squinted at me, lips squeezed together revealing the faint dimple in her cheek.
   I raised my shoulders and let them drop casually like my heart wasn’t thumping to a rhythm that
flooded my system with alarm. “Uh . . . I . . . checked them already. It went well except I have one sup
after the holidays.”
   As university students, we shared lows and highs. Be it from failed tests to epic parties (this isn’t
applicable to you because you wouldn’t be caught dead at a party) so when I announced my failure in not
so many words, I didn’t receive looks of pity but encouraging smiles instead. We were in the same boat
after all, in our second year at Whitepeaks University. Except, you rowed on the glimmering river in a life
raft watching us all from a distance with judgemental eyes.
   That’s the look I received from you, eyes a beautiful auburn squinted in the most unflattering way and
wine-red lips turned up at the corner in a snide smirk.
   “Aw. That’s a shame.” You regarded me with a humoured tone as if what I’d said qualified as ‘whitegirl
problems’. “Maybe if you spent less time learning what mixers work well with tequila, you’d have
enough time to focus on actually obtaining your degree.”
   My hands turtled into fists and I bit down on my teeth so hard, I felt the pain throbbing at my temples.
   Mouths hung open and eyes remained wide as everyone awaited my response to what you must have
thought was a playful jibe – the kind girlfriends throw at each other because they have decades of history.
   We didn’t have decades of anything hence why my sensor failed to stop the surge of cuss words that
tumbled out of my mouth and left you whiplashed.
   Xana checked up on me an hour later, apologizing on your behalf but I didn’t want to hear it. I needed
a strong drink to forget the day and prepare myself for a study session I dreaded more than venturing
outside our apartment in winter.
   The second I stepped onto the sidewalk outside the apartment we shared, I exhaled a deep breath.
   Almost colliding with a tall, helmet-haired guy speeding past me, I stepped to the side to avoid any more
accidents. I made my way to a bar a few blocks away, alone even though I practically begged Irya and
Xana to join me. You hadn’t wormed your way into their minds thankfully but they did have other plans
that night. Meanwhile, you had church choir practice. You invited us like you were only being polite and
not like you wanted us to actually say yes. I found that as suspicious as you coming back to the apartment
in the late hours of the night looking hung-over.
   But hey, Mary won’t touch booze with a ten-foot pole.
   An Irish pub we tended to overlook because it didn’t draw our kind of crowd stood at the corner of
Calvyn and Jasper Street. I pulled the heavy wood and iron door open stepping into a whole new world,
the air of which was laced with wood polish and spilt beer. A long, shiny bar occupied one side of the
space, the barstools crowded with a few customers. Hardwoods floors blended with the wood panelling
on surrounding walls and the wooden tiles arranged on the ceiling in a geometric pattern. The pub
appeared to have taken a quarter of a forest to build since almost everything was made of wood.
   I found a spot by the bar, bubbles springing in my belly from the guilt of doing exactly what you
shunned me for. Ignoring the thoughts strong-arming their way to the forefront of my mind, I ordered an
Irish coffee to start as per the recommendation of the fresh-faced bartender. With a shot of energy from
the espresso and a boost of optimism from the whiskey, I chatted his ear off while he tended to the few
customers trickling in after a long day at work.
   I didn’t mope for those few hours nor did I think about the burdens of school and making a handful of
people proud. As the first member of my family to attend university, I had an enormous weight on my
shoulders and you knew that. Yet, you chose to ignore it and see my need to wind down as an escape from
reality.
   I finished off my drink, pulled a bill from my purse and placed it on the counter. As I slid off the
barstool, a pinkish-purple silk material caught my eyes and I hollered at an older lady carrying a box away
from the bar, the words lost and found scribbled in capitalized letters on the side.
   “We found it here a few nights ago. The young, blonde owner hasn’t sought it out yet. You’d think
she’d notice something this expensive-looking missing immediately.” The lady said.
   A light bulb went off in my head. I knew that scarf like I knew my palm lines. It was the only thing I
treasured more than my phone. I didn’t know it was missing before seeing it wrapped around a Velcro
wallet and a plastic crown like it was meaningless enough to live in that box. What was more surprising
was the description of the person that had that scarf on the night it got lost; a tall, blonde, easy smiling,
whiskey eyed, twenty-something girl.
   Sound familiar?
   “That’s my scarf,” I stated, eyes wide as my fingers roamed over the butter-smooth material.
   The lady raised a thick, scruffy brow, eyes roaming over my dark head of hair. “I’ve never seen you
here before.”
   “I don’t usually come in here but this is without a doubt my scarf.” I had to show her several pictures
where I wore the scarf for her to finally let me take it home. Once she walked away with the other
abandoned items, I texted Irya and Xana that I found the scarf they’d also noticed went missing.
   I fiddled with the scarf for a moment longer before wrapping it around my neck, admiring the vibrant
colours against my peach skin in the mirror on the wall behind the bar. On my twenty-first birthday, my
nana gifted it to me saying, “For when you want to be someone different for the day.”
