I’ve never seen her face before.
Her name is Mary, and she’s the new girl in my brother’s class.
They’re third graders, and I’m in the sixth grade. What’s weird about that girl is that she always wears a mask of some sort.
The teachers said Mary has some kind of physical deformity that we don’t know of. They told us kids not to forcefully take her mask off, or force her to do so.
But why? What is she afraid of? So what if she’s not perfect? She should not listen to rude, immature people.
See, I have an imperfection too. I have a cleft. Do you know how hard it was to swallow everything they said? But I learned to accept it. Okay, so I have a cleft. What are you gonna do about it?
I want to talk to Mary. I really want to.
Mary’s alone in the playground, wearing her favorite mask, a simple brown paper bag over her head. She’s sitting on the swing.
I approach her. I take the seat next to her and she looks at me.
“Where are the other kids?” I ask. “Usually, lots of little kids play here.”
“It’s because I’m here,” she replies.
Her voice hits me hard. I’ve never heard such loneliness. No, it’s deeper than that. Like despair, and anger.
“So are you gonna tease me too?” she says, looking me straight in the eyes. I look at hers too. She has beautiful baby blue eyes.
“No, silly. I’m here to be your friend,” I say.
A twinkle appears in her eyes, making them more beautiful. “Really?” she asks. “No one's tried to be my friend before. I mean, besides adults. The doctors, some teachers…”
“I really want to be your friend,” I reply. “I’m Liz. You’re Mary, right? My brother told me about you.”
“Oh, Jeffrey Adams. He’s in your class.”
Mary looks away. Even though I can’t see her face, I could feel that she’s frowning.
“What’s wrong, Mary?”
“Jeffrey,” her voice begins to tremble. “He and his other friends… They’re mean. They’re bullies.”
I suddenly feel mad at my brother. He discriminates kids like me.
“Why? What do they do to you?”
“T-they – They throw things at me,” her paper mask slightly goes wet. She’s crying. “They call me names and accuse me of bad things. They tell everyone to keep away from me.”
“I’m gonna kill that brat,” I mutter.
“They tell everyone I’m a monster. They even accused me for the disappearance of the missing kid.”
“You mean Johnny?”
“Yes. Just because he bullied me a lot.”
“Don’t worry,” I touch her shoulder. I feel really sorry for her. “As you see, I’m not different from you. Look at me, I have a cleft. It makes my voice as irritating as possible.”
“But I like your voice,” she says. “It’s so sincere. So true and so caring.”
What she said makes me happy, no one’s ever told me that before.
“You know what? You’re beautiful. Listen to your voice. So sweet and innocent, just like your heart. Look at your eyes, clear and pretty. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Here, let me take off your mask.”
“No!” she screams. She backs away from me. “You don’t understand!”
Then she runs away crying.
It’s been two days since Mary and I talked. I knew I must find her. I must apologize for rushing her into those kinds of things. I’m just a kid too. But then she found me.
“Liz!” she said, hugging me. She was wearing a ghost mask. “Sorry about what happened last time. Anyway, I would like to invite you to our house tonight. Here’s the address. Will you come?”
I really wanted to. “Absolutely,” I replied. “I’ll see you there at 7:30.”
Now I’m in front of Mary’s house. I’m about to ring the doorbell when a voice calls my name from the side of the house. It’s Mary. She’s wearing her paper bag again.
“Mary, what are you doing there?” I ask curiously.
“Come here. Let’s talk in the backyard.” I follow her to the backyard. There’s a wooden table and two wooden benches. White fences surround her yard with some flowerbeds on the sides.
“So why are we here, Mary?” I ask as we sit on the benches across each other.
“I don’t want them to see us,” she says. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, and I realized that you’re right.”
At last! I’ll be able to see her beautiful eyes completely, full of hope and excitement. Love and trust.
“Really!” I say in amazement. “What made you change your mind?”
“It’s everything you told me! I am pretty! I’m not perfect, but inside, I have a beautiful heart, just like you. I have nothing to be ashamed of! Thank you, Liz! Thank you so much!”
I’ve never felt so happy before. Mary and I were never that close, but now I feel that a special bond is created between us.
“I know you are,” I tell her sincerely. “I always felt you were special. Now that you’ve been enlightened, let’s take off your mask.”
I see her shake. She’s still scared. But I know it’s normal. I know she’s normal.
“Mary, if you’re not ready, I’m not forcing-”
“Wait. I will remove it,” she says bravely.
That’s my girl, I think to myself. That paper bag doesn’t suit her cute pink dress anyway.
She reaches up to her mask and removes it.
And it feels as if all my nightmares came to life.
She’s bald. She’s skinless. Literally. Her decaying teeth show off and her skinless flesh smells foul. Her head looks rotten and bleeding. Her veins and arteries cover a large part of her face and her beautiful eyes bulge out like they’re detached from the skull.
I can’t help it. I scream. She approaches me, but I back away. “Get away from me, you freak!”
Then I run away.
I’m lying on my bed. I’m so angry at myself. I’m so stupid. I shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have run and called her a freak.
Now, in her eyes, I’m no different from the rest of them. No, I’m worse than them. I want to kill myself.
What should I do now? I want to apologize, to beg for her forgiveness. But would she accept me?
Wait. Maybe she will. She has a golden heart, I know that. Maybe she’ll forgive me.
I go downstairs and pick up the phone. But I realize I don’t have her number.
Then I hear my door slam upstairs. It’s my brother. He locked himself in my room again. “Ugh! Jeffrey! I’m gonna kill you!”
Our doorbell rings. It’s 9:00pm. A visitor? But mom and dad aren’t home.
I open it and Mary greets me. She has a knife. Oh, no! I run in terror.
“I’m gonna kill you, Liz!” she screams. She isn’t wearing a mask anymore. “I’m gonna kill you!”
I run to my room. It’s locked!
“Jeffrey!” I shout frantically. “Open up!”
He won’t open the door. How would he know that I’m about to be murdered anyway?
I look around. She’s at the bottom of the staircase. “I’m gonna stab your heart! And then I’m gonna eat it!”
I scream again and pound on the door. “Jeffrey! Open the door! She’s gonna kill me!”
Mary charges at me. Wait. She’s creepy. But I’m bigger than her.
I hold both of her wrists. We struggle and end up on the top of the stairs. Her bulging eyes stare at me.
“I’m sorry!” I say. “I didn’t mean it! I just freaked out! I’m really sorry! I know it’s my fault. Let me make it up to you, please! Not this! Don’t do this, Mary!”
“You freaked out! Cause I’m a freak!”
I’m scared. I push her to save myself. She falls and stumbles to the bottom of the stairs. Her head bangs on the floor. Blood spurts out of her hairless, skinless head.
She looks so tragic. I pity her and I’m not mad at her. I know now that she killed Johnny. I really feel sorry for her. And angry at myself.
She was just confused.
From the bottom of the stairs, her dead, bulging, blue eyes stare back at me.