Ah, this is more like it! Something disquieting that was obviously written when I was feeling less than cheerful. That’s always rich fodder for ideas. When I can be bothered to stop staring into space and thinking about death, of course. Hah!
Ben was born with only one face, just like everybody else. His face was his face and while it was likely there were some out there in the wide world that were at least similar, when you came down to it his face was well and truly his face and no-one else’s.
And he, being a child and unversed in the ways of the world, was happy with this. It was only when he started to associate with people other than his parents that he learnt that his face on its own would not be enough to get him through life.
To put it bluntly, some of the children at school did not like his face. They made fun of certain parts of it, but not all of it. It was hard to understand why, because what they pointed out – and laughed at – were just differences. The width of his chin, for example, in comparison to the width of someone else’s chin. Their faces were different too, though apparently they were different in the correct way, as opposed to him.
And so Ben learnt how to change his face. Everyone did it. It was easy. All it took was a little concentration and it would shift; you could change just about anything you want. To fit in, to stop the laughing, Ben changed those parts of him and his face that attracted attention.
It worked. He blended in seamlessly, he was accepted and life became considerably easier. All he had to do was change back at the end of the day when he got home, and that was simple. He could remember what he looked like. Or rather, what he was meant to look like. What he had looked like to start with.
There was a face for school, and a face for home. This continued, and Ben aged. He learnt that life sometimes needed more than just two faces. As he acquired individual friends – as opposed to the gestalt group that had accepted him before – he learnt that around them on their own he had to make further changes to ease interaction.
They weren’t as mean about it as they were before, but he could tell some parts of him made them uncomfortable. So he changed them. It made things much easier. Much easier. And changing back was easy too, though he had to cycle back through his school face first to get back to his home face, but that was simple, and everyone was happy.
Later, when he was a little older still, he started to like a girl. She liked him too, just not his face, or at least the face he had around the others. She needed a special face just for her, Ben knew, and so she got one. It was a hard face to change into and it took effort to maintain, but it was worth it, and she’d do the same for him, presumably. Maybe she was already.
That was another thing Ben had learned: you changed faces in private. No-one saw you doing it. They might see your other face, but they’d never be there when it switched. It was unthinkable. So maybe she had another face he didn’t know about, or maybe she was perfect the way she was. Ben didn’t know, but it didn’t matter. It was easier to just change his own face. There was less fighting.
But his friends didn’t like the face he put on with her. They saw it one time and brooded on it, bringing it up later. They said it was a bad face, and that they weren’t a fan. They said they wanted more of the face they knew, the face he had around them.
Ben didn’t know why it was unacceptable to just split his time between the two of them – or even just revert back to his actual face, though it was getting harder to backtrack to it – but he knew better than to ask. He just nodded and smiled and agreed. He nodded and smiled and agreed when she said she didn’t like the face he had with his friends, either. Just nod and smile and agree. Easier, happier, no fighting, and at the end of the day go back to the old face.
He could do it all in his head now – now that he was older. There was his own face, his core face, the face he knew, and on top of that was his face for work, his face for friends, his face for her, his face for new people, his face for parties, his face for just going out and maybe some others he’d forgotten. Some of them blurred together sometimes and it was hard to remember which to use when if situations got confusing and there were lots of people, but no-one yelled at him usually so he must have been doing alright.
Ben noticed that the longer he went wearing his other faces, the more tiring everything got. He imagined everyone else had the same problem but they didn’t complain about it, so neither should he. If he did, that would make him worthless, and no-one would want to talk to him anymore.
So just suck it up he said to himself, smiling when people spoke to him and changing to suit them better. He had a party to go to after all, and that part of him that just wanted to scream and scream and be alone and have its own face was just being selfish and should shut up and go away.
Everyone else was happier this way, and they were very easy to make unhappy he had learnt. He had had a moment of weakness with her not long ago and his own face had slipped out and he had disagreed with her and she had been really very cross. He hadn’t made that mistake since and it had gotten better, but he hadn’t stopped being sorry about it. Selfish of him.
The party was okay. There were so many people his face kept having to flip. It was hard to find private places to do it in. Sometimes he thought people saw him flipping but he couldn’t be sure. His head hurt so much but complaining would make people unhappy so he couldn’t do it.
His friends and the girl didn’t like one another. They seemed like they might, but they thought he should be the way they thought he should be, and that was two different ways, so Ben thought they probably couldn’t get along really.
He was right, too. Towards the end of the night an argument happened. Ben wasn’t really listening – after a certain point all the words started to sound the same so he just kept nodding – but before he knew it he was on the floor, two pairs of hands on his face. His friend had one side, the girl another, and they were pulling. Ben just smiled and nodded as they tore his face free. It came off wetly, with a sound like paper tearing. It didn’t come off in one piece.
No-one really liked him after that. They looked at the bits of face they’d ended up with and decided they weren’t really fans. They dropped the ragged flaps and pieces onto him and wandered off to enjoy themselves. They seemed to get along better now.
Ben kept quiet and tried to piece it back together again but they didn’t fit right anymore and he couldn’t get things to go back the way they were. He tried so hard but they just wouldn’t. He found a mirror but someone else was looking back. Or maybe they weren’t. Maybe he’d always looked like that. He couldn’t remember. He couldn’t be sure.
He smiled, but it wasn’t his smile. In many ways, it wasn’t really a smile anymore at all. At least, it wasn’t Ben’s smile anymore.