Thursday, March 19, 2009

Defining Beauty

(This week's Search Engine Fiction prompt was 'Beauty' and here is my story)

Afterward, it was decided, wrongly, the whole thing had gone the way it had because of the choice of judges. In the past, judges were the least of the long list of worries for the Miss Botswana League of Auxiliary Hostesses Beauty Pageant Committee or Miss Blah, as it was commonly called. They had to get invitations out to the most important people in the village which caused lengthy meetings because of the many disagreements among committee members as to what constituted an important person and what didn’t. They had to pry toasters, blankets, and other miscellaneous household items from the reluctant hands of local business owners so that they could be used as prizes. That took a lot of time, too. But picking judges had never been a problem. You could pick anyone, it could be done at the last moment; it had never been an issue of any consequence in the past, so that’s why they had delegated the task to Rosalind Moagi.

Rosalind was once Miss Blah herself- Miss Blah 1951- the sash she kept displayed in her sitting room proclaimed. Since then, she’d been a stalwart member of the committee, but of late that had become problematic for the other members. Rosalind, now 79, had slowed quite a bit which most agreed was not the biggest problem. The biggest problem lay in her inability to prioritise efficiently. She couldn’t quite distinguish from the important and the unimportant details. The year before, she had a battalion of younger committee members searching up and down the Mahalapye River for sand the exact colour of the Crayolla crayon called burnt sienna, they were each given a small bit of crayon for comparison. She wanted to use sand in the bottom of the vases for centrepieces on the tables. It was an hour before show time and the bulk of the workforce was traipsing through the river still looking for the right colour sand. It nearly ruined the whole event.

So this year, to ensure a similar disaster didn’t take place, Mma Kgopana, the chairperson of the committee, put Rosalind in charge of judges. She was sure no damage would be done as it was always obvious that one girl on the crowded stage was outstanding. It was just the way it went every year without fail. So judges just needed to follow the crowd and everything turned out fine.

But Rosalind got it in her head that it was inappropriate to have judges with dirty fingernails. Why this became an issue no one could say but it caused the disqualification of many fine people and in the end left three judges with suspect credentials, though, decidedly dirt-free nails. There was Mma Moeng, who washed the towels and sheets at Itumeleng Hotel, Mr. Kago, owner of Nama Butchery, and Beauty Refilwe, the local swimming star. It was an odd group, but the committee accepted it as they knew it made little difference to the success of the event anyway.

But at the same time, other things were taking place, things that had nothing at all to do with clean-nailed judges. For reasons not quite established, Mosetsanagape John decided that this year she would enter Miss Blah. She was quite short and had the shape of an apple. Her mother was of the opinion that hair straighteners were the invention of Satan after a particularly bad trip to the salon, so Mosetsanagape had natural hair in abundance, pushing out from her round face to almost half a metre in any direction. She didn’t like flashy clothes or high heels; she didn’t even put on a swimsuit for that part of the competition, but instead donned the traditional letaise. But what Mosetsanagape did have was an enticing smile. It was a pulling-in smile, one that excluded no one, making everyone feel like they had a friend in her. At the same time, the smile, strangely, stayed unnoticed. People just felt attracted to Mosetsanagape for reasons they couldn’t quite identify and they decided it must be because she was beautiful.

In the end, all the tall, willowy girls with straightened hair, tottering high on thin spiky heels went home with blankets watching jealous-eyed as Mosetsanagape draped the sash across her barrel chest and squeezed the crown on top of her magnificent afro. She smiled back at her competitors and the greenish tint in their eyes disappeared because who could begrudge a friend her day in the spotlight?

The next year the willowy girls stayed home and only the apples crowded the stage since it appeared that was what was beautiful now. Beauty is an odd, flighty thing, decided today by a curved thigh, tomorrow by extra white teeth, and the day after that by eyes shaped like almonds, or, in some cases, a certain unnoticed smile that turns everyone it meets into friends and confuses people about what beauty truly is. Nevertheless, the next year Rosalind Moagi got put on the catering committee and spent days cutting cabbage leaves into perfect little diamond shapes, and Mma Kgopana kept the task of choosing the judges for herself.


The Bookaholic said...

This is a very good one and congrats on winning the BAOBAB prize...that should now reflect on your writing success. Congrats again!

Geraldine said...

What an intriguing and compelling take on this lovely prompt. Great story Lauri, very original.

Hugs, G

Lauri said...

Bookaholic- love your blog. Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words.

Geraldine- Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I think Miss Blah sums up what many of us think about beauty pageants. Very clever. Your little touches of whimsy always tickle my fancy - such as Rosalind not liking judges with dirty fingernails. These little quirks make your stories so real for me.

Beauty is indeed an odd, flighty thing!!

Lauri said...

I thought long and hard (well not that that long but a little bit hard) about how to get to the acronym BLAH. I liked a beauty pageant called Miss Blah; it just felt right.

Anonymous said...

delightful tale, though I have trouble pronouncing the names and I like that the title shorten to Miss Blah, which defines beauty pageants for me, a very enjoyable read

Lauri said...

Lissa- You know sometimes I use Setswana names to make small jokes for myself. Mosetsanagape is quite a common name here, it literally means 'girl again'. Thanks for your comments.

groovyoldlady said...

Miss Blah...Hahahahahaha! This was delightful! I love it!

Lauri said...

Groovy thanks for stopping by I know your busy that side with your bike training and such. So glad you liked the story.

Anonymous said...

delightful and so true about "beauty" being defined by consensus - great take on the prompt!

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