The little girl watched the photographer set up the camera, the stark white screen. It was all strange and mysterious to her.
The photographer smiled a wide, easy smile. “Do you want your picture taken?”
She ducked her head and ran off.
She hid in the safe serenity of her tent. Her fingers touched the lines on her face. Lines that dug deep through skin layers.
She heard the voices of the other villagers inside those lines. “Ugly. Scarred. Ruined beauty. Ugly. Ugly .Ugly.”
Strange how a word, a simple word, four letters long and short, could feel worse than the knife that had created the physical wounds.
It hurt so much more than the word scarred. She understood why. Scarred indicated something old, something healed, something without power.
Ugly was something always new.
Ugly was a face slap.
Ugly was a rejection.
Ugly was worthlessness in four letters.
She curled up under her blankets.
But she could not sleep.
She kept thinking about that woman with the large camera and the stark white screen. Unblemished white screen. Un-ugly white screen.
It too held power over her.
The power of wonder.
The power of curiosity.
The power of insomnia until she knew more.
She crawled out of her tent and glanced around. No one was about.
She walked carefully as a cat.
She walked faster as curiosity called her onward and pulled her and chased her.
She stopped at the edge of the clearing.
The other villagers were there getting their pictures taken.
The little girl slunk into the shadows and sat still, watching.
The white flash startled her at first, but no one seemed to be harmed by it.
A couple of the babies cried. The mothers smiled. The fathers looked stern and unapproachable. The teenaged girls giggled and laughed. The teenaged boys acted silly and preened and smacked each other with branches.
The photographer flashed the light on all of their antics.
The little girl’s curiosity grew stronger. She crept out of the shadows.
The light flashed again and again.
She hesitated. Her fingers trailed the lines on her skin. Would the photographer call her ugly? And scarred? And unlovable?
She remembered the woman’s easy, unafraid smile. “Do you want your picture taken?”
The word ‘ugly’ was not in her words. Nor had it been in her eyes. Nor in her smile.
Yet, the little girl waited until all of the other villagers had their moment in the light’s flash.
She approached the photographer.
As careful as a cat.
As timid as a child.
She tugged on the woman’s tan skirt.
Again, that easy smile. “Do you want your picture taken too?”
The little girl covered her large scar with her small hand.
The woman’s hand touched the child’s hand. “Don’t hide it. It is a part of you. Your past. Your memories. It is something you have survived. Be proud of it. Own it.”
But the word ugly was not hidden in them. A strange powerful magic lived in each letter, in each breath, in each punctuation mark.
The little girl lowered her hand and held her head with pride.
“Do you want your picture taken?”
The little girl nodded.
She sat with her hands in her lap and looked straight ahead at the photographer.
The light flashed.