The mirrors in Nancy’s two-bedroomed house were always turned toward the wall. She took down all the ones that couldn’t move to her preference. That way when she walked around her home, she didn’t catch an unwelcome glimpse of what she was becoming. She didn’t want to catch the look on her own face as she lay on the bed when yet another man was putting on his clothes after a roll in the sack.

It wasn’t an unpretty reflection; or so her friends would have her believe. But somehow, Nancy found a way to despise the way she looked. She didn’t trust what the mirror showed her. It was never constant. One day she was beautiful, the next she was hideous. Her high cheekbones were at once, elegant and obtrusive. Her nose was perfect in the morning and too large by the time she came home from the office. Her dark skin she both loved and loathed, depending on how the light fell on the mirror.

Teresa always asked her the same thing. And she had done everything to avoid really thinking about the questions. Hard as she tried though, she couldn’t keep her mind from working at them. Nancy could hear Teresa’s soft voice.

“Why are you so unhappy? Why do you do the things you do?”

Working as an accountant had always been dull to her. It didn’t satisfy her, but she had to eat. Being in the firm she was in, eat well she did. And quite frankly she had gotten used to a certain kind of lifestyle. Her parents had separated when she was five. Living with her mother was fine. She got everything she needed. Father, however, made sure she got every material thing she wanted. He had moved his new family to one of the swankier estates in town. He could afford to spoil her. Anyway, it was his way of easing the guilt of hardly seeing his first daughter.

Whenever Nancy ran out of money at hand on one of her road trips, his number was never too far from mind. She never saw the need to carry her ATM. To be honest, she didn’t really need to wait for her money to run out. When she’d had one drink too many, she’d find herself dialing his number, hope crushing her heart. But just like the conversations they’d had over her lifetime, they were always short. Mechanical.

“Dad…..?”

“Yes.”

Silence.

“How are you?”

“Fine. I…..”

“How much do you need?”

She cleared her throat. “The usual.”

She always woke up next to a stranger after one of those calls. It didn’t matter who it was. As long as they would leave in the morning and never cross her path again, she was fine. But in the silence that they left behind, all Nancy was aware of was the void in her heart growing larger, darker, louder.

In an act of desperation during one of the silences, Nancy put her clothes on and walked to the counseling centre. That morning, she was more afraid of the mirror than usual. So when she got to the centre, her hair was a mess, she didn’t notice that she hadn’t buttoned her shirt well and there were tear tracks on her face. Only when she saw the receptionist give her a quick once-over did she consider what she must look like.

“I need to see someone,” Nancy said.

“Who are you here to see?”

“Anyone.” Nancy’s voice broke as she said this.

“Take a seat. I’ll find someone for you.”

The five minutes she had to wait were agonizing. She couldn’t sit still so she paced and wondered what good it did her to lie about her name. The receptionist had asked for her name alongside the fee for a session. The name had left her mouth almost involuntarily. Old habits, she guessed.

“Lucy?” Nancy walked back to the receptionist’s desk. “Go to the room at the far end of the hall.”

She found a pleasant looking woman standing outside the room. The lady reminded Nancy of her aunt Justina. She looked like the cool aunt who kept your darkest secrets and covered for you when you had done something stupid. Nancy hugged her; surprising herself as much she did Teresa.

Ten sessions later:

“Why are you so unhappy? Why do you do the things you do?”

Nancy knew what it was. She’d had twenty-three years to figure it out. And it brought her shame to have to say it out loud. She prided herself on being strong.

“I needed my father.” She went quiet, fighting to keep from crying like she always did when she spoke of her father. She took a steadying breath.

“I need my father. But he doesn’t see how much his absence affected me.”

 

© yvonne mulandi