Her beauty was admired by everyone, but a special gift helped Thando realise its true meaning
THANDO was blessed with extraordinary beauty. Villagers travelled from far and wide to catch a glimpse of her angelic face. They claimed her bright smile would make even the moon envious. Her mother, Zodwa, had wanted a baby for a long time but doctors had told her it wasn’t possible. So when she discovered she was pregnant, Zodwa promised the gods she’d raise a kind, gentle and obedient child who would make her mark on the world.
During Thando’s childhood Zodwa stayed true to her promise. When she played with children from the village, Thando would ensure no child was excluded. She enchanted them with fantastic stories of castles, dragons and princesses.
Everyone was charmed by her gentle spirit, but most of all they were drawn to her beauty. Somehow, the sun seemed to shine more brightly wherever she was and people felt happier in her presence, surrounded by love and laughter.
The years went by and when Thando turned 18 her beauty continued to flourish. Her long braids were black as night, her large almond-shaped eyes were the colour of rich soil, and her caramel skin was as flawless and smooth as silk.
All the men in the village were keen for her attention. They flattered her, showered her with endless praise and presents, and proposed marriage.
Thando became accustomed to being told she was beautiful and that she was a gift from the gods.
One day a suitor brought Thando a large offering wrapped in colourful paper. She swiftly unravelled the parcel and discovered a full-length mirror. She’d never owned a mirror before and quickly became mesmerised by it.
For hours she’d gaze at her own reflection and soon understood what everyone had been saying all these years was true – she was indeed beautiful.
Her eyes sparkled like raindrops on the petal of a lily. Her hair shone like sunshine reflecting on a waterfall as it cascaded down to the delicate curve of her lower back. Her smile held the power to open the heavens. Yes, she was truly beautiful. She’d heard the words, “Thando is beautiful” countless times, but she’d never bothered paying any attention. It meant nothing. Her mother had raised her to be kind by sharing, to be gentle by embracing others, and to be obedient by
listening to her elders. Until that day beauty was not something she could measure, but now it stared back at her in the mirror.
She stopped hanging out with her friends as she was too busy admiring herself. She stopped sharing stories with the children and fell more and more in love with her reflection.
The mirror became her new best friend, and she worshipped it by composing songs of praise to her beauty.
“The peacock has nothing on me, the swans can leave me be. Mother Nature worked wonders on me, my beauty a marvel to see,” she sang over and over.
ZODWA came home tired from a hard day toiling in the fields. She expected Thando to have done the chores, swept the home and cooked the day’s meal. Wonderful aromas of her daughter’s food used to tempt her senses before she even entered the home.
But now she was struck by the scent of nothing – no smell of sautéed onions or freshly baked bread.
The house was quiet and fear stirred inside her – had something happened to her child?
She called out to Thando, but there was no response. In a panic, she rushed to her daughter’s room. The door was locked but she could hear singing. Zodwa sighed with relief and leaned closer to the door to listen.
“The peacock has nothing on me, the swans can leave me be. Mother Nature worked wonders on me, my beauty a marvel to see.”
Zodwa couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She knocked but Thando didn’t respond. There was another knock, this one coming from the front door, and Zodwa discovered Zandile, one of the village children, staring up at her. “Hello gogo.” “Zandile, how are you my child?” “I’m sad, gogo. Thando hasn’t been sharing her stories with us. Doesn’t she like us anymore?”
“Don’t be silly child. Thando loves all children. Come with me and we’ll go and get her.”
With Zandile in tow, Zodwa returned to Thando’s room and bashed loudly on the door.
The singing stopped and a furious Thando burst through the door. “Why are you interrupting my singing?” “Who do you think you are talking to?” Zodwa responded with equal fury. “I apologise, mama, but I was busy.” “Your friend Zandile is here. She and the other children miss hearing your stories.”
“Oh no mama. I have no time for children and foolish stories. I am far too busy now.”
Zandile’s eager smile fell from her face and she turned to flee from the hurtful words of the girl she once adored.
“What has happened to you, Thando?” Zodwa demanded.
“What do you mean mama? Can’t you see how beautiful I am? Why would I waste my beauty on silly stories?”
“Heavens child, where does all this vanity come from? Be careful, vanity will strike you with bad fortune.”
THAT night Thando fell asleep in front of her mirror and dreamt about how she could better show off her beauty. She expected the villagers to marvel at her in the same way she now marvelled at herself. She dreamt about having fancy clothes and shoes to impress them. She dreamt about different ways to bewitch her suitors so they’d buy her everything she desired.
When she woke up the first thing she did was look in the mirror. She stared in horror at her reflection. Spots – big ones, small ones, black ones, white ones – her face was covered in spots and her beauty was gone.
She screamed in disbelief and lunged at the mirror which smashed into a million tiny pieces.
Zodwa rushed into Thando’s room, frightened by the piercing cry. She found her daughter kicking and screaming and crying.
“What’s wrong, my child? What has happened?”
Thando slowly raised her head to look at her mother.
“My face!” Zodwa touched her child’s cheeks. “Is that all? I thought something had happened to you.”
“Something has happened! Look at my face!”
“Those are just spots, nothing to lose your mind over.”
“Don’t you care? Don’t you care that I’m not beautiful anymore?”
Thando’s heart was slowly breaking as she imagined the villagers would no longer admire her and the suitors would no longer line up at her door with gifts and proposals.
Zodwa kissed her daughter and hugged her tightly.
“My child, you must understand that your beauty is beyond what you see in that mirror. It’s in the way you treat people and how you behave.
“Those are just spots – they have nothing to do with what is in your heart.”
“I’m so sorry, mama,” she sobbed in shame. “I stopped being kind, gentle and obedient. All for vanity.”
“That’s in the past now, my child. It’s not too late to do the right thing.”
From that day on Thando rediscovered her old self and again became kind by sharing, gentle by embracing others, and obedient by listening to her elders. Once more she shared enchanting stories with the village children who listened with joy and love. And soon enough she found new suitors queuing at her door asking for her hand in marriage.
One night, after they had finished a delicious dinner she had lovingly prepared, Thando gently ushered her tired mother to her favourite chair.
“I thought nobody would like me because of the spots on my face, but everyone still looks at me in the same way,” she said. “Even the children still think I hold the moon in my hands.”
“But that’s because you do, my child,” Zodwa responded. “The moon had fallen but now it’s come back to us. Your beauty will always shine as long as you see with your heart.”