The Pursuit of Perfection

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
In Durban, two French couple is living together among the local South Africans who mostly viewed them as an oddity. They're strikingly beautiful and gorgeous, but as the common sayings goes 'Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder'. They'll learn the price of beauty and the obsession for it first-hand as one of them consulted the supernatural for reassurance.

Submitted: April 10, 2011

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Submitted: April 10, 2011

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The Pursuit of Perfection
The vast night sky is neither too dim nor too dark since the glistening moon was hanged low on the endless horizon above. The weather can still be considered clear despite the usual showers around this time of the year. Evidently, last night had been quite torrential, as the rain would frequently visit this lovely southern part of the continent. The house was located in the city of Durban, where the coastal winds are coming at an expectable rate to create such stunning shoreline landscape with an equal beauty compared to the famed Cote D’Azur in France. However, at the other side of the city, further inland is equally majestic with vast plot lands of natural savannah that one can easily watch the animals roamed freely and that would be one the most mesmerizing scene thing about Africa.
The elegant young damsel was gazing upward, cupping her chin with her hands on the railings and deeply enticed by the mesmerizing moon, as if she’d been cast a spell of reverence towards the glowing object. Her eyes didn’t shifted a bit from the trance state as her surrounding is enveloped deeper in the darkness of midnight. The drifting breeze seemed rather warm on her skin as she viewed the great Indian Ocean from her balcony, all alone and she looked very peaceful. There were faint glimmers of dancing light once in a while on the foggy waters far from her sight, reflected from the moonlight, thus welcoming the late night ships arriving at the nearby port.
If she listened very closely, she could hear the indistinct sound of a school of majestic whales. They were lingering quite far from the shore perhaps trying to feast on the abundant source of krill around the area. She was wearing her navy blue knee-length nightgown laced aesthetically which suits her pale complexion and suddenly she sighed. There is something that was troubling her mind for some days now but she herself can’t quite put it right into words. She used to love wearing skimpier night lingerie to bed when she was still a virgin and unmarried. She kept the particular habit until now but recently she preferred them covered with a longer nightgown due to the fact that the nights would be quite cold sometimes.
She was deep in her thoughts so she didn’t notice the presence of a gentleman behind her, he was wearing nothing but a plain boxers and he looked equally gorgeous, bathed under the faint moonlight. He came slowly, tip-toeing towards her from the large French doors connecting the balcony with the bedroom. They looked the same age and they looked well-suited to each other. He was sheepishly smiling, quite delighted that she didn’t notice him yet. He was waiting for the right moment to surprise her as he crept slowly towards her.
The man stunned her by embracing her in surprise from behind and she cried, trying to act as if she’s not surprised by the sudden embrace. He caressed the lady’s hair with absolute affection and admiration toward her. They exchanged a passionate kiss and then she continued to watch the dark sea and remained speechless. “What are you doing at this time of night, my love? I woke up to pee and I realized that I was all alone on the bed. Tell me what’s wrong now. What has been troubling you tonight, ma chérie? I’ve never seen you this worried before. Somehow, I remembered that I didn’t marry a worrywart” inquired the young man with a slightly naughty tease. Then, he massaged her arms gently, sniffing the scent of her hair with his nose as she sensed that she started to enjoy the loving attention. He let his well-toned body glide amorously against her back trying to entice her back to bed with him. After a few minutes of romantic gestures, she resisted him and folded her arms as she gave him a cold, hard stare.
She exhaled elegantly at his boyish bravado. She’s not annoyed by the sexy attempts but her mind is rather somewhere else at the moment and his presence was a little bit disturbing. So, she replied solemnly, “My dearest Olivier, truthfully speaking I’m not sure whether I’m beautiful enough for you. Now that we’ve been married for ten years and I do feel that I’m getting older. Can’t you see? I’m worried that you may love me less, because of my fading beauty, perhaps not anymore. You’ve been very supportive for these past few years and I felt very blessed for a dashing and loving husband. Yet sometimes, I kept thinking that your ethereal beauty might overshadow mine and you might leave me for a younger, more attractive substitute.”
