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True Beauty
Richard Rupnarain
Guyana Journal, February 2007


They say beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Unfortunately the eyes of the beholder are not always blessed with perfect vision. Barring diseases and blindness, there are other factors that unwittingly impair vision, so that what is seen up close is often different from what is seen from afar, and what is seen in light is often markedly different from the same image seen in darkness. Sometimes, the difference in the images is so stark that one is left in awe, or, as in the case of Buddy Sawh, complete shock, at how their own blessed eyes could deceive them.

Buddy Sawh of Better Hope village on the East Coast was a good looking twenty-one year old chap, an inch short of six feet, with a perfect set of teeth and an absolutely bewitching smile that caused young girls to blush and feel weak in the knees. He needed only say, hi, and he had them giggling like preteens, much to the envy of other suitors. Even though he was of pure bred East Indian stock he did not look like one. He looked more like a person who was blessed with the best mixture of East Indian and Portuguese genes. His thick dark wavy locks were always well groomed, immaculately combed back and Bryl-creamed, a fitting advertisement for men’s hair products. His speech was polished, and when heckled for trying to speak like English people, he nonchalantly replied that that he was raised in Trinidad while his father was in university studying law and that was how he learned to speak. For whatever it was worth, his exotic good looks, refined speech, and sophisticated bearing elevated him above the crowd and brought him in full panorama of the girls. But Buddy was shy around girls and, while he secretly loved the attention and admiration, he was never courageous enough to take advantage of the opportunities for romance.

It was coming on to the middle of January 1983 and Buddy was now twenty-five years of age, still single and still without a girlfriend. He had completed his Higher Technical Diploma in Electrical Engineering at the University of Guyana and had landed an envious job at the Guyana Electricity Corporation, being assigned to supervise work at the power station at Garden of Eden. He made his rounds in a company car, a sky blue Russian made Lada, and was rising rapidly in the ranks of the Corporation, and that despite the fact that he refused to get involved in the politics that plagued higher ranking officials in government corporations.

Despite his rise in society, however, Buddy remained humble and kept close to his school friends. One of them, Raheem Khan, was having a birthday party at his home and had invited his classmates and some girlfriends from work. The party was being held out in the open yard and as expected several non-invitees crashed it, pretending to know one of the invitees. The weather was perfect, the air was refreshingly cool, the mood was hot, drinks flowed, the music was popular and many young couples were slow dancing to the sounds of Bread and Los Lobos and jumping like crazy to the beat of a few calypsos tucked in between. Most of the dancing couples were town boys and their fancy girlfriends. Several young women were seated in the semi darkness dance area, fiddling with their purses and waiting to be asked to dance. Unfortunately for them, most of the guys standing around with beers, shooting breeze, and ogling them could not dance English dances. Those who had any dance skills knew how to coil and swagger on East Indian tunes but did not and would not have any such luck at Raheem’s party. Raheem had long since moved away from the country and had identified himself as a town boy with no interest in Indian music and movies.

As the night wore on, the crowd began to thin out and precocious teenagers and young adults began to drift off into their own inebriated worlds, sitting on the grass or just bracing up against the cars that lined the street, posing with a beer in hand or a cigarette dangling from the fingers or lips. Buddy pretended to be interested in what the other men had to say, but really was only concerned about meeting a girl before the night was over.

He was coolly dressed as usual, in his trademark navy blue brush denim jeans and studded matching jacket, opened down to the chest to reveal manly hair bearing up a gold pendant in the form of an anchor. He looked exotic, like one of those Guyanese who had returned home for the holidays after living overseas for a long time. With the night fleeting and a few beers already into his system he determined that he would approach a girl whom he noticed had been sitting by herself all night, cross-legged with her elbows on her knees and hands under her chin, and make her acquaintance. He noticed that no one had asked her to dance and that she did not appear to be dismayed in any way but instead sat and watched with girlish delight as couples did the rock-steady and vagrant dances. The more he looked at the girl the more bewildered he became. She appeared to be an extremely pretty girl, nicely attired in a simple black dress that revealed a model’s figure beneath, and the bearing of a sophisticated woman. So why wasn’t she dancing? Did she not have a boyfriend? It had been two hours into the party and Buddy reasoned that either she did not have an escort or that she simply did not feel like dancing. So he resolved to satisfy his curiosity. If she was single and did not want to dance he will simply sit beside her and make small talk. If she has a boyfriend he will simply melt into the darkness and go home to avoid embarrassment. His friends were all either hammered or were sashaying on the street and so if he were to be given the “burst off” they would not know of it and his embarrassment would remain a matter between him and his self-esteem. If she was alone and was not dancing because she did not know how to dance he will put her at ease and wait for a slow song to play. He could not dance either but he had watched the others when slow songs played and noticed they did not do much moving at all. Some of the couples stayed on the same spot and simply made a quarter turn to the left and right. The guys held the girls around the waist and the girls had their hands loosely around their partner’s back and arm. Those girls who danced with their boyfriends had their arms locked over their partner’s head and the men held tightly to their waists and had their heads down as if they were if in deep meditation. Buddy wished he were one of those guys. For now he was prepared to take a bold step in uncharted territories.

