We don’t have mirrors in the house. Mama said Satan lives in it. She said he’ll take us with him if we stared at it for too long and we’ll be stuck on the other side, unable to return home. She told me this every night before bedtime since I was four, as a reminder to her child so as to instill such a belief into my empty head; a feeble mind with no authority, rebellion, and rights to speak up for herself or have a clue of what was the norm and not.
Mama is right, Mama knows, listen to Mama – she’d end her speech saying this, not even leaving a goodnight kiss on my face.
And she got me.
I believed her for a long, long time.
Mama forbids such vanity and narcissism in her house. We were not allowed to compliment on our features, what we wore, and have any interests with anything relating to fashion. Naturally, I didn't find any self-contentment with my appearance, not even a little – close to none, rather. How could I when I have never look into a mirror? I was brought up that way, to believe that way, and not see beauty in other people faces – especially my own.
Mama instructed Papa to take down the mirrors in the house – all five of them; one in the living room, one in the kitchen bathroom, and the last three in the rooms upstairs. Papa negotiated with Mama to leave the mirror in the living. He needed it to look presentable before leaving the house and earn his cut to feed us and pay bills for water and electricity, without any money left for his own comfort.
But it was no a request. Mama doesn’t ask for permission. It was a command. Papa was gentle; he was not one to argue with Mama. He liked quietness, peace, and reading the morning papers with no interruption. He despised noise – noises from Mama. Papa bought Mama flowers once when he earned extra coins on his busiest week. Mama scolded him and hits him with the flowers on his face, unappreciative. Papa’s right cheek would be stained with droplets of fresh waters from the imposing petals and his nostrils inhaled the pungent scent of lavender and osmanthus.
That was Mama’s way of returning his affection. He never bought her flowers again. He would give me three of the extra coins in secret and kept one for himself.
Mr Morris, the neighbour, beats Taylor when he’s drunk. He turned into an alcoholic after his wife’s affair and he kicked her out of the house when Taylor was nine. Taylor begged her to take him with her but she refused. It was the one condition she must oblige from her new fling. I brought him half of my dinner whenever I could. He only eats one meal per day.
Mama said, “Stay far from the boy. His Papa no good, violent man; beats children.” I tell Mama I see Taylor outside, away from his Papa and their house. Taylor is twelve, the same age as me – Mama knows. And I assume she would understand. My heart ached for Taylor, but Mama didn't know how I feel. Nor did she tried. I want to be by Taylor’s side. He’s my friend. She despised even the tiniest intention of disobeying her words. She dragged me downstairs and locked me in the basement without any dinner. Not even a drop of water. My delicate body and parched throat crave for rice and beans and some peach juice as I crouched on the cold floor, listening to the white rats squeaking and water pipes leaking – drip drop drip – underneath the hollow ground.
Taylor’s waiting. He will have no dinner either. Mama sticks to her word. And she had eyes on Papa so he couldn’t go and do otherwise behind her back. Papa barely touched his plate. He couldn’t swallow knowing I was punished. A corner of the basement is obliterated with cobwebs and it smells. The basement housed a worn-out mattress, a tiny light bulb hanging from the ceiling, a couple of wooden desks stacked over each other, and over a dozen white boxes filled with old thick rusty books and ragged clothes. No windows. Mama also said windows are a mirror’s shadow. I took a marker and traced an outline of an oval onto the wall and my imaginary portrait within. To my dismay, I found myself liking it, the notion of looking directly at myself, my “reflection”, in person.
What if it was a real mirror? I realised Mama was right because it took away a piece of me that night.
She lets me out for breakfast and assumed I learnt my lesson. But it was the first time I developed hostility towards Mama when I had always been neutral. It frightened me as to what else she will do if she saw what I drew but the fear was incomparable to Satan’s temptation. Thorns grew in my eyes. He had marked me. And I wanted a mirror.
