In the middle of 2010, I stood in the middle of the bathroom, shoving a needle in the middle of a swelling on my face. I was in the middle of a skin crisis. The squared mirror showed a sullen face covered with acne.

I was in doing matric, but I preferred home to school. My facial skin resembled a nightmare, and always throbbed with the pain of pimples. Big pimples.

Invariably, I was always left crushed when someone outside reminded me of the face I left behind in the mirror. Whenever I mustered the will to step outside, I would wish to forget the disgusting swellings on my face. Every new eye that met me made this hard; they would always flinch and look away. This would crush all my confidence. My face, the one I must kiss with, smile with, laugh with – was hell, where the biggest pimples were condemned to.

It took deep courage to step away from the mirror and join the rest of society with a face I wished to have rather left at home.

In school I was an easy description to everyone. Yeah, he’s tall, dark, and oh, he has strange things on his face, you won’t miss him; usually he hangs alone during breaks…with those big, big pimples.

Almost each day was most likely to arouse whispers and gossip about my face. On my cheeks, jaws, chin, my skin seemed and felt like it was on the fringe of an explosion. A face pregnant with acne, pulsating with pain and tempting me to squeeze it out.

But that was a trap.

The swelling would become thicker whenever I stroked it or tried to pinch out the stuff in it. Nevertheless, I did I pinch the stuff out. Sometimes blood would gush out, splattering on the mirror, and for a while I would stare at the same mirror, panting triumphantly. Because I was only concerned with the successful extraction of the acne I sometimes did a poor job of cleaning the mirror. Whoever used it after me, well sorry.

Then, the following day I would stroll to school, with the confidence of having conquered a pimple. But in the world of acne confidence fades quickly.

One after school, thinking I had completed a day free of those awkward stares, a teacher full of concern and pity pulled me aside for a chat.

“You’re Clement, right?”


“Listen, I also had bad skin when I was young, but yours seems worse. What do you lotion with?”

Then he suggested some ointment I knew would not work. His voice had tones similar to those of condolences conveyed to a bereaved family for my clear skin murdered by a mob of acne and pimples.

“Oh, don’t you worry, you’ll be OK one day.”

That afternoon, I was reminded of the tragic face I left in the mirror. In HD! Annoyed, I walked briskly home, shuffling through a throng of after school pupils, even dribbling passed my dream girl who was generally indifferent towards me. When I arrived home I searched for something small and sharp, a compass, a pin or a needle. I found all three and dragged them with me to the bathroom.

All my surgical tools were laid on the shiny white porcelain of the basin. The most painful swelling on the face was to be my first target. I had done this before so it took a familiar bravery to stick that pin on my face, hoping I’d deflate the acne, wishing it would vanish and return the confidence it snatched from me.

Pushed by my trembling hand, the pin penetrated the budging acne. The pain rose along with vibrations of hope, a vision of a clear skin the following day. I saw myself in school grinning side by side with my love interest, and she caressing my skin before we kiss and we live happily ever after.

But the escalating pain from the pin stuck to my face dropped me back to reality. I pulled it out and waited for a stream of blood to follow.

It usually looked like puke coming out my skin. Sometimes acne feels like an equivalent of apartheid to the skin. This pin had to liberate me from this oppression, I hoped. But, even after its intervention, only a tiny drop of blood slid grudgingly out. The swelling got bigger. I was dismayed. I could no longer bear sticking another pin in my face.

Leaving the bathroom and the mirror, I felt like I was ejected from a surgical ward, with more scars due to a failed operation. The saddest part was that a bruising and long school day waited for me tomorrow. And the bigger swelling would surely attract more puzzled stares and, worse, sympathy.

I was more bothered by sympathizers than those who just stared. I believed there was another cruel side to sympathisers: the side that was relieved, in fact celebrating that they were not me. Yes, I was sure their concerns came with a tacit gratitude to the heavens that their skin was clearer than mine. Of course, looking back, that may have been an absurd thought.

At night, the acne would also rest, exhausted from spoiling my day. It certainly worked overtime in destroying every fiber of confidence I had with girls, with friends, strangers, everyone. It was night, the acne needed sleep, for tomorrow it had a long day to ruin my life further in school.

The next morning would be the same routine: bath, wear my uniform, and say goodbye to the family and, seemingly, head to school. Except, dear acne, my desk, chair would be empty. The teacher would put a red “A” next to my name: Clement Mahlangu. Absent. And the next day, another A. Even the next week, more As.


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