She exclaimed gladly as if the wariness that has been bottled up inside her for so long is finally lifted and gone from her mind. It plagued her to the extent that she felt it like a tumour and now that she spoke the words, she felt very relieved. However, her tone made her seems rather afraid and tensed, perhaps worrying about his immediate reaction towards the sudden confession. She looked at him straight in his face which was stern and he clenched his teeth that made his prominent jaw more visible, as he ran his finger on his luscious hair all the way to the back of his neck. She started to get anxious by the second. Then, the husband tickled the wife on the hips as if she’s a little child so she giggled happily, feeling more relieved that he wasn’t hurt or irritated by the previous statement.
“Oh, don’t talk about such preposterous anxiety, Esmé. You know how I heartfully pledged in my marriage vow to remain faithful to your love for the rest of my life, no matter what happened. There’s no denying that we’re the most charmingly destined couple here. Living in this land of black people we might be considered aliens and I’m thankful enough that you’re willing to come with me. Ma chérie, you are just as beautiful the way you are right now as you were ten years ago. So you have nothing to worry about. But if you keep on thinking that way then you might just as well be lovely like those indhlovus grazing in the savannah tonight.” He chuckled innocently, hoping that the Zulu word for elephants would make her feel less stressed out over a pointless apprehension. He approached her again, and tried to ease her worries away by his soothing words, knowing the fact that her beautiful wife loves to overthink upon unnecessary details. Why would he leave her for someone else? She is the most attractive and charismatic lady he has ever seen in his life!
However, he was totally wrong in his hopeful method to woo her back. She was irritated by his ‘inconsiderate’ remarks, thus she gave him a nice yet painful consolation pinch on his tummy. She felt that her husband wasn’t serious enough about this matter. Or perhaps she was the one who take things too seriously, not as a mild joke. The instantaneous reaction was a bit agonizing that he knelt on the floor and rubbed his throbbing tummy, while she watched him feistily. He felt slightly guilty with the reply yet he felt enjoyed at the same time. Then, she stormed inside and shouted a few harsh comments (which sounded like melodious church bells to him) that he’s being highly insensitive.
She screamed from the bed, not looking at him and covered herself under the thick blanket. “You know what? You can sleep alone on the sofa tonight. I was being honest here I really thought that you, of all people would understand.” He didn’t mind her moody tantrums and he’s used to it anyways. Moreover, he’s extremely tired from the day’s work, so he really need a good rest for tomorrow plus excessive fretting would be rather pointless in this situation. Thus being a considerate husband, he took his fluffy pillows downstairs and sweetly obliged her demands after the pain from the pinch had totally gone.
The next day, Olivier went to work as usual after the hearty breakfast Esmé prepared. The tension of the previous night had gone and she was adamant to ask for his forgiveness for being such a selfish and an inconsiderate woman last night. He was beaming at her and quickly told her that he forgave her. He proved himself to be a truly understanding husband because he put up with his wife’s annoying, especially during her special period of the month. He had been thankful that she came to live with him in Durban (after many complaints from her side of course) and she adjusted well to the local scenario, enough so he was excited about extending his research here maybe for a few more years before they can go back to the sandy shores of Marseilles.
He gave her a lovely peck on her cheeks before he went off to work around dawn with Ramezi, the neighbour zoologist in his typical terrain 4-wheeled drive towards the Kwa-Zulu Natal National Parks located a few kilometres from their houses. Ramezi is also a skilled ranger who is an expert in the local savannah, so Olivier felt a strong sense of dependence and luck working alongside him, both as a neighbour and research partner.