   It sure did have a way of transforming me; putting some rigidity in my spine and elegance in my
movements. I didn’t feel like Bethany Hollow failing humanities student but rather Bethany Hollow, first
of her name, vanquisher of exam-induced anxiety. A bit of a stretch but that was the way I interpreted my
emaciated grandmother’s words.
   Back on the sidewalk, my head was filled with stone. The sun retreated to bed and out came the night
owls, cooing in gaggles with heavy coats to fight the chilly breeze and a sense of determination to dull the
day’s negative emotions with a generous serving of booze.
   I counted streetlights on my way home, ducking people like river water flowing past stones in its path.
Too focused on the task, I collided with a barrel-chested guy, almost falling on my behind. He gripped
my arms with such a strong force, I couldn’t wriggle out of his grasp. I scanned his face, heart pounding
in my ears. I’d seen him before. On my way to the bar, we’d almost collided but now he looked at me as
if we shared a bed.
   A smile was born on his face and he wrapped his arms around my frame in a gentle embrace. Then
he pulled back and kissed me right on the mouth, tongue prying its way between my lips.
   I gasped, jumping back and dragging the back of my hand across my mouth. “What the hell?!”
   His brows popped into his hairline and he held his hands up in surrender. “Babe, I know you put me
on a bit of a time out but I miss you.” He dared to take another step toward me and I took a bigger one
backward, slamming into a lamppost.
   “Babe?” I muttered, face twisted in confusion.
   Can someone get this strange man away from me? I wanted to yell but the words caught in my throat.
   “Mary, come on, you can’t still be mad at me.” He stared me down, puppy-dog eyes and skater-boy
hair hinting at his youth.
   Mary?
I turned his words over and over in my mind until I felt lightheaded. I reached for my phone,
toggled the camera and gave myself a once over. The face staring back at me wasn’t mine. My heart
constricted like a suction cup attaching to a wall, weakening my hold on my phone. I watched it slip out
of my hand and tumble into the bandit kisser’s hands.
   “Hey,” his eyes widened with concern as he crowded my space again, cupping my cheek with his
massive, calloused hand. “I’m sorry okay. You know I love you.”
   My lips remained sealed despite his proclamation. Was I supposed to tell him I wasn’t you? That
somehow I wore your face and he was completely mistaken?
   The thought alone was ridiculous and would render me insane if spoken out loud. So instead of saying
anything, I played along seeing this delusion as an opportunity.
   You never mentioned you were dating anyone. As I recall, you testified more than once that you were
‘saving yourself for marriage’.
   I swallowed, bobbed my head and took on your persona – or what I thought was your persona. I wasn’t
convincing enough apparently because he took a step back, burying his hand in his hair.
   “Is this about Robin again? Did the two of you get back together? Is that what this is?” Bandit-kisser’s
face scrunched up like every second of silence from my end drove a knife deeper into his sternum.
   Now there were two guys in play, I was beyond shocked, drifting to giddy and excited. Regaining my
posture, I stepped toward him, placing my hand on his arm. “Robin is still in the picture but that has
nothing to do with us.”
   My words were a magic spell that drained all the tension out of his body and he visibly relaxed, sighing
in relief. He cupped my face with his hands, peering deep into my eyes like he could see all the way to
my soul – your soul. “You’re not messing with me right?”
   I shook my head, playing a mantra in my mind. What would Mary do? What would Mary do? The
problem was I didn’t know what you’d do. This was news to me, like a breaking news segment that
interrupted regularly scheduled viewing, you couldn’t not watch it as much as you hated the interruption
because it was vital. Like this moment was vital to the image of yourself I had in my mind.
   I sensed him gearing up to kiss me again before he proceeded with the action so I said, “Can we walk
for a minute?”
   “Only if I can come over later tonight.” He still held my face between his hands, warmth radiating
from his palms to my cheeks.
   My eyebrows arched in surprise. Well, well. Settling my reaction to a coy smile, I shook my head
lightly. “You know I can’t bring you over.”
   My heart pounded as I held onto a slither of hope that you’d say that. It was clear he’d asked before
and there could only be one response if you managed to keep him hidden all this time.
   He sighed again – I could tell he was a man that wasn’t shy of showing his emotions – and dropped his
hands from my face. He intertwined our fingers, bringing my hand to his mouth for a gentle peck. Leaning
close to my ear, he whispered a bunch of words that made me blush. I had to coach my eyes to blink once
we started walking towards the apartment and I erased the dirty words from my mind.
   For all the times you shamed me for not cherishing my body, you were harbouring this secret,
deflecting your sins on everyone else. I could have burst out laughing but instead, I walked next to this
man whose name I still didn’t know like it was the most normal thing in the world.
   Maybe this was what my grandma meant when she gave me the scarf. She did have a peculiar
obsession with magic and folklore after all. Still, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the situation.
   Back home, I found you and the rest of the gang in the living room. Scarfless, I relayed the banditkissers
message to you, not caring that there was an audience.
   Fighting fire with fire is dangerous but what’s worse is the faces we chose to wear for others.