By S. Shah
12 April, 2014
It was with great difficulty that Sheena mustered the courage to look closely at herself in the bathroom mirror. When was the last time she had done that, she wondered? She had no idea—it must have so very long ago—maybe when she was four or five, just before her traumas began.
For as long as Sheena could remember, she could never dare to bring herself to look deeply into a mirror. She was too frightened to confront what she might discover. She had even learnt to brush her hair without having to see herself. When she felt that she just had to check if her hair was in place or her sari was properly tucked in (which was something she did not allow herself very often), she would stand a long distance away from the mirror, hurriedly glance at herself, and tear her eyes away before she could see very much beyond the bare outlines of herself. She just did not want to see more of herself than what she thought was strictly necessary.
She was utterly worthless—that is what everyone told her, and that is what she herself had come to believe. And just as everyone else seemed to, she had no interest in herself at all. She wasn’t worth even looking at in the mirror, she thought. Her parents never had anything good to say to her. For them, child-rearing was all about scolding, beating, ordering, nagging, condemning, discouraging, pestering, nit-picking, controlling, mocking, threatening, and abusing. That was how they had been brought up by their parents, and despite having personally experienced the trauma of parental brutality, emotional deprivation and neglect, they did not think they should treat their children any differently. Shunned and bullied by her classmates and mocked at by her siblings, Sheena came to hate herself as much as everyone else did.
At the age of 10, when she learnt that it was possible for people to end their lives, Sheena had developed suicidal desires, which remained with her thereafter. Even though her parents knew about this, they did nothing at all to reach out to her. She was convinced that they would be happier if she were dead. She had tried killing herself on two occasions, and often she would stand on the edge of the parapet of the terrace of the building where she lived, hoping that some miraculous power would push her down and put an end to her life because she could not muster the courage to kill herself. Over the years, her hatred for herself—and for everyone around her—only grew worse till she became a cynical, friendless recluse. The only reason why she continued to live was that she was simply too scared to take her own life.
Sheena had never cared to examine her features before. And why would she have? Wasn’t she worthless, as they all insisted, and as she had herself had come to believe? But as she peered further into her reflection in the mirror, a shiver of pleasure ran through her body. She carefully examined her tired eyes. For the first time, it struck her how beautiful they actually were. She had known they were brown, but what shade she had never thought it important to notice. They were a soft, dusty hue, she now noted, pleasantly surprised at the discovery. And her eyelids—they were shaped like almonds, she thought. A hint of a smile quivered on her pursed lips.
Sheena’s eyes hesitatingly scanned her face. She wasn’t sure of what she would find. But the more intently she looked at herself—at her broad forehead, her slender nose, her lips, her gently-rounded chin—the less she could recognize herself in the description that her parents, siblings and school-mates, and she herself, had formed about her. Even the pale purple blotch on her right cheek, the acne scars and the worry-lines under her eyes—the butt of jokes and scorn for as long as she could recall—seemed to possess a certain elegance of their own. Yes, two of her front teeth were badly stained—they could do with a bit of polish—but they definitely weren’t monster’s fangs!
Altogether, Sheena decided as she gazed at her face, she was pretty and kind-looking. She was definitely not what they all said—and what she had for thirty long years believed—she was.
Sheena bent closer, till her lips reached their reflection in the mirror. Tears streamed down her face as she clutched onto the mirror’s wooden frame. Then, suddenly, and without knowing what she was doing, she began passionately kissing the reflection of her lips in the mirror, rubbing her tongue against the mirror’s cold, smooth surface. It was as if an enormous dam, built over many years of regimented denial, had suddenly exploded, releasing a volcano of emotion that she never knew she possessed or was capable of. Sheena hadn’t ever been kissed by anyone before—not even by her parents—but so what? She could kiss herself, she discovered—and how beautiful, how absolutely liberating, that was!
Just then, Sheena heard a voice call out to her, bold and firm, but, at the same time, gentle and loving:
‘I love YOU, Sheena! YOU are truly, truly wonderful!’
At first, Sheena could hardly believe her ears. No one had ever said anything like that to her before. Was she hallucinating? Was she losing her mind, going mad, imagining voices? Had she finally succumbed to lunacy and become a ‘hopeless psycho-case’, as her father insisted she one day would?
Far from dying out, the lines repeated themselves over and over again, getting louder each time they were enunciated, till Sheena finally discovered that it was she herself who was uttering them.
‘You are NOT the silly, useless girl that your parents say you are,’ Sheena heard herself telling herself. ‘You are NOT the ugly, scar-faced friendless monster that some girls at school say you are. You are NOT the rude, arrogant, irritable spinster that you overheard your neighbour once refer to you as. You are NOT the miserable failure that your brother thinks you are just because you don’t earn even a tenth of what he does. You definitely are NOT the miserable burden that your father—who says no man will ever want to marry you—thinks you are. No, Sheena, you are NOT any of all this!’
‘If I’m not this, then, tell me, who am I?’ Sheena cried out, demanding an answer.
‘YOU, Sheena, are a child of God, God’s little, precious angel,’ Sheena heard her answering herself. ‘God loves you Sheena. He truly does my little one. If He didn’t, why would He decide to live in your heart?’
Sheena’s hand travelled to her heart, and as she gently pressed it, she gazed deeply into her beautiful, tear-filled eyes. Words gushed out from the unknown depths of her heart, and she softly sang to herself:
O my loving Lord!
Who lives deep inside my little heart,
I have You with me,
And I need nothing, nothing more!
With You in my little heart,
How can I hate myself?
How can I not care for myself?
Loving me is loving You, my Lord!
With You living in my heart, I can’t help loving me!
On and on Sheena sang, a smile born of pain and ecstasy lighting up her tear-stained face. How she wished she would never have to stop! Then, when the words finally faded away, she stretched out her arms in front of the mirror and held herself in a tight embrace. Her hands then gently slid all over her body, like a mother hungering to discover every part of her new-born child. How truly wonderful it felt!
And then, with an energy that she had never before experienced, Sheena snapped open the bathroom door and confidently strode out.