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My slim fingers reached out to the cold glass, wiping the steam. Water dripped, the syncopated sound ringing in my ear, my one working ear. My nostrils flared as I took a deep breath, trying to rid my mind of the horrible thoughts filling it, and I noted the scent of the vanilla body wash I always used. It was hot inside the bathroom, seeing as these days, I always took long showers. Anything to keep me out of the mirror long enough.
I didn't always look like this way. I used to have beautiful dark skin, hazel eyes and short, curly hair. I was skinny, so skinny bones jutted out of my body at peculiar angles. All of the juice fasts and low-carb diets truly worked, because I became the most successful model in the world. I was on the covers of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Glamour. There were paparazzi everywhere I went, and I loved it. I lived for the fame, the fortune, the recognition. Girls wanted to be me and boys wanted to be with me. There were so many people that loved me.
I never thought there were people who didn’t.
***Four Years Ago***
“Tabitha! The car is here!”
My mother’s voice carried from downstairs. I jammed my feet into my Louboutins and straightened in the mirror. The train of my beige gown flowed from behind, and my fingers traced each Swarkovski diamond in my necklace. I inhaled deeply, closing my eyes and imagining what the night would be like.
The Met Gala. The most prestigious fashion event in the world, and finally, finally, after three years of working so hard, I was finally being recognized. Fashion Icon of the Year. Little old me, Tabitha Mugenyi, a girl from East Africa with big dreams and big plans had ditched her dirty old village and had moved on up in the world: a high-fashion model.
“Tabitha! We’re going to be late!”
I snapped back to reality, picking up the hem of my long, flowing dress and descending the stairs. A smug smile spread across my face once my mother saw me.
“Mama, it’s not like they can start without me; I’m the guest of honor, remember?”
“Oh, Tabitha. You look beautiful...turn around, let me see.” I turned slowly, picking up the hem of my dress again so I wouldn’t step on it. Zuhair Murad had called one of my agents over three months ago, begging to design a dress for me to wear to the Gala. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised; everyone wanted to design for me. I had the look, the skin tone, the height, the weight, everything they needed to sell their clothes. I was perfect. I was perfect. I was perfect.
My mother and I got into the limousine, I took another deep breath. No, I wasn’t nervous. I never got nervous, anymore. Deep breaths helped me focus, and then, what I was focusing on was my fame. How had I managed to come so far?
“Alright Mama, remember what we talked about, earlier?”
My mother looked at me, her eyebrows furrowed. I rolled my eyes and reached out to her mouth, fixing her smudged lipstick with a grimace. “None of that village excitement, okay? No yelling or speaking Luganda or whatever. Just be classy and professional. Like me, okay?”
Mother blinked and me and grunted, turning away from me. “My friend, you better pop that big head of yours. It’s going to catch up with you one of these good days.”
I rolled my eyes, turning away from her as well. New York City blurred by, but I could see the police lights behind us. My agent wanted me to be as safe as possible, and a police escort did just the trick.
We arrived at the Metropolitan, and despite our little spat earlier, my mother squeezed my hand. “It’s your night, Tabitha.”
I nodded at her and waited for the driver to open my door. Camera flashes and loud voices replaced the silence of the car as I stepped out, and I smiled wide. The Red Carpet was long, and everyone was calling my name. I strode down the Carpet in my seven-inch heels, smiling, posing, giving the rare wave to the luckiest of the fans and photographers. This is what fame was like, and I was soaking it up.
Inside was a frenzy; waiters, waitresses, stage crew, and some other random people I didn’t know or care about. I was escorted to my table, where I sat with my colleagues and my mother, when the lights dimmed. The host came out, and at the moment, I couldn’t really remember what his name was. Awards were given out, speeches were said, and soon, it was my turn.
A slideshow projected on a screen, showing all of my progress as a model. All of the accolades I had previously won were mentioned, and I took another deep breath. I almost got anxious, but the presenter started talking about how pretty and amazing my modeling was, and the anxiousness went away.
“And now, a young woman who needs no further introduction. A true inspiration to young women of all nationalities everywhere, and the recipient of 2011’s Met Gala Fashion Icon Award, Ms. Tabitha Mugenyi!”
Applause roared in my ears, and I leaned over to hug my mother and my friends. Finally, after working so hard to get out of the village, I was receiving the fashion industry’s most prestigious award. I walked up to the podium, almost snatching my award from the presenter, before smiling at the crowd. The applause continued for a while longer before I opened my mouth to recite my speech.
“Thank you! Thank you all so, so much. You have no idea how hard I’ve worked to get to this spot that I’m in right now. Just a little over three years ago, I was sitting in some village in Uganda, praying that in some way, I would be able to get out of there. I am so glad to have been given the opportunities I have, and...well...look at me! Modelling has always come so, so naturally to me, and I’m so thankful that my talent and everyone else’s talent is being recognized tonight. Thank you so, so much!”
The rest of the night went by in a blur, considering all I was doing was marveling at the massive award that sat before me on the table. After the Gala, my mother decided to go home, and while I knew, in the back of my mind, that I should have gone with her, I didn’t. As she said, it was my night. And I chose to go out with my friends, drink a little, live a little. Everything was perfect. I was perfect.
I didn’t even remember getting inside a car to go home, but I did remember the driver of a limousine opening the door for me and helping me to my New York apartment building. The alcohol clouded my brain, and finding my house keys was too much of a struggle. I banged on my door, yelling for my mom, hoping she was even home. She never answered, and I decided to go back downstairs. I could just hail a cab and have them take me to a hotel.
I hugged my award close to my body as I stood outside, my sobriety betraying me while I walked. I tried to whistle, but nothing came out, and I started laughing.
Distant footsteps I had been hearing came closer, and soon, they broke out into a run. I turned in that direction, squinting to see if I could see anything through the already blinding light of downtown New York. The footsteps stopped abruptly, and I turned back around, only to be greeted by something shiny. And sharp.
I opened my mouth to scream, but the woman-I think it was a woman- clamped her hand over my mouth and dragged me into a nearby alleyway. She kicked me in my side, causing me to drop my award, and she took it from me.
“Shut up. Shut the hell up or I swear I will kill you. Don’t think I won’t. I’m gonna leave now, and you’re not gonna say a word about this, alright? Not like anyone cares about pretty girls like you anyway.”
I whimpered, sobbing while struggling against her strength. I worked so hard. I was perfect. I was perfect.
The woman got up to leave, kicking me again, and once she began to retreat, I screamed again, loud and even piercing my own eardrums. The woman turned around again, lunging at me with what I thought was a knife. “I told you; shut the hell up.”
The knife came down diagonally, cutting across my face. The woman raised her knife again and cut the other way, cutting deep. I could feel the warm, crimson blood seep out of my face, and I screamed louder, hoping anyone, anybody, would come and help me. They had to come and help me. I was Tabitha Mugenyi.
She kicked me again, then ran off, taking my award and dignity with her. I touched my face, the pain too much to handle.
I was perfect. I was perfect. I was perfect.
Tears stung my cheeks as I cried, wiping more steam off of the mirror. My eyes closed of their own accord at my reflection, and honestly, honestly, how could this happen to me?
My shoulders shook with rage as I looked longer and harder at my reflection.
Ugly. Deformed. Repulsive.
Designers didn’t call me, anymore. I didn’t win anymore awards. I never even left my apartment. People only saw the cuts in my face now, not the girl they had loved before.
I clenched my fist and swung at the mirror. How could I even look at something so ugly? The glass cracked and I punched again, harder, shattering the glass. My hand bled and I fell to the floor in tears, cursing and crying.
I was so perfect. I was so perfect. I was so perfect.