As he stood in front of the nine-by-twelve-inch mirror, his decapitated gaze began a procession. Groping through the knots of flesh, he meticulously listed down what he stumbled upon: eyes, eyelids, and eyebrows... okay, a nose with its two nostrils, another orifice that came with a pair of lips, enough hair to cover his skull, and a full set of teeth... yes. This seemed to check all the parts of a human head. Yet, somehow, in the accumulation of those landmarks, he noticed it amounted to nothing you would distinguish as a face.
This was not to say he was ugly. To impose him with that label would be committing a lie. Although, to call him handsome won't let you arrive at some justifying truth either. It was that his face tells nothing—neither a lie nor truth. It remains outside a distinctive conviction of a definite look. He had nothing to be condemned nor adorned for. No one will be willing to jump off the bridge of his nose or to risk drowning in the pools of his pupils. How he wished to have a pimple, or some asymmetry, or a birthmark, to be tried and judged upon by the societal court. Instead, all he had was a collection of peripheral features, steadily failing in becoming someone's memory.
This took place everyday. The mornings for him carved a hollowed space, which he filled with this performance. With our dorm as the stage, he probes his reflection, then incessantly waits. There, his irises tighten into anticipation: will it finally emerge from the abyss where his face should have been? He looked at the mirror as I imagined how Sisyphus would with his boulder while he urged on with yet another absurd attempt.
There are moments, however rare they may be, in the midst of intensely wringing out the mirror when a vague figure slowly starts to manifest. Perhaps the intensity he brought himself to caused him to hallucinate; then again, maybe he really did see something emerge. But something—a colony of dust in a corner swiveling, an early bird outside whistling, or a delayed train screeching—would arrest his attention and everything recedes and escapes from his mind. He returns to the bottom of the hill.
* * *
It must have been deep into the night when I found him at the nape of a pond. How the forest quickly becomes a labyrinth when the sun goes away still boggles my mind. Nevertheless, I sat on the thick overgrowth and paused to watch as he tried to catch a glimpse of himself on the pond.
The skin of it laid still; yet beneath its wet epidermis, in the guts of his hazy reflection, seemed to be a creature being ravaged by the water. He stood up to examine it closer, past the stillness and into the depth. For a moment, he couldn't make out what the blurry creature was, but then, rapidly, he plunged the whole of his arm and a quarter of his head, attempting to reach it.
As his vision met the water and the figure gradually came into view, a harrowing familiarity assailed his eyes—it was him. He burst with an explosive effort to pull himself to the surface. And then, while the whole scene unfolded in front of me, I felt a sudden surge of memory: I've watched him make this mistake before. The physics are different in this pond. Here, Isaac Newton was just a forgotten heretic and megalomaniac with a disproved theory. And as he kept pulling, it drowned him more, pushing him further into the depths, down the belly of the ravaging, until there was only stillness again.
After a brief pause of death, some ivory petal flowers with a sun for a heart started blooming invasively to the surface, devouring the pond, then its nape, and finally, me.
Just then, the morning slithered in through the slit of the lone window, and he was there, in our dorm, at the tail end of his ritual. A sense of relief washed over me—he was still alive. I watched him with careful breathing, as though one stray exhale might render the event sacrilegious.
I wanted to say something, but before I could find my voice, he was already out the door, and so too was the memory of him.
That was the last morning I saw him.
I woke up the next day with all his belongings gone. Strangely enough, the mirror—an item I assumed would be the first one he would take—still hung on the wall. I played with the possibility that maybe he was there inside the reflection of the mirror, trapped in that plane dimension. I was afraid of what I might see. Finally, I peeked into it: half-expecting.
There was no one.
Even with him gone, he continued to drown in my dream each night, and each morning I wondered where he was. I've started to have this trembling feeling that he made his way into my dream, somewhere deep in the pond, forever drowning. This theory would soon be gunned down by reality.
It took only the amalgamation of certain elements to bring us back together: a pedestrian lane, a 2004 model Isuzu 12-Wheeler truck, and a crooked traffic enforcer exploiting the traffic light situated in a blind spot. All of this provided the perfect material for a casket. It seemed as though the urban planner had prophesied his death and declared it so.
He had lost his face before he even had it. I looked at what remained of him as the casket opened, staring at the bulk of unbecoming, over the arid pathways of unborn tears, and I wished he would have died differently, In a way that took more fidelity to my dreams. I just figured that would've given some sort of knot to all this, a sliver of justification, and literary shape—he could've been a metaphor or a myth. But this city we proudly claimed as one of our creations, grants us no pond to drown in, nor myths to bloom afterwards. All that it offers us are roads and traffic lights, telling us where to go and when to die.
I went on, rummaging in my head this crude fate of his. Perhaps in his death, he finally got what he longingly wished for—some distinction. Or perhaps he's still looking at himself in a mirror, endlessly wishing upon his reflection in echoing purgatory. Perhaps... that's all I'm left with, a collection of “perhaps.”
Come the next morning on the road where it happened, and they have already removed any trace of the mess. The city rushed with great effort to make it look as if no one had crudely died upon it, and I began to believe that maybe he was still alive, rising to start his day in front of the mirror. But just then the traffic lights turned red and he returned to being dead.
All the while the traffic flowed at its usual grueling pace down the river of proletariats. And from the shoulder of the road, they all seemed faceless.