There are eyes on your neck. You feel it. It comes from three pews behind you, and a couple of seats to your left.
You turn your head slightly. It is just enough to catch a glimpse of a balding man with drooping, sleepy eyes a row behind you, his head nodding to the sermon blanketing the church. Behind him, a mother and her dark red lips is crooning to a baby clinging to her shoulder, with her arm clad with gold bangles holding him in place. Finally, behind her, there is a familiar face belonging to a boy your age, in a dark blue polo, staring at you. You turn around and catch his eyes. He smiles, abashed, and looks away.
What does he see, anyway? A friend. A tan girl, with long hair, pretty eyes – you’ve heard him say that to a mutual friend once, after the sermon in the gardens by the ancient fountain. A silver bracelet on her wrist. A floral dress every Sunday. A shy girl with always a smile to spare, but rarely a story to tell. You’ve heard the teasing and the jokes and felt the staring and the attention. From him, there was always a hand offered and oftentimes, a compliment or two.
There is a sharp pinch to your thigh, and you jump. You belatedly realize you’ve been staring off to the side, head still turned in the same direction, eyes transfixed on the floor. You turn your face to the front, but not before catching a whiff of jasmine perfume and a view of cherry red lips turned down in a scowl on a woman’s face bearing likeness to yours.
What does she see?
A younger her, perhaps. That’s what everybody in the family says, even though she herself couldn’t see her face on her mother’s features, with all of her high cheekbones and arched brows. Her face was softer and rounder, but maybe that would be taken away by age.
Soft. Her mother could see her that way. A sensitive, dazed, impractical young girl, who stayed in the corner in any sort of gathering (instead of milling around and shaking everybody’s hands like her mother), and who liked to stay out on the balcony, the mosquitoes feasting on her legs, to stare out at a fogged-up view of the city.
“You better listen,” your mother mutters, her lips barely moving.
You try. You can’t. The priest seems to look at everyone in the pews, but you know it can’t be so. He sweeps his hands and gazes at the audience to his left, right and center.
If his eyes would rest upon you, what would he see? Nothing more than a teenage girl as part of the 11 AM session.
If the woman sitting beside you looked at you, what would she see? A fellow church-goer. Someone younger. Someone in a dress. Someone with a bracelet on her wrist instead of pearls in her ears. Take a look at the woman beside the young girl, and she would see a daughter.
Time passes. An hour later, and you and your mother follow the crowd out. You excuse yourself to the bathroom.
You follow the path, open the door and face the mirror.
What do you see?
A girl. Long hair to her waist. A floral dress. A silver bracelet on her wrist. A daughter.
A girl in the church bathroom. Long hair she’s been itching to cut for months, except it seems such a waste. A floral dress she spilled scalding coffee on in her bedroom a week before, with the silver bracelet hiding the tiniest portion of the mark of the burn. A daughter, an only child, in fact, but not a prized one.
A girl. A shrinking violet with big dreams. Someone who desires too many things. Someone kind – yes, you could see that.
“I see you,” you say to the mirror. “Can you see me?”
The girl in the mirror nods.
Photo credit: Collaboration of Kensuke Koike aka 小池健輔 (Japanese, b. 1980, Nagoya, Japan) & Thomas Sauvin aka Beijing Silvermine aka 北京银矿 (French, b. 1983, Paris, France, based Beijing, China) – No More No Less Photo Collages