Can We Be Pretty

September 9, 2022

It was 7 pm on a Friday and we were lounging on couches in the living room, our eyes narrowed at the TV screen. My best friend sighed quietly and said, “I’ll never be like the girls on TV.”

I sensed the palpable envy coating her voice and wished I knew how to permanently erase that feeling.. But instead, I sneered and scoffed, “Who wants to look like that? It’s all fake anyway.”

I heard Nila mutter something that sounded suspiciously like, “I do,” but she let out a shaky laugh and dropped the subject. So we sat back, our eyes glued to the silver screen, drowning under the weight of our insecurities, hating the girls on TV and wondering how to be like them all at once.

“I’ll go make us some tea,” Nila said, standing up. She left in a hurry, as if she had to brew it quickly.

I was still watching the coloured images on the silver screen when mum walked in, putting on makeup for a girls’ night out with friends from work.

“They look so pretty.”

“Uhn?” Mum looked up to watch the girls plastered on the TV screen. “Hmm,” she replied with a smile.

A heavy silence hung in the air. I got off the couch and made for the kabuki brush at her side of the couch. I slowly swirled the brush on my face, as I had always seen mum do . “Can I be pretty?”

She paused mid-swipe of her lipstick and laughed. “Honey, of course you can be pretty.”


Mum gave a sort of smile that I had learnt was a mix of “I will tell you about it when the time is right” and ” Please don’t make me explain this incredibly complicated thing to you, I’m so tired now.”

“Oh, sweetie,” She bundled me in a perfumy hug. “You shouldn’t worry about such things- okay? Now go watch TV, and let me get ready. You don’t want mum to poke her eye out with her eyeliner.”

I headed back to the couch and my eyes caught a retreating shadow in the hallway. “So, there were three of us in this conversation.” I shook my head and my lips pinched into a smile.

“Good evening, Mrs. Summer,” Nila said when she walked into the living room.

“Hey honey, how are you?”

“I’m fine,” she replied, giving me a bold look as she handed me a cup of green tea and sat beside me. Our thighs pressed against each other. We looked at one another and laughed. We never lost those flashes, those moments when we could tell what we were both thinking.

Mum’s look spelt surprise and amusement. “Alright then, keep your secrets. I know you two are up to something.”

We took the tiniest sips of our tea with our eyes glued to the moving images. Nila pulled a face and I nudged at her as we giggled. I still wonder if mum knew we would wear some of her blouses and tops when she was out and we were home alone.

At least until we got into high school- then we were able to borrow some from the mall goth friends we made.


Mahbubat SalahudeenMahbubat Kanyinsola Salahudeen is a genre-bending writer from South Western Nigeria who has a great interest in fictional prose and confessional poetry. She has works featured/forthcoming at several places including Spillwords magazine, Brittle Paper, Ice Lolly, Arts Lounge, SprinNG journal, Litround journal and elsewhere.


Featured Image by Caroline Veronez on Unsplash