There was nothing special about Ming, nothing unique. She had no exceptional talents, no carefully-kept secrets, no inventive thoughts, no special intelligence. She liked to go to parties and shop for clothes and wanted to be a good mother someday. Her face was pretty, her hair and skin smooth and well-kept. She was generic, shaped just like a high school girl was supposed to be, completely normal.
The other kids sneered at her in the hallways, looking down their noses at the girl who was so average she didnâ€™t even have a zit. They whispered about her behind her back, how her parents were Old World, backwards, people who didnâ€™t believe in gene-picking and liked to let nature take its course. It was like theyâ€™d never left planetside. Ming hid her face behind her books, burying herself in her carefully-done hair and manicured nails, shrinking away from the crowds of unique faces, people who didnâ€™t look like the perfect model of a human being.
At night Ming would kneel by the side of her bed and clasp her palms together, eyes squeezed tight shut, praying that God would break her nose so that it would be bent like Terriâ€™s; or give her birthmark like Shelindaâ€™s, that looked like a crescent moon; or stunt the growth of her arm like Bellineâ€™s; or even just make her eyes glow in the dark like Marieâ€™s. She knew better than to ask for a lisp or to shrink her height overnight or for her fingers to suddenly start bending the wrong way on command. God didnâ€™t like people who were greedy.
Ming prayed with all her might, but every morning she would wake up to a perfectly symmetrical face in her mirror and cry. She would always be normal, always look just like the generic pictures in the history books, the perfect human standard of beauty. She would never be different like everyone else.
In the lunchroom Ming hid in a corner, eating silently off of her tray, afraid to get up and throw her trash away because the other girls liked to trip her and make her spill. She didnâ€™t notice Eleanor until she heard a whispered â€œheyâ€ and looked up, to find the most popular girl in school sitting across from her. Eleanorâ€™s left cheek was sunken in, the skin over it smooth and taut like a scar, never tanning or moving. Ming looked down at her plate, knowing she would never have something beautiful like that. She didnâ€™t speak.
â€œHey,â€ Eleanor repeated, â€œhey, look at me.â€ Eleanor was looking at her with fascination, almost reverence, entirely different from the rest of the girls in school. Ming frowned.
â€œI heard youâ€™re normal.â€
Ming swallowed and nodded, feeling lower than dirt. She felt her heart sink into the pit of her stomach.
Eleanor didnâ€™t sneer, though, or scoff like the rest of the girls. She just looked at Ming, wide-eyed, her half-smile unable to reach the sunken side of her face, but trying. â€œThatâ€™s so cool.â€ The smooth, beautiful skin of Eleanorâ€™s left side pulled against one eye, making it seem sad even though it was shining with wonder. â€œI wish I was normal,â€ Eleanor whispered. â€œIâ€™m so tired of being just like everyone else.â€