Sookie’s mother tried to think of something stranger, something that would stump us. “Miguks can’t see us,” she said. “Korean faces blind them.”
Aha!” said Sookie. “That can’t be true.”
I thought about it for a moment. It could be true Americans didn’t see like Koreans did; they had overly large, odd-colored ball-eyes. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Just that it’s possible to be invisible to them.” Sookie’s mother pushed away from the table and held her hands out to us. “Come,” she said, “I’ll show you what I mean.”
Duk Hee led us to the back room where she and sometimes her boyfriends slept. Sookie and I perched on the edge of the bare mattress while she searched through her drawers of makeup. When we saw her filling her cosmetics bag, looking over her shoulder once in a while to consider our faces, we started wriggling like market dogs for sale.
“For some reason,” she explained, “American Joes cannot see our faces clearly. Especially when we use the eye shadows, lipsticks, powder, blush-i they give us, we confuse them…I’ll tell you what I think. I think that this makeup is magic—a disguise that lets us move through their world safely.”
When I think about how hungry I thought I was that day, after having missed just one meal, I feel ashamed. Because I never once worried about the hunger Sookie must have felt when—day after day, week after week—her mother failed to return.
While her mother was in the Monkey House, I still saw Sookie every day, but somehow I learned not to see her as well. It was difficult, at first, to pretend that things were normal for her. Then, perhaps because pretending so relentlessly begins to blur the distinction between invention and reality, it became easy to believe things were normal. Practice formed a new pattern, a new way of seeing.
In avoiding her mother’s absence, I became adept at ignoring the obvious regarding Sookie. I stopped noticing how pale and gaunt she became, how circles blackened her eyes, how her hair—wild and uncombed—inched past the approved school length. I forgot what she was supposed to look like.
It was a case of women coming together at the right time and deciding that we were going to stand up for ourselves and stand up for other women. Once we coalesced for action it felt like nothing could stop us.
He minded being unpitiable only at mealtime. At the orphanage, when rich white women visited, Sunil had refused to beg for rupees. Instead he’d harbored the idea that one of the women might single him out, reward his dignified restraint. For years, he had waited for this discriminating visitor to meet his eye; he planned to introduce himself as “Sunny,” a name a foreigner might like. Eventually, he’d come to realize the improbability of his hope, and his general indistinction in the mass of need. But by then, the habit of not asking anyone for anything had become a part of who he was.
–Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity by Katherine Boo
From the epilogue:
The events recounted in the preceding pages are real, as are all the names. From the day in November 2007 that I walked into Annawadi and met Asha and Manju until March 2011, when I completed my reporting, I documented the experiences of residents with written notes, video recordings, audiotapes, and photographs. Several children of the slum, having mastered my Flip Video camera, also documented events recounted in this book….When I settle into a place, listening and watching, I don’t try to fool myself that the stories of individuals are themselves arguments. I just believe that better arguments, maybe even better policies, get formulated when we know more about ordinary lives.
I suggest you take a page from Jane’s book. Seize the day. Go out there and do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Don’t sit around hoping that someone’s going to notice that you’re missing. Invisibility can be an impediment or a power depending on what you decide to do with it.
It’s just the plight of women after a certain age. No one can see you. Sometimes I find myself daydreaming about that girl I used to be, how I could always get a table in a busy restaurant. I could raise my hand on a street corner in New York in the pouring rain and get a taxi.” She shook her head at such an impossible memory. “That’s just gone now.“…That was when I came to the conclusion that feeling invisible was something that could be talked about for hours on end but being invisible was a conversational no-man’s-land.
In truth, I thought I looked good. I had lost some weight since becoming invisible. Food was less interesting when no one could see you eat it.
I used to wonder what the chances were that banks would so often be robbed in front of Superman, so many purses snatched outside the diner where Spider-Man drank his coffee. But now I knew they must have gone looking for trouble. Trouble, it turned out, felt good.
Gilda and I had been friends for twelve years, ever since we’d moved into the neighborhood. It was her honesty that I counted on. If I needed a comforting lie I was perfectly capable of telling one to myself.
I passed a table full of high heels and thought how much they looked like fancy sleds with impossibly long nails sticking out the bottom. They were fantastically nonsensical. No one in the world, no one, would wear high heels if there was nobody who could see you do it.