Olivier is working as a well-renowned French zoologist currently studying the South African plains, particularly the indhlovus. He usually left early in the morning since the ride took about an hour and a half, and he has always been an early riser. Esmé is used to being alone all the way until late at night, around dinnertime where he’ll be back feeling exhausted and tried his best to remain bubbly towards her. After about half an-hour rest, she feels so refreshed that she plans out her day. She decides to do the laundry first since the weather forecast reported that today will be sunny, which she gladly accept as the best news particularly now in the rainy season. She looks around the house and decides for a through house cleaning, next on the list like most housewives who want to make sure that their houses are always comfortable and inviting enough. She feels pumped up, as a reward during the short break after lunch perhaps she can take another short nap and read the latest Northern African novels that Olivier had bought for her, collected from Moroccan all the way to Egyptian French authors.
The laundry takes around an hour, since the electric washing machine is functioning rather slowly and she notices that the both the liquid detergent and the powdered one is almost finished, so she makes a new list for groceries. Perhaps, she can ask for some grocery money from Olivier to shop out tomorrow since the eggs and vegetables for the week is depleting too. She’s reading the newspaper delivered by the local newspaper boy waiting for the laundry to be finished. She loves to sit on the reclining chair on her wooden veranda, enjoying the magnificent African plains.
Noticing her outside, a black lady by the name of Tillunya Nembki salutes her for attention with a bright morning greetings. Tillunya is her best friend and the fact that she’s Ramezi’s wife made them fonder with each other as close neighbours. They have a common interest on gossip and reading literary works; sometimes they share jokes, recipes and books they are reading. Moreover, Tillunya offers her a steady friendship since she first moved to Durban three years ago, and Tillunya was the nicest of the local women, some of whom regarded whites as quite fussy and profligate. Tillunya is sweeping her front porch so she puts on hold of the chore and continues to saunter towards Esmé.
Esmé is more than ecstatic that Tillunya comes to accompany her, so she decides the black lady to sit on the adjacent reclining chair. She trusts her best friend, so when she was asked about her day she decides to confide to Tillunya regarding her husband’s last night’s comments. The slim yet gorgeous African lady sits intently next to her on the same rattan reclining chair, sipping the Ethiopian-imported ginger coffee offered by Esmé while listening to every juicy detail straight from her distraught friend. Tillunya is a woman of charisma, strength and brilliance, along with her flawless dark brown skin that made the sun envious. She speaks while exuding proper wisdom and experience which made Esmé trusts her more and more.
“Oh, he was simply joking, Esmé. Don’t take it personally, dear. You should know that by now because you’re such a charismatic lady and beautifully stunning as always. He’s equally gorgeous, so is there anything for you to worry so much about? It would be a great loss if he tried to waste such a beauty like you. Ramezi was a very understanding husband himself, he would usually close his ears and pretended to doze off whenever I started being sarcastic or nagging. Then, we would kiss and make up, that’s a simple order of marriage. It’s all about tolerance, trust and the yin and yang of give-and-take. Men are a complex mystery just as we are to them, thus there is nothing to worry about. In this case, you’re just playing too hard to get.”
Tillunya tried her best to comfort her white friend with strong and meaningful advice. She puts her mug of coffee on the table after noticing that Esmé starts to weep uncontrollably through her handkerchief. Her breath seems erratic for a while, as she sobs and hiccoughs and Tillunya pats her back to ease the weeping woman. Esmé gives a long sigh in the end, trying her best not to humiliate herself in front of her best friend. She looks beyond horrible when she’s miserable; her eyes started to get swollen and red from her dangling tears.

“Ah, I got a brilliant idea. I know an alternative method on how we can solve this dilemma of yours, my friend. Oui, your husband will be more than thrilled when he sees you right after what I’m about to tell you after this. Are you ready for the idea, my dearest Esmé?” Tillunya knew that an element of suspense and thrill for a suggestion will work out well on her best friend Esmé. Thus, she takes a deep breath before revealing the rest. Esmé’s face shows her excitement as she nods back at her, wanting more. “This piece of information might sound a bit pointless to you. I bet that you haven’t met my revered grandmother; she’s one of the great voodoo priestess in the neighbourhood. So, what I’m trying to suggest is why don’t you try your luck and meet my lovely grandmother? It might only be a temporary solution, but I’m sure it will work just fine. He will realize that you’re too priceless to be looked upon only once a day and of that, I’m sure will be his greatest loss!