I disregarded Mama’s words and continued seeing Taylor. I used two coins and bought him a palm-sized chocolate chip cookie to compensate for last night. We ran to an abandoned field far away from our houses to play. Mama wouldn’t find us here. She has no knowledge of this place. We laid down on the withered grass under the shade of the only Oak tree by the river. I revealed the cookie and handed it to Taylor. He gasped and sat right back up at the sight of it. He unwrapped the transparent plastic wrapper and took a big bite out of the cookie. I watched him with satisfactory eyes, happy as a lark, and sat up to wipe off the cookie chunks and tainted chocolate chips on his lips with my thumb and sucked on it for a subtle sweetness.
Taylor noticed and broke the cookie into half and offered me the bigger piece.“You have it,” I said, pushing the cookie in his hand back to him. He must be starved without any food yesterday. He continued to munch on the cookie gleefully, each bite bigger than the last, and somehow in the cookie moment, it must’ve been the sugary delight and buttery chunks in his mouth that made him momentarily forgot the bleeding and excruciating pain on his back; fresh wounds caused by his Papa before he left the house – his white tee washed with red fiery patches.
We laid back down some more and peeped at the skies through the branches before entering the river. He would put his arm out and let my head rest on it, keeping my hair clean. He took off his white tee and I dunked it into the river with both hands, squatting, rubbing the fabric against the running waters; watching the blood seep through the cotton and becoming one with the river.
The air lingered with an overwhelming scent of blood for a while. I got used to this smell, so full of sin and for whatever reason, it reminded me of Satan. After doing this several times, I leave his shirt to dry. Taylor half-filled the wooden bucket with water and poured it on his back to wash away the dried up blood on his wounds. He grits his teeth, holding back his voice and squints his eyes whenever the water hits his back.“You can let it out – your voice.”He turned his head back to where I was and said with a firm tone, “I will not.”
“Do you want me to leave?”
He shook his head.
“Stay. Come, wash my back for me.”
We’ve been doing this since we were seven; lying under the Oak tree and spending time here at the river; just the two of us and returning home with a heavy heart once the sun sets. He never made a sound even though he was in so much pain – physically and emotionally. He thought of it as a sign of weakness – to cry. But at least, he told me his feelings. And that was good enough back then, I guessed.
He sat on a huge pebble on the surface of the river. I sat closed behind him, on dry land, and carefully poured the water from the bucket and ran my fingers on the old and soon-to-be scars. He jerked his shoulders. This wasn't my first time witnessing these wounds and they were carved into my brain each time I saw them up-close. His Papa gave him his first scar on the night of his Mama’s departure – on the back of his neck – to stop him from wailing. He never cried again from that day onwards.
He learnt to bear with the whipping on most nights inflicted on his frail body. He took it all – the harshness and brutality in that house. He couldn’t fight back yet. I cried on his behalf the next day. He told me it wasn’t something for me to cry about. That only made me cry some more. And I kissed his scar and hugged him and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
He told me to take it back.
He never wanted to hear me say those words again. He took it as a remark of self-pity and he didn’t want me or anyone to do that to him. He won’t allow it. Anything but that. But I said it because I believed it might bring him some comfort, some healing into his suppressed heart. He had hopes of his Papa apologising; knowing only a fool would think of something like that because he’ll never hear it.
I said it again. He placed his lips on mine for a quick second to shut me up. We walked in silence back home that day. And we haven’t said a word about the kiss ever since. He must’ve forgotten about it.
“Does it hurt?” I asked, running my fingers down his spine.
“No,” he said. “Thank you.”
By sixteen, he had over twenty scars all over his body; mostly on his back. I squat down before the river, staring into my vague reflection. Mama still locked me in the basement if she happened to see me with Taylor. I continued drawing more mirrors on the wall and stayed up all night looking at it.
Taylor stood beside me; throwing rocks he gathered on his palm and watched it rippled across the river.
