The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and the Crime She Committed Against Her Own Face

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We met at the gym. I can remember a number of occasions I had seen her before we spoke, and she flowed inside the parameters of her name.

Before that, she was a force of nature; a wind of the imagination. I never knew which corner I’d turn and she’d come breaking over me with the force of a wave.

Often, I would watch her walking on the treadmill, her face so relaxed once boredom made it blank and I could look right into it.

Ellsworth Kelly said that when you see things cleansed of their connotations, ultimately everything becomes abstract. She was a confluence of immaculate lines, as perfect as the plan of God written in the undulations of a field.

The paradox of this woman was that she was painfully shy. She didn’t seem comfortable looking directly at anyone, and her eyes were perpetually lowered. Except for one time.

I drove past her as I was leaving work. She was walking home. I watched the rhythmic flash of her ankles at the bottom of her black tights as she walked along the footpath.

She turned her head as she lifted the earbud underneath the soundless bell of her hair and our eyes locked.

Some weeks later, she bounced out of the gym while I was sitting at a table at a café, reading.

‘Hi!’ she said, taking the ear-bud out of her ear.

‘Hello,’ I said, ‘What’s your name?’

‘My name’s R -.’

‘R -,’ I said, closing my book and putting it on the table next to my coffee, ‘You remind me of a quotation I saw written on a palace wall when I was travelling through India. May I quote it to you?’

‘Sure!’

‘If I could be anything, I’d be one of your tears,’ I began, meeting her eye as the seconds coalesced into a moment. ‘To be born in your eyes, to live on your cheeks and to die on your lips.’

‘Wow,’ said she.

‘That reminds me of you,’ said I, which was absolutely true.

‘I have to go to work,’ she said.

‘That’s okay,’ I replied.

And with that, she turned and jogged away down the street.

**

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The following years saw much drama surrounding R – as she drifted in and out of my life, eventually sailing away at a determined pace towing the fullness of my heart behind her.

It was that most horrible of loves when your mind is in full revolt but is powerless to do anything more than cough and splutter in the wake until the tow rope breaks and your heart can begin the long swim home.

The thing that allows us to move on generally comes in the form of some kind of definitive event which switches off the halcyon light and you can see them as they ‘really’ are.

I resist ‘stalking’ people on-line; it’s a sign of weakness. I also believe I must resist the dehumanising, objectifying effect that media has taken on since the advent of Facebook and Instagram. Never before have men and women been able to objectify themselves so conclusively.

Anyhow, I googled R – and was overcome with horror by what I discovered. She had always been shy and rarely posted photos of herself online. Until now. She had posted a series of posed photographs of herself, looking down the barrel of the camera lens.

In place of the face that launched a thousand Commodores was a face substantially altered by cosmetic surgery and collagen injections.

At twenty-eight years of age. There was something blasphemous about it, kind of like when ISIS blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

‘We live in a sick world’, I thought to myself as I went into my house and shut the door, staying indoors and feeling ill for the rest of the day.

When I emerged, it was in the full force of rant. I ranted to all my friends; none of them liked her, of course.

‘Such an act is to profane against the hand of the creator!’ I exclaimed.

‘It’s her face,’ said an elderly friend of mine. ‘She can do whatever she likes with it.’

I had no answer for this. Until now.

**

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Cormac McCarthy wrote in The Crossing that ‘Doomed enterprises divide lives forever into the then and the now.’ The shore of the ‘now’ I had washed up on after the most beautiful girl in the world had left was a barren, desolate place.

I decided to throw everything into the air; my job, my savings, all my moorings, and walk away in a straight line towards the horizon, writing her letter after letter and throwing them over my shoulder and into her email as I went.

I had split with her and knew that any relationship was untenable. But, like everything else, love has a life of its own. Eventually, I found myself in Africa, at the edge of the Sahara desert.