“I’ll inform her first of your visit, and she might probably solve this troubling predicament with her boundless wisdom. First thing first, I’m asking that you will be open-minded, and try not to be judgemental upon our animistic belief…. and secondly, please don’t be overconfident either. This is merely an effort, Esmé. The rest will be predetermined, my dear.”
The beautiful white lady is finally smiling again; perhaps it’s more of a smile of confidence and relief when her best friend came to her aid, by consoling her and offering assistance. She nods in agreement, why would she reject this suggestion? There will be no harm done if you want to try out something new and purely different from the conventional. So, it’s worth a try. She felt blessed to have a lovely native friend like Tillunya. Reminiscing back to her days back in Marseilles, Tillunya would be a great woman in comparison with the typical French ladies who values nothing more than beauty and social status. Tillunya is by far, her closest best friend because she’s a powerful, charismatic African lady. In Durban, she would not be envied and be treated as an outcast. Esmé hugs her black friend tightly, almost cried with tears of joy and she was further instructed to meet the wise old lady that very afternoon.
That night, after the meeting with the wise old lady located in the endmost part of Port Shepstone, Esmé is sitting on one side of the bed, spread around with a gracious amount of rose petals waiting for her husband’s arrival from work. She’s feeling a bit excited and worried at the same time, waiting intently on the possible prospect of entertaining her husband and thinking of the desired reaction. She loves him most when he’s lusty and affectionate on the bed, and even if he’s tired from work he’ll be greatly seduced by her uplifted radiance, she presumes alone. Dinner can wait, Olivier. I know you want me more.
On the other hand, she feels both relieved and satisfied with the idea from Tillunya, who wished her best of luck. Tillunya called ten minutes ago, in order to remind Esmé to inform her of the outcome tomorrow morning and she hopes for the best. The plan is well-executed, every details that has been agreed for is perfectly set up waiting for the dashing husband to return for the gorgeous wife. The bedroom is dimly lit, a few romantic candles are lighting up the room with a passionate glow, illuminating her anxiously excited face and the mood is thoroughly prepared to establish a rather erotic atmosphere.
She’s well-prepared, wearing the sexiest nightgown she could find; one which is bought in Cape Town last year. She smells really nice with her Chanel No 5 and she had already drunk the bitter concoction to the last few drops. The wise old lady conferred to her that the concoction is brewed perfectly and has been cast with a powerful voodoo mantra, exactly demanded by her. Moreover, the service is entirely free! It’s a lovely gesture from the wise lady as this is her first attempt to try out voodoo capabilities. The taste might be dreadful from the secret combinations of various herbs and ingredients, yet rest assured it would be worthwhile. Furthermore, it would take about half an hour for the result to fully take its fullest effect. She’ll be more beautiful, just like what she desired.
She had also been warned that she must not look at her image in the mirror or else the enchantment will no longer be effective, and the direct result would be her plan gone down the drain. Any seconds now, as she repositions herself on the bed in the most alluring poise, flexing her shoulders and breathe in to look as foxy as possible, and trying her best to not faking the sexual desires burning within.
“Oh Esmé… ma chérie? Where are you? Why didn’t you turn on the lights? Hello, is anyone home? Esmé, are you upstairs? Okay, if you still don’t reply then I’ll come upstairs now.” she could listen to his footsteps walking up the stairs as her chest can feel the thumping of her heart, the wait is the second most thrilling part before the expected delight. He’s walking towards the bedroom, calling out her name and other sweet nicknames so she poses asflirtatious as she possibly can on the bed… anticipating him. When the tired gentleman comes into the room, he shows up looking quite worn-out from the day’s work. She groans excitedly as if she’s orgasmic in order to surprise him as one of her first attempts to seduce him among other things, all planned out.
