Thursday, January 12, 2012

Short Story: The Most Beautiful Girl

Don’t stare.

The words echoed in Zia’s ears as she walked to her cabin.

She was in Camp Lilliput – a refuge for any kid, even if they were sixteen-year-old almost-adults like her who were worn out by regular classes, extra-curricular activities and coaching classes for entrance exams. She’d been registering her arrival when Lakshmi, the camp’s head counsellor, informed her about a new camper. “She’s in your cabin. Treat her like everyone else,” Lakshmi had said, “And don’t stare.”

Why would I stare? wondered Zia, walking up to Cabin Six, which was actually a pale blue tent with white cloud-like patterns. As her hand reached out to pull the flap, something struck her as extremely odd. Why weren’t there any sounds from within the cabin? I couldn’t possibly be the first one to arrive, I swear I saw Nimmi and Ann just a while ago…

A harsh, gravelly voice sliced through the silence. “Rafflesia.”

Okay, so maybe the kids were playing Twenty Questions – the best game to get to know their fellow campers. Somebody has probably asked the others’ favourite flower. But then where was all the noise, the incessant chattering and giggling? This was Camp Lilliput, where there was no word called silence in the campers’ vocabulary!

As soon as Zia pushed aside the flap, she was greeted with the sight of about ten girls seated on the carpet in a vague circle, their eyes resolutely fixed on the ground. Bewildered, Zia looked up at the speaker, only to be dumbstruck herself.

It was definitely the newcomer. A tiny thing, about twelve years of age, wearing a white, long-sleeved frock.

And she was hideous.

As soon the thought was framed, Zia frantically wracked her brain for a word that sounded less… mean, but she came up blank. Normally, she wouldn’t care about other people’s looks but there was no other way to describe the girl. She was hideous, with the appearance of an iron statue moulded by an inept sculptor. Her face was gruesome, her features terribly distorted. She had neither eyebrows nor eyelashes. Scars marred her face and were embossed on every inch of skin that was exposed. On her left hand, where there should have been fingers, there was a rounded stub.

It took a transfixed Zia several moments to gather her wits. When she finally found her voice, she asked curiously, “Why rafflesia? It’s ugly and it stinks, doesn’t it?”

The girl gave a start at Zia’s voice, having not noticed her. But then she regarded her questioner calmly. “So? Rose and jasmine maybe beautiful and fragrant, but are either of those the world’s largest flower?”

Zia could only gape at her.

***********************************

The girl intrigued Zia.

Zia knew that, if she was in the girl’s place, she would’ve crawled under her sheets and never show her face. She would’ve lived her life wallowing in bitterness and self-pity. She would have cursed the fates’ love of irony, had she been named Sundari – Malayalam for beautiful girl – and doomed to such an existence.

But Sundari.... she was so different. Her nonchalant attitude about her looks, or lack thereof, amazed Zia. The girl was a lively soul, a person full of laughter and joy and an enthusiasm so infectious that people soon warmed up to her. Zia herself was no exception. Over the course of two weeks, the two had forged a sisterly bond and they could be seen chatting beside the camp lake every afternoon.

“Don’t you wish the fire had never happened?”

Zia swore under her breath as soon as the words slipped out of her big mouth, but Sundari’s lips quirked up in a small smile.

“You’re probably feeling like slapping yourself,” she stated, slapping her heels against the cool water, “Don’t bother. And to answer your question, yes I do. I wish I’d grown up as a normal kid. I wish I’d been just another girl fretting over my eyeliner making me look like a raccoon. But the past is something I can’t change, so I just won’t bury my head like an ostrich and feel sorry for myself. There are people worse off than me, people who actually deserve my empathy.”

Somehow Zia doubted that, but she remained silent, keeping her eyes on the horizon. Blushing a fiery shade of orange, the sun stepped down from the sky-blue altar, flanked by cloud-bridesmaids clad in pink and gold. As the light threw the scars on the younger girl’s face into greater relief, Zia wished there was something she could do to help her. Indifferent though Sundari was towards her appearance, she couldn’t prevent the inevitable whispers and looks of repulsion. If only there was a magic wand and an incantation to transfigure her friend’s face! But alas, Zia lived not in the magical world of Harry Potter, but in the rational world of humans, where nobody could give a new face for a person.

Or could they?

On the eve of the last day of camp, Zia punched the numbers on the camp pay phone, trembling with excitement.

“Dad? I need you to do me a big favour…”

**********************************************

Amidst the reunion of campers and their parents, one stood apart.

Sundari’s parents listened, flabbergasted, as Zia and her parents offered what none had before – a new lease of life for their daughter. Tears in their eyes, they gratefully clasped the helping hand. “We need to tell her now,” Sundari’s mother said. Zia took that as her cue, ran off to her cabin and came back with her friend.

Sundari’s eyes widened like saucers as the whole story came pouring out. “Plastic surgery?” She repeated faintly, “Free of cost?”

Zia nodded, saying, “Of course! You can be a very beautiful girl. Nobody will tease you.”

Instead of the deliriously happy “yes” she was expecting, a firm “no” rang in Zia’s ears.

It took a few seconds for her to process the response. Even then, unsure that she’d heard right, Zia looked for confirmation on the faces of the four adults around her. All of them wore expressions of utmost shock on their faces. Especially her father, who had created new identities for accident victims and Aishwarya Rai-wannabes alike.

“W-What?” stuttered Zia, getting down on her knees so that her friend’s face came on the same level as hers.

“No. I’m not undergoing plastic surgery. I don’t want to be a beautiful girl. I just want to be me.”

And Zia couldn’t help but stare at the scarred girl in front of her – the most beautiful girl in the world.

3 comments:

  1. Shoulder to shoulder with Kochettan's version! :) gud one..

    ReplyDelete
  2. good one :) The last two lines are powerful.

    ReplyDelete