The Performer by Miko Penn

November 29, 2012 Comments Off on The Performer by Miko Penn

A thick black line obstructed my view of her. The headband wasn’t doing its job. As I watched her face, severed into two unequal parts, the words never touch your face replayed in my mind.

Don’t touch your face. She was the one responsible for that mantra, and I was braced to hear it. This happened every night. I was only nine years old, and she knew I would never sit for long. Touching your face meant at least another hour of reapplication.

With my distress palpable, she reached out her porcelain hand and swept the rogue hairs from my face. I was relieved she was in one piece again.

“Koko ni saute,” she said and motioned to the cushion. I went to sit on it. Then, no time was wasted. Frenzy ensued. A sweep of foundation, faux lashes, and deep crimson lipstick. She finished herself before starting me. I watched in horror as she disappeared from sight. Replaced by a ghost of what she once was, yet somehow new and beautiful. As she turned to me, I struggled to keep still. Fine powder assaulted my nose. I fought off the urge to sneeze. I thought of a corpse and a mortician. It worked. My innocence was covered, each feature, one by one. I now looked like her, but the worst part was coming: the binding. I stood up and the regimen began. 

“Ichi, ni, san,” she counted.

I sucked in deeply. This always frightened me. I never knew when I would be able to breathe again. The layers wrapped around me. They squeezed the air from my lungs, and I was handicapped. No longer was moving the goal. Objective achieved. I was a doll.

The transformation continued as she placed delicate silk over my body. Swans interwoven with cherry blossoms accessorized with an ornate fan of a similar pattern. She chose a masculine cobalt blue robe and donned a sword. On stage, she’d be my knight in shining armor, and I her princess.

Unlike hers, my movements were jilted and obviously rehearsed. It didn’t really matter. I was tiny and American, every businessman’s fantasy. Just being present would suffice. Yet, I felt insecure about being flaunted, comforted only by the makeup, which distorted my features to make them unequivocally beautiful. I hid in plain view.

Later, men would hoot and holler, throw bags of money on stage. Bouquets of flowers would hit our feet. I would be embarrassed and objectified. Would feel like an instrument of submission. So I would dance as someone else. Tonight, maybe Madame Butterfly, rebelling against oppression. Tomorrow night … so many possibilities.

But for my Oba-chan, this wasn’t true. Under the white-painted mask, she was more herself and stronger than ever before. With each wielding of the sword, she reclaimed power as a woman. She became the inanimate incarnate. She turned to face me straight on, then she winked at me, and suddenly, I was excited to do it all over again tomorrow.

© 2012 Miko Penn

Miko Penn divides her time between working as a law clerk composing legal writings and as a fiction writer. When she is not writing, she spends time in her San Diego home with her partner, newborn daughter and three dogs.

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