“Look!” He would yell whenever the rock successfully reaches the end of the river. He used up all the rocks within a minute and sat beside me, stretching his legs out into the lukewarm water and then he reached out for my hand.
“Here,” he said, handing me a black handle mirror. “Happy Birthday.”
I dropped the mirror, startled.
“Mama will kill you if she finds out,” I told him.
Taylor picked it up and washed the soil away and handed it back to me. “I noticed,” he said,” all this time you’ve been staring at your reflection in the river. I want you to do it properly.”
He watched my every move as I held the mirror up and looked at my face for the first time in my life – my real reflection; no more playing pretense down in the basement. I stared at myself; studying my eyes, my nose, my lips, and my skin.
“Pretty,” he said.
I faced the mirror down on my thighs.
“Do you like it?”
I nodded and he sighed in relief and told me he was glad. My heart raced for unknown reasons. He helped me up on my feet and we took off all our clothes and went skinny-dipping.
We embraced, swaying in the water.
“I’m going to kill the old man and bury him tonight.” His hands on my waist and mine on his shoulders.
I tried to persuade him to give it a second thought, not because there was a price to pay since people will just assumed he died of excessive alcohol consumption. He told me nothing would change his mind. He had thought about his death since his first beating. But I didn't want him to live with guilt for the rest of his life. Can he live with it? His Papa’s blood on his bare hands.
“What guilt?” he asked, smiling at my silliness. “I’ve been counting down to this day.”
I brushed his shining black hair backwards with my hand, gazing deeply into his eyes and said, “What happens next?”
"The sun sets in another hour. We’ll leave here like we planned.”
I couldn’t recall when but we talked about going away one day and never coming back – starting our lives anew somewhere – anywhere but here. There’s got to be a place for us. It could be in the woods or a fishing village. We’ll survive. I’ll do the laundry and tidy the house and Taylor will hunt for rabbits or deer or go fishing in the sea. We’ll also build our own garden to plant fresh fruits and vegetables.
I nodded with enthusiasm. “I’ll pack tonight.”
When Mama and Papa were asleep, I headed down to the basement and took out the mirror from Taylor. My feelings for Taylor are definite with this gift. I kept it close by my side at all times. I never took my eyes off my face all night. I felt pretty whenever I looked at it. I’m obsessed. I never had this kind of fulfilment in my life before. I felt complete. Why did Mama forbid this? Has she tried it? Mama lied – Satan’s not living in it. He didn’t take me with him to “the other side”.
But I believed he exists, just not where Mama said where he’s supposed to be. I couldn't trust Mama no more. What exactly is the truth? Only Satan will tell me.
“This is our last time coming here,” Taylor said.
We spend the day lying under the Oak tree and dipping our feet in the river.
“The old man’s dead.”
We leave in another two days. Our ferry departs at one in the morning. Mama and Papa were asleep by then. I checked. I didn’t leave a note for Mama, only a flower stalk on the coffee table. Papa would see it at dawn and known I’ve left for good. He always knew this day would arrive and he doesn’t blame me. He encouraged me. Mama will realise my closet is empty and she will curse me until the day I die. I stayed hidden in the basement waiting to set out with my baggage when it was time.
I jumped when someone rustled with the door handle. I locked it beforehand. It was Mama. Why was she awake? She called out my name and demanded me to open up right away. “Shit. Shit. Shit.” I muttered to myself. There was no way out of this damn place. I hurriedly hid my baggage behind one of the boxes and unlocked the door.
“What’re you doing in here?” Mama said, suspicious and stepped into the basement.
I stepped aside and followed her behind. “Nothing, Mama. Let’s go out.”
She glanced around and her footsteps come to a halt. She turned around and slapped me, hard. I fell to the ground – a loud thud that got the white rats underneath to squeak aloud as a sign to tell us we’re not the only ones living here. Mama noticed the drawings on the wall. She paced up and down, pulling her hair and then clasping her hands together as if she was chanting a prayer.
