She was a real beauty, a girl blessed by genes and the vagaries of fate to be born with exquisite striking features that made her one of the most beautiful teenagers, if not the most beautiful teenager in Penang during the days of my youth.
She was not just attractive or good looking or mere pretty, but truly truly beautiful.
We lived in the same village. I remember her residence as one of two blue (or was it green?) painted houses by a particular road, sited on dominating high grounds.
Each time my village mates and I passed by her house we would look up at the house in the hope of catching a glimpse of the local Aphrodite. She was a joy to behold, her exquisite features so pleasant to drink in, her youth so daintily sweet, and her smile wonderfully enchanting.
Even now, one can't help recalling Shelley's ode to Aphrodite when one thinks of her:
Her silky ringlets float above her breast,
Veiling its fairy loveliness, while her eye,
Is soft and deep as the blue heaven is high.
The beautiful is born, and sea and earth
May well revere the hour of that mysterious birth
Hmmm, maybe her beauty was what inspired me to take an interest in the muse?
For many of us unsophisticated village teenagers, she was just too perfect, more of Olympian status, for us to 'reach', especially in those days when parents were ultra strict with the movements of daughters, what more with an angelic 'immortal' like her.
No, we weren't those smooth party-going guys about town who had the airs, ways and stuff that teenage girls could be impressed with; we had no flashy powerful bikes or cars to impress her (if she could even be impressed); besides wakakaka we were too young to even have a driving licence for a motorbike, let alone own any car.
We were nothing more than greenhorns where girls were concerned - hardly a fitting match for Her Most Majestic Beauty.
While we village bumpkins were great at raiding the rambutan trees at the local Buddhist monastery or the orchard owned by the village Taoist temple ;-), we were hopelessly unknowledgeable about girls :(
The sad or fortunate truth (depending on your views) was our socially backward group had been absolutely clueless on how to go about knowing her.
Besides, the Chinese has a saying sai goo mai barng guoik or the rhinoceros shouldn’t dream of having the moon, i.e. any attempt to befriend her would be just an impossible dream, at least in our young perception.
In mitigation I need to point out that we were then only in the earliest stage of our teens ;-)
Were we in love with her? The honest answer had to be a surprisingly 'No', because we were still too young to have any firm idea of what love was.
But we certainly enjoyed looking at her, as wakakaka budding connoisseurs of artistic beauty (or beautiful art). And we did that with every little opportunity that presented itself to us, but always from a well defined distance.
Perhaps that ‘distanced admiration’ saved our very young tender, innocent and vulnerable hearts from a futile emotional trip.
However, there was one village boy who was rather good looking and reasonably well to do. He certainly knew what he had but (perhaps because of that) possessed an over inflated impression of himself. He was very conceited about his prowess with the fairer gender.
Naturally he tried to ‘hit’ on her, but alas for our local Don Juan, he didn’t get beyond first base. Why, we haven’t the faintest, but it could well be that our local Goddess was just like us, too young and innocent to know about boys. Or, perhaps she was constantly escorted by a very protective father and many fierce looking brothers.
Later, there were some scurrilous rumours about her, a very distressing scandal about her maidenly virtues. Her family moving to another house around that time added fuel to the rumours, suggesting salaciously that perhaps they were running away to hide her from the fallout of the alleged unpleasant experience. But Penang was then well-known for all sorts of nasty rumour-mongering, especially when/if it involved a beautiful girl.
Was the obnoxious sad tale about her bad 'experience' a case of badmouthing by some very sour grapes, boys who couldn’t score on her?
Well, her family had actually moved residence within the same village which ought to have immediately discounted the story of them attempting to shelter her because of the alleged scandal. In fact, they moved into the very heart of the village. But, as always with such a case, why let inconvenient facts stand in the way of juicy scandalous gossip about the most beautiful girl in the village.
Inevitably we all grew up ... perhaps just a wee too soon. I left Penang after school to begin my adult life. Years later, on leave back in my village, I asked curiously about our Aphrodite who seemed to have vanished from the local scene. A friend heard she married a Midas-rich Taiwanese businessman, and left with him when he returned to his island-state.
Blast! There I was with all my new found city-developed confidence and experience and even some money to fling around, and she had to marry and leave our village ;-). Well, I guess that's the story of my life - late as always!
As the years slipped by, and I met and became acquainted with some beautiful women, and ... gasp ... even miraculously managed to date a couple or more of the sweeties [kaytee gazing upwards and hands held palms up in grateful supplication to the Lord above ;-) ], I often wondered how they would have compared to that once-upon-a-time village beauty.
But that impressionable vision I possess of her, first gained through my young innocent eyes, has still not weakened through the years. Au contraire, the kind generosity of time may have even softened or removed any small imperfections in my memories, if at all any imperfection had ever existed. Yes, time has made that vision even far more enchanting and alluring.
Of course I have to confess, I harbour a secret fantasy, just an impossible crazy dream of wishing to be able travel back in time to meet her, but on the condition that I could do so as my 'today' self. Yessiree, no way would I want to relive a life around Aphrodite as the country hick that I was wakakaka [and perhaps still am :( ]
I wonder what would have been my odds then, if that were to be possible. Please ignore my science fiction silliness - 'tis just the 'male hunter' in me awoken, but alas, as usual, more than two decades too late.
I guess I just have to be satisfied with my memory of the village Aphrodite that I have retained over the years.
Whenever my kampung (village) friends and I meet for a beer or two, and would invariably stroll back in time to our very young days, and remember her as we would, we still agree that she was indeed a Queen in those very distant years, a very photogenic pristinely perfect Queen of our then very very young innocent hearts.
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not - Ralph Waldo Emerson