He drained the contents of the beer bottle down his throat, buttoned up the first two buttons on his shirt so as not to appear as a hooligan and then he started to walk slowly into the darkness where his target was seated. She did not even look up, down or to the side as he made his way to the empty chair beside her and sat down with a sigh, loud enough to break the spell that the dancers had cast over her. Finally she uncrossed her legs, sat back and looked over at him with a smile.

“Hi,” she said, “tired?”

“Actually, a little bit. Just got here and from the looks of it, just in time too.” He hated lying but did not want to sound like a loser.

“I am sure I saw you standing by the gate a while back,” she said, smiling. But even her gentle voice and radiant smile could not hide the sarcasm in her voice. Buddy knew he was caught and wanted to concoct an integrity saving comeback. But he quickly realized that another lie would not help his cause. “Sorry, I wasn’t being truly honest. I just didn’t want to sound like a loser.”

“It seems to me that the loser is the person who would lie about something so trivial.”

“I am sorry. I came to ask you if you wanted to dance but now I guess I have to ask if after being a jerk you would still want to dance with me.”

“I can’t dance. Sorry.”

He remembered his plan. “Listen, I am not a dancer either but there is nothing to it. Just shake a leg. We will start with a slow dance.” The lyrics from the Bread song, “If a picture paints a thousand words then why can’t I paint you?” serendipitously hit the airwaves at that moment and he wasted no time in grasping at his good fortune. “Come, here is an easy song. Just follow me. You will do alright.”

She got up, hesitantly, took his hand, lightly and reluctantly, and they began their first dance together.

“See, it’s not that hard.”

“Not until I step on your foot with my high heels,” she laughed.

“Don’t worry. I have on steel tips.”

“Okay, don’t say you weren’t warned.”

They danced to the end of the tune and luckily for him the DJ was preoccupied with eating and had queued up several slow songs on the turntable. So they danced, one song after another, and when she slid her right arm off his arm and unto his back, it became clear that she was becoming more comfortable, with him, and with dancing. He responded by moving his right arm away from her arm and resting it lightly on her back. When he pulled her closer she did not resist and it was at that moment he was certain the stars were aligned in his favor. Everything was going better than imagined.

“Are you tired?” he asked, after four songs, hoping she would say no and that he could continue to enjoy the embrace of a woman, something he had not known since he was a baby in his mother’s arms.

“Actually, no, I am enjoying this. Are you tired? Do you want to sit down?” His mind raced. He could sit down and chat and obtain valuable information about her but if he sat down chances are that someone might come and ask her for a dance and for fear that she might offend them she might not refuse. He could not take that chance.

“No! I could dance the night away, especially with a beautiful girl in my arms.”

She blushed and the red on her cheeks could be seen even in the dim lighting and through layers of make-up. “Oh, you are just flattering me. I guess you say that to all your girlfriends.” She looked at him, her eyes searching his and demanding a response. But this was one time he was not ashamed to confess the truth.

“No! I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“A tall, slick and handsome guy like you? Don’t give me that!”

“It’s true! I am not a party person and I was always too shy to speak to girls.”

“Well, you weren’t shy at all tonight.”

“That’s because I had some help.”

“And what is that?”

“A few beers and an irresistible woman.”

“You are a smooth talker.”

Then, just as he was about to channel the conversation closer to the heart she stopped abruptly and broke loose from his embrace. Just behind her was a girl who appeared to be her friend. The girl giggled and whispered something in her ears. Then she giggled back and turned and said to him, “Sorry, I have to be leaving now. I told my mom I will be back by one but the girl I came with is ready to leave. She works the early morning shift at Medical Arts. Anyways, it was nice meeting you and I hope we meet again.”

