By Rhianna Malas
Illustration by Lingrui Luo
You look in the mirror, the oval window to yourself. Poking at your skin, gazing deep into your own eyes. You don’t like the colour. Make them blue, no, green! Blue-ish green? You remember they liked them when they were green. Make them green. What would your friends think? You have so many friends, so many different friends. The students liked your curly hair, messy like their own minds through revision and countless exams, but the musicians liked it wavy, as a strummed guitar string, vibrating to the tune. Doing both would be a mess, and you know it. The cats liked it when you walked on all fours, when you had a tail and eyes that would glow when the spotlights hit them.
None of these are you, though, are they? The real you, who you were before you changed, for something or someone. Who were you back then? You never asked yourself that before. You usually switched on a whim. Well, not on your whim. You would look at the birds beckoning you to the trees, and suddenly you had wings. They liked you with wings. You don’t like flying, too much strain on the arms, but you like the birds, and they like you. Your true self is nothing but a distant memory, one that you’re trying to unlock as you press your face close to the reflective glass.
You might’ve been human. How boring would that be? You slipped into the role so easily, but maybe you’ve been human for so long it’s like second nature. What was the first? Maybe something close to human, but not quite. Probably a chimpanzee. No, that’s not right. Is it possible you’re not even of this world? It’s not normal, the ability to shapeshift, you knew this from the beginning. Whenever that was.
You always wondered what would happen if you suddenly changed back to what you originally were, a dropped character in this constant one-man show. Yet, you always dread actually doing it. You’re afraid that one day, you’ll accidentally slip. A slight hiccup in your own constantly changing system. What a horrible mistake that would be. But you always knew that shapeshifting was never easy, the gift of endless opportunities coming with the curse of instability.
At best, they’ll be shocked and possibly a bit afraid. At worst, who knows? You tremble at the thought. But you tremble more at what you could be without this façade. Without the constant shifts to please whichever crowd you’re performing to. Ugly, insignificant, and alone. When the curtain falls, do you know who you’ll be? You think back to what they’d say about being a ‘jack of all trades’. Was being a master of none better than having one unchangeable, unlikeable identity?
‘Be yourself’. You wonder if that was ever good advice.
You turn your back on the mirror in confirmation, and walk away with the knowledge that you’ll never be what you were again.