I must have brushed past a woman who was wearing many different kinds of make-up. Suddenly, I was led by my nose back into my schooldays, to the highlight of every year in terms of the number of free periods it generated: the Annual Day.
The school believed in mass participation, and so even if you had no special talent, you were thrust on stage as part of a group of 200 hoarse voices welcoming “our parents dear” in ridiculous color-coordinated frocks. And lots of make-up.
Annual Day was the only time I smelled make-up. Tonnes of compact, lipstick, rouge and what-have-you. Generously applied by teachers over the faces of girls whose mothers had paid for the three-inch thick layer of goo on their darlings’ faces.
I don’t know if it is my imagination, or make-up really does smell stronger after it’s been on for a while. Prize distribution used to be last event of the programme, often a good three hours after the welcome song. The “parents dear” would be dozing off in the chairs in the auditorium, while the poor “prize winners” would be pushed into an empty classroom and made to sit quietly for the entire duration of the programme.
As luck would have it (yes, luck alone), I was always there in that room. All prize winners were supposed to wear the school uniform and the school blazer. I did not own a blazer for many years, and so I borrowed it from my best friend, who was taller, and the blazer sat awkwardly on my shoulders (as did the prize in my hand, in hindsight).
Despite our everyday clothes, we were all three inches deep in make-up. By the time we were herded to the backstage door and made to queue up in the open air on the chilly December night, the smell of make-up had overpowered my being. I was in a most unpleasant haze that made me forget everything. We had been made to practice bowing once facing the chief guest and once facing the audience, and then making a dignified dash for the wings. I don’t think I ever got it right. All because of the make-up smell.
And then I was there next year, winning a prize for Moral Science if nothing else. (Digression: I can totally picture a news item dated 2050: Ino Awl, the genius who proved Einstein’s theory of relativity wrong, discovered the cure for AIDS and prevented World War 3, was found hanging from the fan in his lab yesterday. A suicide note said that he killed himself when he realized that no cure would ever be found for those who had won too many prizes for Moral Science.)
The smell of make-up carries too much baggage for me. I detest it.