Unfortunately, the reaction that she was expecting is not being portrayed by Olivier. He looks flabbergasted, standing frozen on the threshold, his eyes are wide and looking extremely petrified. He is speechless and then white foams starts to be spewed from his mouth like an anaphylactic shock as his eyes rolled white in shock! His hand is pointing towards her in disbelief, as if he had seen something so terrible. His body is jerking so uncontrollably and it looks like he’s suffering in utter shock, and down he goes falling flat to the floor in front of her as she watches in absolute horror. It all happened so quickly, she has no chance of reacting quickly enough to ease his suffering which she believes is caused by her. In the first few critical moments she wonders what could be the problem? Is there any side effect for the concoction that wise lady didn’t want to share with her?
For the next few minutes, he is regurgitating more foams from his mouth with his face on the bedroom floor, his body is jerking as if he’s electrocuted and then he quickly becomes breathless and ultimately silent. He doesn’t move anymore and this unfortunate event shocks her so much, she thought that she’s in a horrible nightmare. Esmé is so startled and shocked out of her wits and tried her best to revive him but it was a worthless. At first, she thought he was joking, but that would be preposterous. Why on earth would he spoil the romantic mood this way? She quickly kneels beside him, grabbing his arms and shaking his body vigorously but to no avail. After a few minutes of crying and moaning uncontrollably, shouting Olivier’s name a few times, begging him not to leave her alone in this cruel world she finally realized that he is, in fact dead.
She is still not ready to be a widow and she wants to know and understand what actually happened. She stops attempting to revive him, wipes her tears away with her hands, still sobbing as she takes a really deep breath in and stands up straight. She inspects her husband who’s lying underneath her feet in his work attire, immobile and looking as pale as a terrified corpse. Curiosity struck her as hard as she anxiously trying out to solve the mystery on her own. She really wants to know what the real cause is. There are a few questions lingering inside her mind right now.
Had her husband died of shock after seeing her face? Is it too horrible to be put into words that he made him too speechless and died instantaneously? Is it really caused by her face in the first place? Should she call Tillunya for help? Again, her curiosity kicks in and the only valid way to prove her hypothesis wrong is to prove that she’s not the direct cause of his sudden death. She slowly turns toward her back and she stands facing a few feet apart from the tall mirror in the middle of the room. Then, she screams out of her lungs with a terrified knowledge of the cause. She joins her husband as she also drops dead after about three minutes of non-stop screams of terror and she looks exactly the same like her traumatized husband. Only she knows about the real truth behind her own death.
Alarmed at the frightening screams coming from her neighbour’s house, Tillunya left her dinner table of smoked beef and other delicacies and sprints out of her house. Her husband, Ramezi is a bit baffled but he inadvertently tags along when she pulled him by his arm. The dinner is abruptly disrupted as the caring black lady is sprinting towards Esmé’s house next door, crossing her fingers and praying that nothing had gone wrong. She had just called Esmé arund 40 minutes ago and now she’s screaming in terror, not in pleasure as expected. Various flashes of possibilities, both positive and negative run through her mind right now, as she rushes into the house. She has not yet meet Esmé face to face after the encounter with her grandmother so she was really hoping that things would go on smoothly, knowing that sometimes her grandmother can be quite a troublesome old lady rather than a respectable witch doctor.
Tillunya races all the way into her neighbour’s house about ten metres apart right after she heard the shrilling outburst of fear from her best friend. The husband and wife find out that the front door was locked from inside so Tillunya’s husband has no choice but to immediately crash it off its hinge with a few forceful attempts by barging sideways into the door. Tillunya notices that downstairs is a bit dim but there is no presence of either of her friend or the husband, so she points upwards and her husband quickly understands. They run up the stairs and moves into their neighbour’s bedroom, while Tillunya grips her husband’s hands in anxiety.
