Portrait of a Face at Forty by Bassey Ikpi


Portrait of a Face at Forty


THERE WILL BE NEW lines. New ways your face will fold and crease. Your right eyebrow will thin; the left will wither away entirely. You still have not learned the proper way to build a face. Your eyeliner, like your life, is thick and uneven. See how your cheeks droop. You will brush blush across them, etch angles into your face—attempt to contour a presumption of prominence, even as your cheekbones lean down towards your swollen lips.

Someone once told you, “You always look like you’ve just been kissed and left.” He told you this before anyone had ever covered your mouth with theirs, but so many have kissed and left so many times since then; you wonder if you should find him and ask him to remove the curse.

Your mouth is too full of regrets to age properly. But the forehead holds spots and wrinkles and let us not forget the constellation of marks and freckles that circles the eyes. They are beauty marks now; in five years, they will be moles. There will be whispers of removal, they will say, “possibly cancerous,” you will beg to keep them. You are proud of the way the night loved you so much it offered you stars for your face. That is what your grandmother told you. And do grandmothers lie? Not when she held the same face. This face you gave your mother, silently asking her to pass it on. And she did.

Only a woman so small and wise could give birth to herself so many times.


Excerpt from Bassey Ikpi’s ‘I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying’ (Harper Perennial, 2019).