A final pass of the lipstick and it’s done; a firm cupid’s bow sits above a shiny half moon. The lips glow from a nicely made-up face, eyes shining from within the borders of fine black eyeliner. Dustings of colour along the eyelids accentuate the deep blue of the eyes themselves. With a pace backwards the beautiful face can now be seen in its entirety.
It is a beautiful face though no longer young. There are lines but they are faint, somewhat hidden beneath the fine layer of bronzing powder. This is the face of one accustomed to the skilled application of well-chosen cosmetics but not all is well. Despite the smile that draws apart the lips something is not right. It’s the eyes. The eyes are sad. They take in the beautiful visage the mirror offers yet they do so with an infinite depth of sadness. For this is the face of a prisoner.
Today, as on many similar days, the prisoner imagines what is happening outside her window, a window blackened to prevent the world seeing in. She imagines others, perhaps people somewhat like her, going about their daily lives. They laugh, they meet, they enjoy each and every day, outside. She envies them with a passion that borders on pain. “If only I was free from this place” she thinks.
She steps away from the mirror and examines her whole appearance. Her clothing is tasteful and suits her age. She wonders, if she was to escape from this place would those others, outside, really notice her? Would they laugh at her emergence from her prison? Would they perhaps shy away from her in fear of a person they do not know? Perhaps though, she hopes, maybe they wouldn’t notice her at all. That is all she would hope for, to be able to enjoy those same freedoms; to laugh with others, to meet for coffees or drinks, perhaps even to go dancing with no-one paying any particular attention to her.
The prisoner’s face clouds with despair for she knows that it cannot be. She is a prisoner, incarcerated not only behind walls of stone but by the shame of her deeds, a shame that burns deep within her for, despite that shame, she enjoys what it is that brings it. If she could overcome that then perhaps she could be free. The prisoner eyes the door with a desperate desire to have it opened yet afraid of what lies beyond. Perhaps those who hold the keys to that door would forgive her if she repented; swore to never again indulge in her evil pleasures. But are her crimes so grave? Grapevine gossip tells her that they might not be so though she still believes that in her case there will be no acceptance. Release might just condemn her to the rest of her life in loneliness, rejection and pain. Is not this cell far safer?
A camera sits on a shelf and with practiced efficiency she sets it up to capture her appearance today. She laughs a little to herself when she considers that the photos will never be viewed by anyone else, yet she ensures that she looks right and her pose is correct. There is pleasure in simple things. The photos done she quickly downloads them to her computer, hides them within a secret file and then deletes them from the camera. A serious search would find the images that would betray her but for now they will be safe from a curious search. What photos they are. Even though she is the sole judge she is full of praise. If those others, outside, could see how nice I look, how normal I look, perhaps I would be accepted.
Many such days pass, shaped by the joy of the experience followed by the shame such joy brings. Each such day is the same; no-one knows what happens behind that locked door and blackened window. No human however can endure such conditions indefinitely. Eventually something must change. So it is that one day the prisoner decides that escape is the only way. She has considered that perhaps she should forfeit her life but realises that despite who she is, especially considering what such an action might uncover, there are those who love her and who would be deeply saddened by her loss. Her escape must be of a different nature.
On the chosen day, once again with her face eloquently made up, she prepares herself for what she considers will be one of the most difficult undertakings of her life. She is ready but at the door she falters. What waits beyond? Does someone lie in wait to entrap her? How far will she get? Will she survive the attempt? Finally though she summons the courage and reaches for the door. To her surprise it opens easily and with hesitant steps she ventures beyond. The light seems different, the air seems fresher and her steps lighten as she moves away from her cell. There is no plan for where to go because she never expected to even get this far. She is walking freely, enraptured by the freedom she feels when she hears voices and realises that people are coming towards her. Fear grips her and she cowers in an alcove until the people pass. It is enough though and her resolve fails. She hurriedly retreats to her cell and closes the door to reimpose the safety she feels there.
It isn’t long though before the need to escape reasserts itself. This time the prisoner is prepared. She knows what it’s like just outside the door, she knows how far she got last time and she has a plan if others approach. This time she will succeed. The door opens easily, more easily than she remembered from last time. The air again feels fresher, the sunlight brighter and more warming. The further she gets from her cell the easier the adventure seems but the euphoria is halted. Someone is coming. With a slight feeling of panic she realises that she could never retreat in time. She must brazen it out. She continues to walk calmly and with grace while watching a couple approach. With an inner sigh of relief she sees they are in conversation and don’t even notice her as they pass. The feeling of freedom is intoxicating.
In that state she approaches a café and before she has time to reconsider she decides to order the coffee she has dreamed of. She waits for the recriminating looks, the shriek of terror by the young lady behind the counter as their eyes meet but instead the young lady smiles at her:
“May I help you ma’am?”
The reaction is not what the prisoner expects but she is now filled with dread as she speaks.
“Just a cup of coffee please,” she says as softly as she can. “with perhaps a slice of cake.” Now it will come. This is where her adventure will end. She’ll be set upon and will wish she had stayed in her cell. What a fool she has been.
“Certainly. The carrot cake is very nice. Will that do?”
“Yes, thank you.” With trembling hands she gives the young lady the money, once again fearful, this time that her hands might now betray her but the young lady continues to smile as she passes back the change.
“Take a seat and I’ll bring it out to you.”
The prisoner chooses a table slightly separate from some other customers but soon sees that they are paying her no attention. She smiles to herself as she slowly comes to realise that her fears seem to have been greater than reality. Can it really be this easy? Surely, she thinks, some of those stories I’ve heard are true. She ponders her good fortune and has the confidence to smile when she sees the young waitress approaching with a small tray that she places on the table.
“There you go. Enjoy, and may I say, you look lovely.”
The prisoner’s voice breaks slightly as emotion overwhelms her.
“Thank you dear.”
“You are welcome. Take your time and enjoy your day out.” The young lady returns to the counter to serve another customer.
As she sits sipping her coffee and eating the carrot cake, which seems wondrously tasty, the prisoner smiles to herself and softly says “Well Bian, did you ever imagine being here?” She likes the name, so different from another she is known by. Bian was her choice, a name she discovered means ‘secretive’ or ‘hidden’. She knew as soon as she heard it that that would be her name for it described who she was. Now it would serve as a reminder of a prison she would never go back to, a cell that was of her own making.
Bian finished her coffee, brushed the last crumbs of delicious carrot cake from her painted lips and rose from the table. With a wave of thanks to the waitress, who waved pleasantly back, she walked calmly away from the café and began the walk home. She passed numerous people going about their daily lives. Some looked at her with brief glances, though one young man paid a bit more attention but with a slight look of confusion walked on. Most people didn’t even notice her. Before long Bian was back at the door that had started it all.
This time though she knew that it was really she who held the keys. The blackened windows were of her invention, an invention she resolved to remove. She no longer cared who chose to look in and what they saw if they did. She would install curtains for privacy but would open them to let the sunlight of freedom in whenever she wanted to. Never again would she hide who she felt was her true self. Bian knew there must be others like her, others who had felt similar fear and who understood. It was time to reach out to them.
Bian was free, a prisoner no more.