He let her fingers slip from his and he watched her go, minutes before midnight, like the mystified prince who beheld his Cinderella run off into the darkness, without being able to make another date, or get an address, or a phone number, or worse, her name. But he was desperate. He felt like a child whose brand new toy was taken away from him. This was his first real opportunity at getting a girl and he was so close to sealing the deal. So he began to ask around, frantically, like a desperate parent who had lost her child at a fairground. He was fortunate to find a woman who knew, not her, but the girl with whom she had left the party. The woman gave him the approximate location of the girl’s house and he was determined to find it, find her, whatever it takes. He knew it was crazy and that it would look foolish to go to the girl’s house that hour of the night asking for information on another person. But he was frantic and in his desperation he was not concerned about how things looked or felt. The faint heart never won a fair lady, he remembered his mother used to say, and this was a fair lady whose heart had captured his in a full-Nelson stranglehold.

He followed the hazy directions and actually arrived at the girl’s house on Anira Street in Queenstown seconds before she arrived home after dropping his Cinderella off at her home. Except for a lone streetlight at the main intersection, the neighborhood was dark and save for a hungry dog howling intermittently it was otherwise quiet. The girl parked her car on the street and was surprised to see him standing outside her gate.

“Hi,” she said, seemingly bewildered at his presence, “weren’t you at the party? Is there something wrong?”

“Yes, no, nothing wrong. Actually I feel stupid asking you this. But that girl you took home.”

She interrupted. “Anita?”

“I don’t know her name but she is the girl I was dancing with when you came to tell her you were leaving.”

“Yes, Anita.” She smiled. “She talked about you on the way home.” His eyes lit up.

“Yes, what did she say?”

“Why don’t you ask her?”

“I would if I knew where to find her.”

“Oh, she works at Guyana Stores. In Fabrics.”

He thanked her and drove off home, feeling that all hope was not lost. On the drive home he thought about Anita, her gentle voice, her soft hands and movements so light and feathery as though she was a professional and not a novice dancer. But what moved him was her unpretentiousness. Unlike him, she made no bones about not being able to dance, or tried to impress him in any way, but was totally comfortable in herself, and enjoyed watching others enjoy themselves. As soon as he arrived home he jumped into bed, with party clothes and all, and lay there, looking up at the ceiling with a smile on his face, reliving each minute of his encounter with her that night. Then he began to think of his next adventure. How will he approach her at her workplace? What will he say to her? Will she be embarrassed that she is a salesgirl? His heart began to palpitate and he drifted off to sleep, anesthetized by the delicate scent of her lingering perfume.

All day Sunday he roamed the house, aimlessly as if in a daze, from upstairs to downstairs, from living room to dining room, picking at food on the table and petting the cat. A surge of dopamine in his brain was causing him to feel good, the flow of norepinephrine was causing his heart to pound and the presence of heightened levels of phenylethalimine, that thing found in chocolate, was creating in him a feeling of bliss. His mother noted the change that had come over her son.

“Buddy, how was the party last night?” she asked, hoping indirectly to satisfy her curiosity.

“It was nice, ma. Actually it was better than nice. I met a nice girl.”

His mother stopped in her tracks, wiped her hands in a rag on the fridge door, and drew up a stool next to the kitchen counter as though she was preparing for a juicy gossip. “Yeah? What is she like? Is she an Indian girl?”

“Yes, ma, she is East Indian.”

“How old is she?”

“I don’t know, ma. I just met her. I wasn’t going to ask her for her age.”

“Is she fair and nice?”

“Yes, yes, yes, ma. She is nice.”

“What is her name?”

“Anita.”

“Anita what?”

“Don’t know. I didn’t ask.”

“Anita sounds like a Hindu name. She is Hindu?”

“I don’t know, ma. Just when we started talking her friend came for her and she had to leave.”

“Well, if you want to get married to this girl you have to bring her home for us to see and then we will make the arrangements.”

“Ma, nobody said anything about marriage. I barely even know the girl’s first name and I don’t know if I will see her again. So take it easy, okay ma?”

“Alright son. But you be careful. You know how people are these days.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nowadays people see you talking to other people girl children and they start talking.”

“Look, I will be careful. Don’t worry.” He kissed her on the forehead and went upstairs to resume his daydreaming about Anita. He wondered if she was at home thinking about him the way he was thinking about her. And when she said, ‘I hope to see you again,’ did she mean that she had a romantic interest in him that she hoped could continue if circumstances permitted, or was it just the courteous thing to say? He couldn’t wait to find out.

Monday morning broke the skies with radiant sunshine, with humming birds flitting about and towatowas singing merrily on black sage bushes. The world seemed a happier place and life was good. He was sure that most mornings were like this one but was also aware that how we see things often depends on how we feel on the inside, and he was feeling on top of the world.

