There was the one she wore to work. It was porcelain, resigned, compliant and emotionless. It greeted clients with a mechanical smile, its lips moving rigidly, as if tugged into action by the hands of an invisible puppeteer. Good morning, sir. Tea or coffee, sir? Mr. Adeyemi will be with you soon sir. It never faltered, never showed any emotion other than that of smiling servitude. Not even when Mr. Golibe put his hands in places they should not be. Its eyes hid feelings well, like curtains hid the contents of a house from strangers. Salima hated this face, but it was the face that earned her money and so she kept it safe, even though she longed to hit it against the white walls of the office until it was smashed to pieces.
There was the face she wore to the bars at night, with eyes that were like Venus flytraps. They captured men and did not release them till she was ready to let them go. Its lips smiled easily, unassumingly, like they did not know the effect that they had. They beguiled, teased, imprisoned. The eyelashes on this face were playfully flirtatious, darkened and lengthened with mascara. This face was made of sleek iron metal that did not bend, metal that broke but did not break. Salima often regretted the things she did with this face, but when she wore it she was invincible.
Salima’s third face was the softest of them all, knitted together painstakingly with cashmere wool. It had button eyes and a smile that was permanently sewn on. It reminded her of the ragdoll she played with as a child, the ragdoll whose face she learnt to imitate, especially when speaking to her father. This was the face she wore home during holidays and extended weekends, the face that greeted family members and potential suitors. It was soft and demure, showing delight and awe at the right times. It laughed daintily at the jokes of men who were not funny, and when she spoke through it her voice was low, muffled. It was itchy, hot and often felt like a noose. Whenever she wore it she had to fight the constant urge to claw it off and rip it apart.
The face she wore with him was made of crystal-clear glass and had windows for eyes. It opened her up to him completely and he could see everything she felt, everything she was. She wore it with him and him alone, because she trusted only him, because he was the only man living that she had ever loved. He could see as far into her mind as he wanted, there was nothing hidden from him. She made sure of that. Letting him see all of her was the greatest gift she could give, and she gave it willingly. This face was a fragile thing. It cracked when she discovered the first lipstick stain on his shirt. It splintered when she smelt the other woman’s perfume on his skin. It shattered when he left.
There was the face she wore behind all the other faces, the face she wore when no-one was looking. While the other faces were made of shiny porcelain and soft cashmere and polished glass, this face was made of real skin. It was the face that felt, the face that bruised and ached under the weight of the others she carried around. When the other faces were cut, it was the one that bled. It had been stunning once, flawless and unmarked. Now it was a mess of scars and vivid blue-black bruises. This face wore hate well, hate and sadness and rage. Of all the things that made her real, it was the only remaining piece. A relic. Sometimes she took a knife to it and cut it till it bled because the pain and the blood reminded her that she was still alive.