Monday, April 13, 2009

Wild Is The Wind

The editors of VOGUE China asked me to write a color fantasy story for their April Issue. I asked a good friend Alvaro to illustrate the story I wrote.

by Anna Bayle

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~Kahlil Gibran

Once upon a time, there was a village girl from a far mountain province in China. She lived in a hut with her brothers and sisters on the top of the forlorn and weather beaten mountain across the great river. Her father was the local goat herder and her mother made straw baskets to carry the local produce. She was the third of seven children and she shared the chores of their household with her siblings, while their father and mother scraped a living.

Annami, whose name her father gave her to mean “my star”, was her father’s favorite. Annami grew up seeing how hard her father worked to put food in their table. In the harsh and blistery winter months, he woke up early to lead the goats to where the animals can find sustenance. In the warm spring and summer months, it was not so bad but he had to traverse precarious paths with the goats to find a place for them to pasture. Her mother spent her waking hours weaving straw with her blistered fingers. Annami longed for a better life for her family. For even though she has never been to the city, she heard that there are machines called bicycles that could make traveling easier. She heard that with hard work, money can be made in the big cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. She longed for the day that her father would be able to spend more time with them and not wake up so early or come home at dusk, beaten and broken.

No matter how hard life was for Annami’s family, the children have a very happy childhood. They would roam the mountain in search of yang mei (red bayberries) and chase wild animals in the spring and summer months. They went to a small hidden lake and jumped from huge boulders into its refreshing waters. On glorious days, Annami felt blessed to have this special place of rejuvenation and peace.

Sometimes, Annami would go to the lake alone to dance and play among the stepping stones of the lake. It was at these moments that she was able to dream. She pictured herself as the princess of the lake, dressed in finery and jewels just like what she has seen in newspapers used to wrap rice and barley from the market in the valley. She was in her private world of dreams and fantasies. Some afternoons, the sun would be in its perfect place and she would see jewels sparkling on the reflecting waters. The wind would blow through the leaves of the trees and she could feel it envelop her with it cheerful carefreeness. She knew she was alone but at the same time she felt the spirits of nature watching her; dancing and spinning with her. At these times, she felt one with the earth. She felt exhilarated and complete; it was pure joy to bask in the beauty of her surroundings. She felt like one of the many wild flowers that bow and look up, giving their beauty to the majestic sun. It was this way that she spent most of her afternoons after finishing her chores. When she went back to their hut, she is at peace and the penury of their hovel did not bother her at all.

One day, a city woman came to town and the villagers were very wary of her. This woman was just passing by on the way to the next big province. Quigong, who was dressed with exquisite and durable fabrics, was very critical of the small village and the young girls that she espied. She is actually a scout for a huge modeling agency that just opened in Beijing. Her job was the scour the villages of China to find beautiful maidens for the agency. She had two tall, fair and skinny young Chinese girls traveling with her. Quijong has given up on finding anyone in this village until one afternoon she sees Annami coming back from her afternoon trek to the hidden lake. Quijong sees a girl with thick black shiny hair and glistening skin bronzed from the sun. The girl she saw looked very happy in a very naïve way. The villagers informed her who she was and Quijiong proceeded to find the hut of Annami’s family. It was almost evening before Annami’s father arrived.

Everything was decided then, despite the misgivings of Annami’s father. Annami was to leave in the morning with Quijong and her entourage. Annami left with only her clothes on her back. She was whisked off to the big city where she was trained in the arts of being a lady – standing tall and proud, putting make-up, fixing her hair, talking elegantly. She was taught to walk and spin and show garments to clients.

Annami was entered into the biggest modeling contest in China and because she was unlike everyone else in the competition, she won. Her winning the contest was like a whirlwind of frenetic activities of photo shoots, press conferences, speeches, awarding ceremonies, flying to Paris and being brought to the biggest fashion house in Paris. There was no time to think for Annami; a flurry of events propelled her to the pinnacle of fashion where she is an exotic and mysterious beauty. Through all of this, all Annami had was the fortitude of her heart and her dreams.

Alone in Paris, though surrounded by myriads of people who adored her, she is not fazed by her solitude for she grew up with the stark solemnity of nature. Many times in the mountains she was alone traversing the steep paths amidst a glorious sunset. No matter where her fame took her, in her she mind she was still back in her village and treated everyone she encountered as she had treated the people in her village - with nobility and honor. Yes, her outward appearance has changed and she has become sleek, coiffed and chic but inside she is still the village girl, at one with nature and guided by its laws. When she worked, all she had to do was picture the splendor of nature: the blooming of a flower, the delicacy of a violet, the exotism of an orchid, the incredible force of thunder and lightning, the freshness of rain. All these she felt and expressed when she worked.

One day, she was brought to the hottest fashion designer in Paris, Karl Lagerfeld, who was going to design the clothes for a very big house, Chanel. She was to be the bride for this press show that was to be watched by the world press. There was a lot of excitement in the air and the whole fashion world was buzzing. The house of Chanel was to be revived with the insertion of the genius designer.

Annami was nervous for the first time; she knows the implication of being the bride for the Chanel show. She will now be thrust in the zenith of fashion. She would have to walk alone to close the show. She would have to have the magic to carry this, for all expectant eyes will be upon her. She went through the length of the fashion show modeling her garments but her mind was on the finale. She would have to invoke all the energy she had to top every model that went before her for she was the bride; she wore the closing dress- the last image that everyone will leave with and take with them after the fashion show.

It was a siren dress that was cut to show the curves of her body and she will walk into the stage with her shiny straight black hair, down to her waist - the virgin bride. Just before walking out on stage, she took a long deep breath and remembered the craggy hills she used to climb to get to her secret lake. She walked out in the dark, hesitant and unsure. She walked on when the spotlight came on, in her mind headed for the sparkling waters, as she focused on the bright spotlight trained at her. There was a hush in the room that was palpable as Annami glided to the end of the runway. It seemed like an eternity for Annami to reach the end, as she sensed sharp and gaping stares directed towards her. But she blocked all thoughts and remembered herself headed to her secret lake.

When she got to the top of the runway, she felt the gentle wild wind blow through her hair and suddenly, it all came back to her - the sun, the rainbow, the glistening diamonds in the waters, the quivering leaves on the trees, the small wild flowers scattered in the banks of the lake. She smelled the dew in the grass, the rejuvenating whiff of the gentle wind and fresh air transported her. She was back in her secret lake, ready to dance and surrender herself to the beauty of nature. She spun around, arms wide, embracing nature and giving herself to it. She felt herself becoming a flower, resplendent in nature, arching her back to adore the glorious sun. Her straight long black hair swished out and caught the ends of the rainbow, until all she could see and all everyone could see was…….....all the colors of the rainbow.

As published in VOGUE China, April 2009