The Beauty Clause
In this world, there are three types of people, according to appearance of face. There are the ordinary people. They are the people of the common working class, the everyday house moms, and even the occasional doctor or lawyer. Their natural appearance isn’t anything to swing a bat at. In most cases meeting an ordinary person would rarely even create cause for a second glance. Their facial features are enough to get them by and keep them from being stared at on the streets as though they were members of the circus passing through town. And often in order to maintain some sense of identity, to sway away from the flock, they develop love affairs with irony and comedy, choosing laughter over normality. However, whether wig, hat or turban, they remain the majority of humanity. They are the simple smile on the face of the human race. However, if the ordinary people are the simple smile, the outrageously good-looking among them form that hint of dashing dimple in the cheek of humanity. The so-called “beautiful” people are those rare occurrences of shocking chiseled features and magnificent sets of hair, the reigning class of society. Their gleaming, straight teeth and flawless skin single them out in the flock; beautiful diamonds among ordinary pebbles. They too make you stop in your tracks on the street, but for a reason completely disconnected with the circus. Instead of staring in acute fascination or mild horror, you find yourself staring because of complete neurological failure. Their stunning good looks are breath-taking and usually the envy of all societal circles.
But then there are those that nature produces every once in a while that do not belong in either of these groups, an anomaly in the fabric of design. They are attractive but not overtly so. They are uncommonly striking and yet still free to travel the streets without causing traffic jams. They are also generally gifted with some form of uncanny charm, whether smooth or awkward. Their humor sets them above most of the common folk and their allure calms the societal balances of the beautiful. In short, both circles, whether common or uncommon, love them and fear them for their innate ability to move past the holds of appearance.
Pradeepan Jeevamanoharan was one of these people. He was attractive with a quick sense of humor and deep love for irony. He had flawless, dark skin, luxurious black curls and gleaming white teeth set in a wide smile which he inherited from his foreign ancestors of Sri Lanka. His sense of humor was innate, as much a part of his identity as the casual strut with which he walked. He loved the awkward side of life, and chose to hold fast to his unique status due to his appearance and demeanor. Even from childhood, he had an unsettling ability for swaying the girls and creating awkward moments based solely on dry humor. As he got older, he embraced further his uniqueness among society, often nicknaming himself and demanding that his friends call him by his new namesake. “Terminator” became a favorite of his, as it invoked both images that were masculine and alien unanimously. As a young adult, he realized that he had an unnatural talent for parlor tricks, wooing the crowds with twirling cell phones and stunning toe-clutching abilities. This seemed to only enhance his allure, as it both added to the paradox of his unique position and to the ease with which he charmed the public.
Pradeepan in time became something of a local phenomenon. He had grown up in the lower section of Chicago, living among the marketers and shop venders set against the warm brownstone of the apartment buildings. When he walked down the grubby streets in his slow, deliberate manner, men would lean out of wooden stands to have quick conversations, women would stop to push food on him, commenting on this thinness, and children would run up for quick jokes or a game that relied solely on toe-clutching. He was loved by all and hated by none. And Pradeepan loved them in return.
Yet, above them all, there was one that Pradeepan had admired most. Her name was Raquel Venici. She was one of the beautiful people, with long dark waves of gleaming hair and big, moist blue eyes. She had a small dimple high on both cheeks. Seeing her, the viewer was often taken back to images of kewpie dolls with their long lashes and pouting lips. She was also something of a local phenomenon. She was the prized daughter of the city’s famed plumber and in the eyes of her father untouchable, a challenge to all the young men in the area and making Raquel the equivalent of the Hope Diamond. Pradeepan had watched Raquel from afar ever since he was a boy and first realized how easy it was for him to get girls to like him. Even then Raquel had been beyond reach. After time Pradeepan had given up hope that he would ever date Raquel.
That was until yesterday, during a sleepless night in April. April is the awakening of large cities. Though the noise of traffic and street life never fades away, they diminish during the winter months when people rush to get home to their warm apartments. April however, welcomes back the full volume of the city with the entrance of the warmer weather. Unable to reach even the exhausted state of sleep, Pradeepan had crawled out of bed, pulled on an old, faded pair of jeans with a White Sox t-shirt and stepped out into the cool, night air. Walking in the direction of the park behind the school yards, he lowered his head and contemplated the cement beneath his meandering feet. And he had run head-long into Raquel. He had, in fact, bumped her so hard that she had rolled across the sidewalk to come to a wheezing rest on the flat of her back.
Staring in horror, Pradeepan had run to her side, raising her into a seated position. Her long hair was flipped forward over the front of her face, her legs straight out with her hands planted at her sides. Flipping back her head, Raquel pinned Pradeepan with a look of scorn.
“I am so sorry, Raquel. I wasn’t looking where I was going.” He had stuttered.
“Well, I guess that is obvious now.” Raquel said as she got to her feet with Pradeepen’s aid. As she had stood, she yanked her arm out of his grip and looked down at her ruined pants. “I’m fine now. I was on my home anyway. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on my way.”
“Wait. At least let me walk you home. It’s the least I can do.”
“Oh, no, you’ve done enough, Pradeepan. I can make it from here.” Pradeepan paused in mid stride.
“You know me?”
“Who doesn’t?” Raquel said as she’d started down the street.
Pradeepan stood for a moment in silence before racing to catch up with her.
“Raquel, wait. I really am sorry. Let me make it up to you. Let me take you to dinner.”
Raquel stopped and sneered. “I don’t think I want to eat with someone who can’t even handle walking down an empty street.”
“Well, I guess I could just buy you some new pants.” He’d watched Raquel expectantly and jumped in surprise when she burst out laughing.
“You want to buy me pants? You are funny.” She’d smiled, wiping tears once her laughter subsided. “Alright, I’ll go out with you. But just once. Pick me up tomorrow night around seven.”