“You’re not my child,” she yelled, a demonic aura possessed the basement. “Who are you? Where is my innocent child? Return her to me, you imposter!” She dragged me to the other end of the room by my hair and swung me to the wall. I hit my head first and then there was a familiar scent I’m closely acquainted with – blood.
My mirror slipped out of my top. I hid it on the left side of my bra. Mama screamed at the sight of a real mirror in her house – as if Satan’s standing in front of her. I picked up the mirror by instinct and used it to look at the wound on my forehead. Not good. She pounded forward to snatch the mirror away from me.
I can’t let her take this away from me; not the truth, not Taylor, and certainly not the mirror. She wasn't going to have her way with me anymore. I managed to snatch the mirror back in my possession and I wield it to her face so she would stop this craze. She backed away and used both hands to cover her face, begging for mercy.
“Take that away from me!” she trembled.
“Mama. Please. Stop.”
“You… you are Satan’s child.”
She shut the basement door and locked me in. I banged on the door with my fist until it bled and begged her to let me out, but to no avail. I missed the ferry. I let Taylor down. Mama hasn’t let me out in three days. I couldn't take this anymore. Papa thought I left. I’m not Mama’s child anymore. She was going to wait and leave me here to die and burn my body in the backyard. Taylor hasn't come. He must’ve left me behind. No, he wouldn’t, I tried to convince myself as I lay sideways on the ground, barely moving – holding onto the mirror with frail fingers and looking at my pale face, drenched in cold sweat. Is this what death is? I’ll probably see Satan soon. I have so much to tell him. And my vision slowly faded away into the dark.
I opened my eyes and I saw a man sitting beside me on the bed. He resembled Taylor. I realised I was not in the basement anymore. But somewhere else, somewhere safe, it seemed. And my wounds were taken care off. He helped me to sit upright and handed me a glass of water. I snatched the glass and drank it like a beast, watching him with wary eyes – my saviour.
“Noah. You can call me Noah.”
Now he handed me bread and grapes. I gobbled it down. And he fetched me another glass of water. “I see now why Taylor likes you. We have the same taste after all.”
I grabbed his collar, spilling water on the bed, and asked him where was Taylor and how did he know about him. He chuckled and grabbed my forearms and said, “Why are you looking for another man? We’re husband and wife now.”
I looked at him as if he was a lunatic that spoke of another foreign language. I looked down at myself and realised that I was in a white gown. He undressed me?!
He chuckled. "You're adorable. I almost couldn't resist. But not to fret, I didn't do anything to you, yet."
He revealed that he was Taylor’s brother – half-brother. And Mrs Morris had passed away and he was here to bring the news to Taylor and that he was still looking for him. “I can’t believe that old hag,” he said. “She was a two-faced whore and a terrible mother. She left Taylor yet she couldn’t forget about her dearest son. Even on her deathbed, she chooses him over me when I was the one by her side.”
His eyes filled with jealousy and resentment. He saw Taylor as a threat, a foe. Someone he couldn't never surpass. And now he wanted to take away his most cherished possession – me.
“I was looking for a wife. Mrs Morris spoke of you, unintentionally. Don’t blame the dead,” he told me, smirking, “she doesn’t know about you and Taylor. So, I came specifically for your hand in marriage.”
“Go to hell, you psychopath.”
He stood up, placing his hands behind his back and walked to the other side of the room, mocking me.
“Your Mama was very willing to give you to me. No questions asked. 500 gold coins did the trick.”
“I see,” I said, putting on an act that I’ve accepted the situation. “Can you let me out? I need some fresh air. Alone.”
“Of course,” he said, opening the door for me. “There’s nowhere to run," he whispered.