The immediate cause of the scream is discovered straightaway when they saw the white couple sprawling and lifeless on the floor of their bedroom. They were too late to save the poor couple. Tillunya watches in horror as they lay on top of each other, as her husband quickly calls for the ambulance. Something is not quite right with the wife and it clicks right in her mind of the most possible explanation for all of these peculiar set of events. Her husband quickly grasps the real situation and nods at her in comprehension, right after he shakes his head in utter disbelief.
Without even informing her husband, she storms back to her house. She decides to leave the dead couple under the care of her husband while she grabs the keys to her husband’s jeep on the kitchen table. She has to clear out the mess and she has to make sure whether her prediction is true or not. Her heart is racing in a mixed feeling anger, shock and guilt. She drives all the way towards her grandmother’s house driving under the speed limit through the highway and finally arrives after about a ten minute drive. She moves out of the jeep and runs towards her grandmother’s porch passing through the wet, grassy front yard perhaps from the previous showers. She can see that the porch fluorescent light is on and she can see her grandmother sitting alone on her favourite rocking chair, wrapped around in her knitted shawl maybe enjoying the soothing night air.

“Nana dearest, can you please explain to me why did you give her the potion of animal resemblance instead of the beautification potion in the first place? Now her head looks large enough to be an elephant’s head and you know what, the police might instigate all of us! Thankfully the essence of the effect will wear off soon. Are you insane, Grandma? You’re always like this because you never learn to be serious with your work! You’re endangering not only yourself but also me and my husband!” Tillunya sternly inquired the old woman who was knitting another customer’s order of cardigan since afternoon, right after the visit from Esmé.
The two women are sitting on the front porch of her grandmother’s house, as her grandmother offers her a cup of tea from the nearby end-table. The old lady has been living alone since her husband died from TB five years ago, so her knitting and her voodoo practice are the two main income sources to help her get through the twilight years. People revered her as a powerful priestess, and the effectiveness of the incantation and charms is undeniable. The dark night sky is dark and starless, so she had to turn on the fluorescent porch light dangling and swaying from the wind in order to focus better on her knitting.
Her glasses drooped down her nose bridge and she observes her youngest granddaughter affectionately. Fat mosquitos are buzzing nearby from the cattle and chicken farm located a few metres from her house, owned by a nearby farmer. Tillunya had to slap a few dead when they start to suck out her blood like a really terrible nuisance. The wise woman gives a perplexed look and laughs heartily at her granddaughter, thus replying with her side of the story.
“Well, of course! That would have explained everything. I’ve been wondering and dreading the entire afternoon too, my dear. Perhaps you’ve noticed that my hearing aids are quite useless these days and you should’ve known how stingy I can be. Unless it’s a free set of hearing aids, I can’t be bothered to buy a new one. There, you need to shout out in anger in order for me to hear clearly! Look, I was shocked myself when she came to me and confessed that she wanted to look like an indhlovu? I thought I’ve misheard it, but she keeps on repeating the same point as if she wants to be one! I’m terribly sorry because I never thought her husband was merely joking with her! That’s why I strictly forbade her to look in the mirror, or else she would’ve died on the spot. It might not be her exact wish nor is it my fault. It was highly accidental! So, tell me what actually happened to her and her husband.”
Tillunya nods in understanding and quickly shakes her head in disappointment of the inadvertent mistake made by her ancient grandmother. She takes a few sips of the tea and then puts the cup back on the table. She continues with the incident to her grandmother who starts to listen intently, fixing her hearing aids and cupped her ears closer to her granddaughter. Tillunya is hoping that her husband will clear out everything with the police without mentioning her grandmother’s involvement.

Then, they both laughed heartily realizing the fact that deep down; the situation can be a bit hilarious which came about because of a grave misunderstanding, something that typically occurred in the plains of Africa. The price of beauty had never been so overrated out here in the beautiful savannah of Africa. All people are born equally beautiful, inside and out. So, there is no need to include oneself in a pointless race for the perfect beauty.


© Copyright 2020 Alain Lee. All rights reserved.

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