A new face

I’ve never considered myself a looker (except for that period before puberty hit when I was cute and aspired to be a model). I’ve always felt that I had a profile that’s not easy on the eyes. A flat, huge nose; oily, slit eyes that disappeared when I smiled or laughed, red skin with visible pores… I don’t photograph well either and rarely take selfies.

That lack of appreciation changed with one unfortunate kitchen accident, a lapse of judgement really.

It was a Tuesday, 1st September. Back to work after the Merdeka weekend. I had just returned home the night before from the company’s R&R Club trip to Pulau Perhentian. On the way back, we stopped at a stretch of road selling keropok – Terengganu is famous for its fish crackers.

My haul was fresh keropok lekor and dried keropok ikan (fish), sotong (squid) and udang (prawn) to be fried later. Many of my colleagues bought ready-to-eat keropok and I knew they would be sharing that at work. So I decided I was going to be different and bring freshly fried keropok lekor for the office.

That morning I set out to fry the keropok. The first batch went in and was cooked without much fuss. I thought they were not golden brown enough, so left the second batch in the oil a bit longer and went to the hall to fuss over other things.

That’s when I heard popping sounds from the kitchen. I didn’t give it much thought – maybe the keropok was a bit wet from being in the fridge. When I went to check on it later, I saw a few pieces lying around the pan – the keropok had jumped out!

I went closer and that’s when my face was hit by the popping oil. Why didn’t I shield my face?! I think the oil was just too hot because the keropok had exploded out of its skin (it has skin?) like a sausage popping out of its casing. My entire kitchen floor and stove was coated in a film of oil.

I didn’t panic because getting oil splashes is common when deep frying. But this time it was more serious. After sorting out the stove, I went out to my patio garden and cut off an aloe vera leaf. I slit a knife in, opened it up and applied the gel to my skin.

My face hurt a little and I was contemplating between going to the office or working from home because frankly, I could use some rest after the long bus ride and highway crawl the previous night. Plus, my left side of my arm and legs hurt from a bad sunburn. In the end, I decided to stop by the clinic on the way to work.

The doctor didn’t notice anything amiss. He retrieved the results of a blood test I was supposed to collect weeks ago. I told him I was there for something else and he was like, “Oh! Yes, I can see some redness.” He gave me two tubes of Burn Aid and two days off and that was it. It was all very uneventful. Hello! Half my face was fried!!

So back home I went, after packing some lunch from a nearby coffee shop. I didn’t do much that day. I checked in online to catch up with office matters, then veged out and took it easy although the plan was to use the day off to clean the house and work on some personal writing projects.

Looking at myself in the mirror filled me with regret and a tinge of sadness. The burns were on the right side of my face – cheeks, near the eye, near the lips, a bit on my ear and collarbone too. By then they had turned into welts.

Still, two days off should not be wasted just like that. I decided to go to town the next day for a banking errand and meet up with an ex-colleague. I hid under a big hat, from the sun and also curious eyes.

There was really nothing to do but accept my mistake and get on with life. My burns had turned crisp like baked potato skins. My face looked mud-splattered. I wondered how long they would take to heal and how bad the scarring would be. Maybe I could sport my scars like Seal. Nah, it’s different for girls.

When I went out, I applied BB cream to mask the burns and also protect them from the sun. I explained the marks before anyone asked – to the watch repairer’s sister (she advised me not to consume soy sauce to minimise scarring), my friend, the fruit seller (he recommended bedak sejuk and kunyit). I figured I should use natural products as much as possible and switched to an aloe vera cleanser (bought from South Africa two years ago). I also skipped scrubs and exfoliation that would irritate the skin.

On Thursday it was back to work and another round of explaining. I think my colleagues were more sorry than I was. I guess it’s harder for them to look at me. I was fine as long as long as I avoided mirrors.

As the weekend approached a colleague mentioned that it would be a good time to give my skin a rest – no makeup, let the skin breathe. But I had plans for the weekend and was not going to give them up to stay home. BB cream, hat, sunglasses. My ‘potato skins’ had dried up and was starting to peel off. The skin underneath was a bit raw, but it looked like it would turn out fine.

When the new week rolled in it was almost like the accident never happened. Just a bit of redness. My colleagues were amazed. I am thankful.

It took the possibility of lifelong scarring to make me appreciate what I have. Now I feel more confident and sexy… as long as I don’t look in the mirror too much. Being comfortable in one’s own skin is certainly easier than being outside criticising it.


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