He was right. We were the only ones isolated in the woods. Everywhere I looked was a maze of greenery and tall trees. Not even the sound of snakes. I had no idea how to get out of here or where I am. This wasn't real. This wasn't happening. It must be a hallucination for disobeying Mama and now God was punishing me. I ran and ran and ran without looking back and Noah’s monstrous laugh rung in my ears like a nightmare I couldn't wake up from.
Oh, Taylor. I need to see you. I am supposed to be with you. It should be us here in the woods. Where are you? The sound of water gushing were closing in – a waterfall. Yes, this is it. This is how I shall die, peacefully. I stand, facing backwards at the tip of the waterfall, spreading my hands apart with my eyes shut, ready for the fall. I took the plunge and let myself get swallowed into the depths of the river – my entire being sinking, sinking, and sinking as my memory rewind flashbacks of Taylor and I – the happiest times of my life. This must be the end, or so I thought.
Someone’s tapping on my cheek. And I felt something warm on my lips. Water voluntarily burped out of my mouth and I can breathe again. I coughed aloud and gasped for air sitting upright. I burst into tears as Taylor was right before my eyes, beside me. He saved me. And I thought I would never see him again.
My prayers were answered. Taylor kissed me for the longest time. He said he’s been looking for me. And he couldn’t live anymore if I had died.
“I went to your house after the ferry left,” he said, holding my face. “Your Mama said you weren’t home but I saw through her lies. Her eyes were shaking. I knew something must’ve gone wrong.”
“How did you find me?” I asked, still in disbelief.
“Your Papa. He came to me and told me about Noah and where he had taken you. He hates your Mama very much for selling you to him on her own will.” He continued, “Do you remember?”
“What?” “The kiss. Our first kiss when we were kids.”
“I... I... I do.”
“I told myself I will marry you in the future that day.” I couldn’t stop crying and Taylor wiped my tears away with both his thumbs and embraced me. He said he’ll get rid of Noah and we will go far away from here, away from all the bad. He had found a place elsewhere near the seaside and made the arrangements for us to live there for the rest of our lives. He asked me if I am willing and I said yes, but there was one more thing left to do.
“I have to go back,” I said. “The mirror's in the house.”
“Leave it. I’ll buy you another.”“No,” I insisted. “I must take it back. After that, we’ll leave. I promise, Noah.”
He sighed. “Alright, I’ll follow you from behind. Noah can’t find out I’m here too. Get the mirror, leave the house and I’ll strike.”
The sun had set and I arrived back before night falls, drenched from my head to toes. I was scared to my wits to face Noah, but knowing Taylor was here gave me tremendous courage on its own, courage that I never possessed. And I couldn’t wait to spend the rest of my life with him.
“Oh my, did you get lost?” he asked, approaching me with a cheeky smile. I hated every second here with him. I scanned the house for the mirror. It must be here somewhere. Then, I saw it. It was on the nightstand. Now all that's left to do was to grab it and make the run out of here. I ignored him and pretended he was invisible and hurried for the nightstand. He started to wrap his hands around my waist from the back and showered my neck with kisses and said, “It’s our wedding night.”
I panicked and broke free from his grip. “Don’t touch me,” I yelled, turning around to face him. “Stay where you are.”
The mirror was now in my hands. I hid it behind my back. The look in his eyes turned to lust. He wanted me. But I was not his to take. He used his strength and pinned me down to the ground. The mirror cracked. I couldn’t fight him. I was about to shout for Taylor but he placed his tongue in my mouth. And I bit it. He groaned and slapped me. I reached for the bigger glass piece of the broken mirror while he was violating me and I slit his throat in a snap. He held onto his neck, wide-eyed, blood oozing in-between his fingers.
Now I was on top of him. He couldn’t speak and he looked at me with bloodshot eyes. I stared down at him and stabbed his heart repeatedly with the same glass piece, calling him a beast; his blood stained my face with every stab. Taylor heard my voice and barged in with a knife in his hand.
We locked eyes and there, I saw him cry for the first time – tears streaming down his cheeks.