James had a problem. He had no face.
Actually he had a face and he knew he had a face. He could see it in the mirror. Eyes, nose and mouth were there where they were supposed to be, on the front of his head. He could see it. It’s just nobody else could. They saw through his face, around his face and everything but his face. There was nothing there except visual ambience.
Even from the beginning his mother was puzzled and standoffish. His father came home from work every day and was surprised each time little James spoke. Who they talking to? They weren’t sure. He had no face.
Despite this James grew up otherwise normal. He could kick a ball, count to 100 and find Africa on a map. Nobody noticed, however. Why would they? He had no face.
James came of age. He found he liked girls. He was completely uncomplicated in this. If he liked a girl he’d go up to her, talk to her, try to find things in common, impress her, make her laugh. But every time he met her again he’d have to start over. Why? She could barely remember him. He had no face. James had to find a way round this.
His solution was to listen and look and remember. He would hang on every word, every expression and every inflection of the people around him, reminding them of themselves. It wasn’t all bad, mind you. If people remembered him they often liked him. He was a blank canvas. If they remembered him people projected onto James what they wanted to be themselves. He could be handsome, tough, friendly, aggressive, anything they wanted. The one thing he couldn’t be though was a person. He wished he had a face.
James left school with a smattering of qualifications. He was not bad as a pupil but nothing great either, nothing to write home about. He left school and found an appropriate job, working in an office, inputting data. His life began to glide by from day to day, week to week. He had a few girlfriends, a few mates. People would come in and out of his life. Though he’d barely register on them, they left a mark on him. He wanted a face. More than anything in the world he wanted a face that could be recognised, seen by others. The more he thought about it he thought, why should he be denied?
As this began to weigh on his mind someone came into James’s life, not a person, but a film star, a face, a famous face. Known all over as “Brad” (even though his real name was Charlie) his was the most famous face in the world, his was a wonderful face. It could grace action movies, carry romantic leads and light up madcap comedies. With a simple frown, a wrinkle or a smile Brad could bring whole audiences to waves of sorrow, tears of laughter or smiles of joy.
Brad’s face was everywhere; in films, on TV, on posters, in adverts and magazines. Everyone wanted to know Brad, to be close to him. Stories of his life were everywhere. He was almost all anyone ever talked about. Yet they knew almost nothing real and true about him. Brad's public persona, his image was very closely guarded. It was the key to his talent. It meant he could go anywhere, do anything and be anyone to anyone.
With such a lack of personal detail people filled in with rumour. There was so much rumour, people gave him so much detail, it may have seemed that behind the face was a very ordinary man; fragile, vain and fearful. Behind the face was a divorcee (huge alimony) and a reputed drunk driver (convictions paid off with money). There were suspicions of gambling debts and drug abuse (his career alternated between art-house movies, cash cows and coffee adverts).
On discovering Brad, James now knew what to do. He went to see Brad’s films, watched his TV interviews, read all about him in books and magazines. He studied Brad, everything about him, in particular his face. He ended up knowing pretty much all there was to know about Brad, the official and unofficial stories.
Then one day James quit his job. This didn’t register with anyone at the office where he worked. No one remembered him. He had no face after all. James had to hand his notice in three times before his line manager even accepted it.
But James had saved up a lot of money over the years and now he figured he'd spend it. The morning after he left work he took a flight to America, to Los Angeles. Getting off the plane he immediately booked a cab, up the hills to the great mansions, to one mansion in particular, Brad’s stately abode.
Every day, and some nights, James would go up to the gates of Brad’s palace and watch what went on. He did this for several weeks. Normally someone doing this would be spotted quickly and arrested, but not this time. No one spotted James. No one ever remembered him. He had no face.
James would watch people come and go, cleaners, builders, executives; he watched and waited. Then one afternoon he saw a blacked out sports car pull up into the drive. The occupant didn’t get out and speak into the little box, asking to be allowed in like all the others did. The gates just parted. It was Brad. It had to be.
James waited until it was dark before springing into action. He broke into the compound with a ladder and some wire cutters. Clambering over the wall he then crept up the long garden to the foot of Brad’s house. There was a light on at the first floor; at the window there was a silhouette of a man. Brad was alone. James crept into the house, climbed up the stairs and made for the lighted room.
Brad spotted James standing in the shadow of the doorway. After a moment’s awful pause Brad asked, optimistically:
“Are you here about the pool?”
“Who are you?” Brad was now audibly frightened.
“My name is James.”
“What do you want?” asking Brad. He backed away, starting to quake. “I have money.”
“I don’t want money” said James.
“Why can’t I see you? Come into the… I’m not afraid. What do you want?” Brad babbled. “I have a car...? A TV, widescreen…? Drugs…? I have drugs…?”
“I don’t want those things”, said James.
“Why can’t I see you?” said Brad, looking around for something to arm himself with. “What do you want?”
James walked forward, into the light, appearing suddenly in sharp focus. He said:
“It’s quite simple” James smiled. “I want your face.”