Some people, especially men, are naturally ugly. They look like they have been made according to a second-hand template in a Third World factory somewhere out in the sticks. Oh, they have everything they should have; ears and eyes and such; but the assembly was done in haste and the proportions aren’t quite right.
Oliver Scarecrow Smith is a prime example. Even as a child the extent of his drawback in life dealt him blows that he didn’t really deserve. Teachers had him sit as far back in classrooms as possible, as if to create distance between ‘normal’ kids and the ugly duckling. Unfortunately, Oliver understood this and his exam results reflected his unhappiness. He was, one may say, suffering from a complete lack of self-confidence.
Way back then the people said it was because he was assembled in such haste. The biological father, who disappeared as soon as the news of the pregnancy became known, was the caretaker at the local drive-in. Of course, nowadays people can’t understand that people would want to watch a movie from the discomfort of some vehicles’ back seat, but hey, that’s what we did back then. The point is that his mother never paid entrance at the Springbok Drive In outside town. She worked there. ‘Worked’, you understand? Especially when the caretaker had to rush out from time to time to change the reels on the projector. That’s why, people said, Oliver looked like he did – his bits and pieces were put together in sections and in great haste over a period of time.
To describe Oliver is very difficult. His eyes are wide-set, like a chameleon’s, at the sides of his head. His nose tries to hide his fact and has spread out to cover the distance between the two organs. This phenomenon seems to have drawn his lips up to the point where most humans expect to see the nostrils while his ears have fled to the back of his head, You get the impression of his face when you drop and ice-cream on the pavement., especially if you add on the absence of his neck. His head, you see, seems to have been put slap-bang onto his chest, creating what is known as the Tortoise Look, and complementing the barrel shape of his thorax in the most unsightly manner.
I think you get the picture. Don’t forget to add the wide-spaced, uneven teeth; because even his smile will cause you to grimace.
My path crossed with Oliver’s when he brought in his wife for a pre-natal check-up. I was astounded. Did The Scarecrow actually find a bride? I know he left town some years ago, but I had him pinned down as a permanent bachelor. Yet, there he was, hand in hand with a woman, smiling his awkward smile.
“This is Molly, doctor. We want you to look after the pregnancy.” He explained that he had always trusted me. “When I was a kid, you were the only person to be really kind to me, Doc. You and Mamma. The others always showed their disgust as soon as I walked into a room. But you gave me lollipops and smiled when you treated me. Now I want you to catch our baby.”
I was sort-of-flattered. Oliver (I looked at the file) now stayed in Upington now, quite a distance away. Surely it would have been easier for him to get everything done there? I asked the obvious question.
“Aw, Doc, it shows you that life can be fair sometimes. I met Molly on set. You see, after I left here, I got myself a job as a helper in a theatre in the city. Maybe it has something to do with genes, I don’t know, but there you are.” He laughed and I had to concentrate not to look away. “It was the perfect job. I didn’t care about the hours and the time – I took care of that theatre like it was my own home. At night I fooled around with the sound system and the lights – and when the sound engineer was offered a job in television, I was the obvious person to take over. I loved it. I never had to face people that way, you see? I could hide away in my little booth and still feel part of the human race.
“Then Molly happened. She sings, you see. The voice of an angel and a face to go with it. Maybe it’s a little like Phantom of the Opera, but we met…and the rest is history.
“Now there’s nobody in the whole world I trust more than you to take care of the baby. That’s why…”
The ways of the Lord are mysterious indeed. Molly was beautiful – cover-girl lovely – and very much in love with the ogre at her side.
The pregnancy progressed well. When it was time, Oliver brought his wife in for induction and booked a room next to Boggel’s Place. When the clinic I run in the rondawel at the back of my house called me, Oliver was at her side.
“Will the baby be alright, Doc?”
I understood his concern. The worry in his animal-like eyes spoke volumes. He wasn’t talking about toes and fingers – his anxiety was focussed on the baby’s appearance.
I mumbled something and got on with the delivery. As soon as I saw the head crowning, I knew. Even before the face was visible, I noticed the ears: they were set too far towards the back of the head.
I’m not going to try to describe the baby. It wouldn’t be fair.
After everything was cleaned up and stitched together again, the baby was presented to Molly. Oliver looked on in great anguish – he had seen his son and I saw the single tear running down his lob-sided cheek. I had no words to express my feelings: it surely is unfair to sympathise under such circumstances?
Molly took the baby in her arms and stared at the little face for a long time. Then she smiled and looked up.
“You are just like your daddy,” she said proudly, “the most beautiful thing God has ever created.” She held out her hand to her husband, drawing him nearer. “I love you both so much.”
You know, the funny thing is I believed her. She wasn’t looking at the wide-set eyes or the flattened nose or the raised upper lip – she was looking into Oliver’s eyes and saw the anguish, the fear of rejection. She saw the years of suffering and not understanding. She also understood the value of strength and determination; of overcoming the odds and surviving despite disadvantages. Molly didn’t see the disproportionate face – she saw the power of love. She saw, quite accurately as it turned out, a happy family facing the future together.
When they left, I watched their car disappearing down the road to Grootdrink and I realised that Oliver wasn’t the lucky one in this situation. He will always look the way he does. Molly, on the other hand, has chosen to see beauty where others have tried to ridicule and belittle.
Maybe, I thought, there should be more Mollies and Olivers in our world. We should really all want to share in her gift of seeing the heart and not the face. It is such an easy talent.
It’s called love.