May 2003
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The True Meaning Of Ugly (short story)
By Joy L., Fredericton High, Fredericton, NB

Chapter One

I am a sixteen-year old girl from Beijing, China. I celebrated my birthday just weeks ago, and I am very happy because I have been accepted into the university of my choice. But now my happiness has gone away, because something so terrible and evil has happened to me I want to put it out of my mind forever. I can't though, because that would just be running away, and I can't run away from my life.

Just two weeks ago I went to a friend's party, it was a gathering of some sort; many people who I've not met were there, so it was hard to feel comfortable. Then this man in an expensive-looking suit came up to me and shook my hand, he was very polite and very kind to me; when I asked him what he did for a living, all he did was smile and said the word ‘business'. I was a very trusting girl back then, so young and innocent I only saw what was in front of me, but not ahead. He asked about my studies and asked what I wanted to be, I proudly said ‘a teacher for kindergarten'. He looked at me curiously and shook his head slowly, from side to side.

"You're a very beautiful young lady, you should consider modeling for a job."

I was very flattered, I knew I was pretty, with my long black hair and big eyes, but no one had ever called me a beautiful young lady before, I blushed and ducked my head. At that moment I didn't see his eyes, they were gleaming with hunger, he was like a starving tiger charming its way with a baby rabbit.

"Actually, I run a modeling agency, we look for beautiful women all the time; but you have an exotic look about you. It's very fresh and new, and we like that."

"Wow." I could feel my smile reach to the corner of my eyes, "You seriously think I'm that pretty? That's so cool - I don't know what to say."

"Tell you what," He patted my shoulder, "why don't you come to North America this summer, you're off from school now aren't you?"

I nodded.

"Good, our whole company is in Toronto, I'll get you a free flight, book you a decent hotel with a nice pool and good room service, and you can just try the modeling job; if you don't like it, come back in the fall."

I pondered this idea; it was awfully tempting.

"Think of it as a once-in-a-life-time vacation; free with no charge."

It sounded good; I liked the idea more and more by the minute.

"I don't know"

"If you're not sure, that's fine, but think about it, you're very lovely girl and you could go some where with a face like yours."

I smiled and agreed.

* * *

I looked around the Toronto airport with my luggage in my hand, waiting for someone, anyone to come. The people spoke a different language from the one I was so used to, they sounded like buzzing bees; all hovering around my ear. Millions of unfamiliar faces swerved around me, I felt scared and alone; at that moment I began to question my decision of coming here.

"Ah-Mei?" A Chinese man asked me, looking at me with doubt.

"That's me." I answered in Chinese, I had thought he was also a modelling agent; I gave him my brightest smile and hoped he found me attractive enough.

"Let's go," He answered roughly and walked away without another word, I followed meekly behind and got into the van inside. There were two other Asian girls in there as well, they looked a couple ages older than me, and much more prettier. They had smooth ivory skin and deep set eyes, they looked like movies stars that my friends and I had always admired and wanted to be.

"Ni Hao." I said hello to them in mandarin and one gave me a friendly smile while the other looked away coolly.

During the ride the girl that smiled at me told me her name was Xian- Hwa, with the first kanji symbol meaning ‘sweet-smelling' and the second meaning ‘flower'. Xian- Hwa told me that when she was born, the wild flowers smelled exceptionally sweet that year, so her mother had given her that name; in hopes of her having the same gentle and sweet nature as a flower. She also told me that her family was always very poor and one day this man showed up and offered her family money in exchange that she became a model, so she's here hoping to give herself a better life and not to go home empty-handed.

"I want to give myself a better education and I would one day like to become an actress." Xian- Hwa's soft spoken voice told me, as if entrusting me with a special secret.

"I'm sure it will happen" I encouraged her, "Just believe in yourself and anything will come true."

"Ha!" The other girl snorted, "Those are feeble dreams, I'm going to come here and become a famous super model." She ran a hand through her silk hair and crossed her long, slim legs.

"This is North America, I'm going to buy myself a mansion and marry a very handsome supermodel just like myself and I'll buy myself a sports car, and I'm going to this and that."

"Would you all just shut up back there?" The driver demanded impatiently, " You're giving me a headache, and you gonna find out soon that these dreams of yours aren't going come true that easily, or at all."

We fell silent, what did he mean? Why was he speaking to us in that voice? I felt really cold all of a sudden, as if the air just froze or something. I reached for Xian-Hwa's hand and gave it a tight squeeze.

We arrived at this huge building of some sort, and we silently take our luggage and went through the front door, it was like a giant hole that swallowed us in, for some strange reason I felt we were like prisoners stepping into jail, without knowing when we will ever leave again.

"Ah! My three lovelies!" The model agent I had met in Beijing beamed at us three, "I'm glad to see you are all doing so well, every single one of you look absolutely radiant."

I didn't want to say thank you because he was looking at us in an odd way, as if examining us like fine furniture and he didn't want any scratches of splinters. I felt odd and uncomfortable, and also this feeling that felt more and more like fear. At the time I dismissed it as nervousness, I thought I was scared that I wouldn't know what to do and make a fool out of myself; the silly kind of jitters.

After we had something for dinner and rested a bit, a man showed me where I was going to stay; Xian-Hwa and the other girl were also led away. It was a fairly small room with a bathroom, a bed and a closet and some drawers. I had expected something a bit more fancy? I suppose, but I scolded myself silently for being so ignorant, I turned thanked the man for his help but he just walked away without another word.

I felt alone and a little bit frightened - should I have really come so far from my homeland to a place such as this?

The clock just above the dresser ticked as I tossed and turned in my sleep, eleven thirty I noted; how odd, have I really been lying here for two hours? It felt more like ten minutes.

A wave of homesickness washes over me, if I was back in China right now I could be eating watermelon slices and joking with my family. I wonder what everybody is doing this moment? Mama could be playing cards with the little brother's probably pigging away at the leftovers, baba...How I missed those cool, relaxing summer nights with an ocean of stars overhead; just as these memories carried me off to sleep a piercing scream of fear scraped in the air.

I bolted from bed and crawled to the door, putting my ear against the wooden surface as every vein in my body screamed in fear. Something was not right, I knew I should have turned and ran the moment I stepped in this place but I did not...and my hesitation cost me a price.

Larissa W., Age 14, Fredericton, NB
Oh my goodness what happens after that. I loved that story it had a great meaning


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