She had smiled softly at the shocked look on Pradeepan’s face and walked on down the street. Pradeepan had stood unmoving on the sidewalk, pooled in the light of the street light high above him, to watch Raquel move slowly toward her home three blocks away.
Now, sixteen hours later, Pradeepan was standing before the old carved, mahogany door of Venici home, trying now snap the stems of the pink tulips he held in his sweaty fist. He used the sweat and smoothed back the glossy curls away from his forehead.
Was he about to do this? Was he really going to take out Raquel Venici? Part of his brain was convinced that the events from the night before were only spirited hallucinations of a mind deprived of sleep and quiet. But the other part of brain, the part he fully intended to adhere to was cheering him on, raining on his ears constant and perpetual praise for a job well done. So, hitching up pants at the waist and placing his right foot firmly in front of him, he began his ascent up the cold, concrete steps of the front porch. Stopping abruptly, he swayed, trying to catch his balance with swinging arms. He was struck with a horrible and manhood-threatening thought.
“What if she didn’t like where they were going on the date? What if they had a horrible time?” Pradeepan’s knees shook slightly; his stomach a mass of greasy knots. “Of course, she’ll like it. She suggested it.” He planted his feet and examined the flowers. There weren’t too many heads missing. He climbed the rest of the steps precariously and dropped his fist down on the scarred door.
“I’m coming! Just putting my shoes on!” came a call from behind the door. The door opened to Raquel’s fresh face and a stream of angry English saturated by heavy Italian tones.
“You tell that boy, if he dates my daughter he will behave himself. One finger on you and I’ll rip that finger off! You tell him that from me! You hear me, Raquel? You tell him!” The Goliath shape of Mr. Viggo Venici loomed in the background waving a fist the size and shape of an Easter ham.
“Don’t worry, Papa! He’ll behave.” Raquel turned to find a much paler Pradeepan standing stonily on her porch. “Oh, come on. It’s okay. He threatens everyone like that. You should see him yelling at the White Sox.”
“Well I was pretty sure he wouldn’t snap me in half for the first date. I was amusing that would wait until the second or third date.” Pradeepan gave Raquel a warm, relaxed smile, now that they had moved at least a block away from the Venici house. “Come on, I have a great date planned.”
As they walked down the still rushed market streets, people ran up to Pradeepan to whistle and smirk. They smiled for him alone. Raquel on his arm seems to be only an attractive piece of Pradeepan’s ensemble, like a new hat or a fine, gold pocket watch. It was something Raquel did not miss. In fact, the further they walked and the more people who came with eyes only for Pradeepan, the further the deep flush over her cheeks spread. She was not used to not being noticed, and most especially not being noticed by her own date. Pradeepan, unaware of the internal confliction warring next to him, walked on clouds. His feet danced over the sidewalk. His smile stretched to encompass the city and warm every heart. He was out with Raquel Venici and the world loved him. It was perfect.
One block from the planned site of their date, Pradeepan’s skin was jumping with excitement. He had been nervous about choosing to take his date to this place. But now that everything was so perfect, he was sure he had chosen well.
“And here we are!” Pradeepan yelled as he turned Raquel to take in the fluorescent lights of the Banana Republic uptown. In the window a mannequin woman was modeling a bright turquoise skirt and a soft rose sweater. The other mannequin women next to her had on white capris with a tangerine top; the same pants Raquel had been wearing last night.
“I saw them this morning while I was walking around wondering where I should take you on our date. So, what do you think?” And for the first time since they had walked away from the old wooden door atop the cement stairs, Pradeepan looked Raquel in the face. The wide grin that had been stretched over his tan face fell, his lips closing over his gleaming teeth. Raquel’s face was now the shade of a ripe, red August tomato. Her moist blue eyes were now dry and bulging, two orbs sheltering a burning inferno. Her lips were a thin brown line drawn onto the tomato red of her face. Pradeepan flinched and instinctively took several steps back from her. Raquel’s mouth opened into a wide back void, swallowing most of her nose and lifting high into her cheekbones.
“You brought me to buy pants? You brought me to buy pants? What’s the matter with you?” Her words roared hollowly out of the empty space in her face. “I was joking, you idiot! I didn’t really want to buy pants!”
“I…I’m sorry. It was really j-just meant to be funny.” Pradeepan stammered. His feet which had just moments before floated above the ground, landed harshly back on the ground, rendering his knees jelly.
“I dint know why I ever agreed to this! I must have been out of my mind.” Raquel spun on heel and steamed back down the sidewalk like a freight train. People in her path leaped to the sides or pressed up against the display windows. Pradeepan ran after her and heard her mumbling. “They think he’s so wonderful…didn’t even speak to me…didn’t they see me…oh my god, he was going to buy me pants…he’s not that handsome….I’m more beautiful than he is….I know I am…”
“Wait, Raquel! What are you talking about? What’s wrong?” Pradeepan huffed breathlessly.
“Go away! I can’t date someone people think is more beautiful than I am. And definitely not some more beautiful who takes me on a date to buy pants!” she screamed over her shoulder.
Pradeepan stopped in the street. He stood silently as he watched Raquel storm away. On his face a look of shock was frozen on his face.
“She broke up with me because I’m beautiful?” He mumbled out loud. And in his head a rumor long disputed, one he had contemplated for a long time was confirmed. Women don’t date men who are better looking than them. A smile broke over Pradeepan's face, as he walked calmly back toward him home.
“I knew she couldn’t have been mad about the pants.” He said, relieved. “I mean, it was such a great idea.” He walked among the noise and traffic, the calls from friends; he walked tall. He was a wiser man; a better man; a man both beautiful and common. He was the loophole in the beauty clause.