I caught a bus from Zagora at four in the morning. Waking up at that time isn’t great, but it means that you can get off the bus at midday, which is a good thing when the air-con is broken and the occupants are throwing up left, right and centre due to motion sickness. Once I arrived in Merzouga, I caught a taxi into the township proper.

Merzouga is, by my standards, a weird town. It doesn’t feel like anything more substantial than a stand of tents, even though the buildings are sunk into the ground.

It’s got people and it’s got commerce however, and the unsealed streets, about four of them, are bustling with foot traffic. I found my hotel, dumped my stuff and asked the hotelier where the desert was.

“Go outside, turn left and it’s at the end of the street,” he said. Seemed like a pretty inauspicious set of instructions to reach one of the most famous places in the world.

He wasn’t joking. The Sahara desert was a series of climbing undulations that mounted as they receded, one taller than the other, brick red against the dirty yellow ochre of the road.

In my own mind, I’d reached the end of the world. I felt like a fourteenth-century sailor approaching the edge of the map and expecting to sail off the edge of the sphere.

I wanted to walk up and stick my toe into the golden thread where the earth was stitched along the bottom of the sky. What would emerge from that auspicious seam? What would I see? What would I come to know?

Most clear, definitive lines are an optical illusion. It’s a trick we play on ourselves because of the limitation of our eyesight. Not so here. The yellow of the road disappeared into the mass of the desert, an untidy, but distinct wandering line.

There’s a form of severe culture shock called Stendhal syndrome. Interestingly, it most often overtakes Japanese when they arrive in Paris and manifests as a kind of severe disorientation. Some people experience it when they see snow for the first time.

The desert, while elementally opposite to the ocean, behaves almost exactly the same. You sink into the sand like water, embraced right up the leg to the knee, with a sensation that can only be described as saturation.

The sand is warm and holds you. You’re real, nobody’s dream: as real, as definite as the temperature of its grip.

Some guy came out of a tent, wanting to practice his English. He was doing a doctorate in something or another.

“You don’t understand what this is like!” I screeched. “I’ve never seen the desert before!”

I watched my leg disappear into the sand as I set out to walk across the surface. It was so fine and particulate it found its way in amongst hair, crack, wrinkle, fold, orifice and crevice.

A wind sprang up and lifted the surface of the dune into the air. It played across the convex curve of sand as if the wind had lifted the soul of the desert, its anima, just above its face.

It was so fine a thread, I could actually discern the grit moving around as if the dune was dissolving into pixels.

The guy started to talk to me about his studies and ask me questions about my travels, but I don’t remember anything we said. A sandstorm coalesced in the distance.

The threads swept together into a knot until a red veil filled the vista, subsuming both earth and sky to become one solid, graded colour that became increasingly vibrant the closer it got.

Once it started to abrade my face and get in my eyes, I bade goodbye to my friend and scuttled back to my hotel. When I took off my shoes, a thin stream of red sand poured out into the cracked ochre paving of the courtyard.

**

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The next day, I set out under a blazing blue sky for the desert proper. I mounted the first dune and once I was over the other side of it, the town disappeared and I was utterly alone.

Leonardo Da Vinci said that the spiral was the atom of nature’s design. Anywhere you cared to look in nature, you’d find it as the recurring cipher in the plan of God.

That morning, the surface of the dunes were immaculate, scrubbed clean by the winds of the night before. Each had a perfect crest that set a line across the gentle parabola of its face and along the back was a braided pattern, as if combed in by the fingers of the wind. And staring at it, suddenly, I saw her.

The desert was a giant abstraction of her body. One dune was the exact undulation of her hip when she lay on her side. The other bore the slight concavity of her belly when she lay on her back.

Curves of hair, calf and cheek, laid out in elemental beauty beneath the African sky. The sun graded the colour of the sand just as it had graded the colour of her skin.

Hanging between sand and sky, I realised that she was the ultimate metaphor.

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One Response to “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and the Crime She Committed Against Her Own Face”

  1. You’re crazy man

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