I hate my skin. It isn’t fair and clear, with peach-tinted cheeks, like the girls in Chinese movies. Nor does it glow with the promise of summer like the caramelised beach babes on the covers of Dolly magazine. Large pores, inherited from my mother, speckle the space around my nose. I hate my hair, which sits against my scalp as flat and black as an oil slick. I spend hundreds of dollars to volumise it, texturise it, bleach it. I hide my broad forehead behind a sweep of fringe. And my bridgeless, button-shaped nose–a stunted runty cousin to the proud pinnacles of my peers–it can’t even prop a pair of glasses up. I hate the way my face prompts others to question my foreign, other heritage.
I love my olive skin. I love the way it deepens to brown at the merest touch of sunlight. Its subtle green undertones remind me of the cool colours of forest undergrowth, or a beach in winter. I love my eyes, which are almond-shaped and shallow with folded lids like my father’s. I like the shiny blackness of my hair. I like my cheekbones, which are high and wide like my mother’s. I cherish the unexpected angles of my face: the strength of the cheeks and the jaw, the wide forehead, the soft chin. I like that it holds both sharpness and softness, both inquisitiveness and openness. I like the way my face carries pieces of my ancestors, and invites others to wonder where I am from.
Her complexion is the colour of coffee grounds. No makeup except for a subtle pink on the lips, collecting in the creases. Hair wrapped inside a bandanna with a pattern of purple and green leaves.
She is still when she speaks. Her unadorned hands, with long tapering fingers, lie calmly in her lap. Her round, strong shoulders do not move. Only her full lips, beneath broad cheeks, shape the syllables. Her sentences come short and sharp. Concise. Full of meaning. Without wasted words. She stares at you over her sentences, waiting for a reply.
When she stands up, she catches you off guard. You expect her to be taller than you, but she only comes up to your shoulder. Beneath her colourful skirts, her legs are bowed–a permanent reminder of an undernourished childhood. She walks with a fierce rhythm, navigating the stairs one at a time, steadfast and swaying. She does not hold the handrail.
In a dark community hall
In a dark campsite
In the dark Australian bush
The Holy Spirit descends
Wistful chords from unplugged guitars
Spinning two-dollar disco lights
A forest of swaying teenagers
Straining towards the heavens
The pastor torrents with prayer
The room swells with amens
The girl starts to shake and mutter
Bent into a Z by her faith
I watch as they lower her to the floor
Shuttered face, pale and glistening
Afterwards, they tell us tenderly
She was overcome by the Holy Spirit