That morning he was scheduled to visit the plant at the Garden of Eden power station but made a diversion in plan so he could remain at Company’s Head Office in Georgetown, less than a mile from Guyana Stores. He whittled the time away nervously, and every time he thought about meeting her again his heart rate increased and the hairs on his arms stood upright. As lunch hour approached he became increasingly anxious to the point where he began to think of reasons to justify abandoning the project. Was it not unfair to drop in on the girl without her knowledge? Might he not embarrass her in front of her friends? But then, he asked, how else will he meet her again?

On the stroke of noon he left the office and drove to Guyana Stores. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the aroma of freshly baked goods from cafeterias and cake shops seeped into his car and caused him to salivate. But this was not the time to satiate the hunger for food. He was teased by love and needed foremost to quench that thirst. He parked by the Museum and entered the building through the Church Street entrance so that he could approach the Fabric department from the rear and see her before she had a chance to see him.

Once inside the building he stopped in the main aisle not far from the door and feigned an interest in some local handicrafts to allow his eyes to search for her without apparent indiscretion. He glanced surreptitiously up and down the aisles, at the salesgirls in white shirts and blue skirts, and finally he saw someone looking like her. But he was not absolutely sure what she looked like for he had seen her but once under a dimly lit house so he asked a Portuguese woman who had a Supervisor’s badge pinned to her blouse where he could find Anita.

“Anita? Anita! Anita!” she repeated like a parrot, “Yes, I think she is in Fabric. Over there to your left.”

“Yes, I know she works in Fabric but can you point her out to me?” When he said that he began to pray that the Supervisor would not call out the girl’s name, or worse, take him to meet her. His prayer fell on deaf ears. The supervisor jostled up to Fabric to see if Anita was on duty and when she saw her she called out, “Anita, there is a man here to see you.” It sounded so crude. Everyone turned around. He was embarrassed. Anita was surprised. The girls giggled. Shoppers continued on their way smiling.

Anita came out slowly from behind the counter where she was folding the remnants from bolts and tagging stickers on each piece with the measurement of the material. She looked at him and from her bewildered expression thought he was a customer seeking assistance but as he drew closer she recognized him and smiled. “Hey, it’s the guy from the party, right?” she asked and smiled.

“Yes,” he replied, unsure of what else to say, more out of shock than anything else. This was not the woman he had met at the party. If it was she then someone had stolen her good looks. The woman he met was a beautiful and sophisticated woman. This one was homely. That girl was dressed tantalizingly in a body fitting sequined dress and dark stockings. This one was dowdily dressed in comparison, with pleated blue skirt, ordinary white cotton shirt and sneakers. That girl was the belle of the ball. But this one had on makeup to cover the acne on her face. If it was Anita then the Cinderellian spell had worn off from her after the ball.

Unlike him, she exuded not a hint of embarrassment in countenance or deportment. “So what brings you here?” she asked, genuinely interested in assisting him. “Is there something you are looking for that I can help you with?”

“Ah, no, actually I was just passing through the book section and then I remembered you said you worked here. So I just thought I would come by and say hello.”

“I don’t quite remember telling you where I worked.” He felt uncomfortable. Another lie. She moved on. “Anyways, what can I help you with?”

Her voice sounded sincere, prompting him to say more, and having been caught lying again, he was afraid that another lie would make her lose respect for him as a person, even though he decided then and there that he no longer wished to pursue her. Still, he lied.

“I am sorry but it is just that I never had a chance to say how much I enjoyed meeting and dancing with you Saturday night. You know, with you having to run off like that. Anyways, I see you are busy and customers are waiting on you so, see you around.”

“Thank you for being so considerate, and see you too. Bye!”

He left, dazed and bewildered, but relieved. A few days ago he counted himself the luckiest man on earth. He never thought he could get a girl like her. Now he didn’t want her. The eye of the beholder was affected by the lack of light in the dance hall and as someone somewhere said, the vision of the mind had enticed the pupils of the eyes to certify the beauty and he had followed the fantasy. But now, in the full light of day, his eyes had seen the beauty and he no longer desired to follow the fantasy.

He returned to work and remained in a state of shock for a few hours after that encounter. He did not believe that his eyes could have misled him so grossly. Then shock gave way to guilt. Did he lead her on that night? Had he made her feel that he had an interest in her? And if so, did he compound the error by going to her workplace and then abruptly dismissing her? The guilt eventually morphed into disgust, mostly as he began to consider his own sense of values and criterion for beauty. He had become like those undeveloped classes who judged people based on superficial elements such as looks, speech and skin color. But while that made him feel really bad it was not enough to evoke in him a change of heart towards her. He felt he had made sacrifices to get where he was and that he deserved someone better, meaning someone better looking.

R Rupnarain
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