Aurora looked at herself in the bathroom mirror, hardly able to hold back tears.

Why did she have to look like this?

She dared to glance only for a second at the melancholic face gazing back at her before casting her eyes down at the counter. She then covered her face with her hands for a moment as she turned and walked out into her room.

On her bed were her clothes, neatly arranged from the night prior. Her outfit was a simple patterned dress that went all the way down to her ankles. She didn’t particularly like it, but her options were limited.

She dressed slowly, dreading the inevitable moment, that ritual she had to perform every morning. Slipping her shoes on carefully, she stood up and looked over her shoulder at the object still lying on her bed.

The thick black veil glared back at her with soulless eyes.

She reached out to take it but winced. Only the sound of her clock marking the hour caused her to put aside her hesitation. Snatching it, she put it over her face so that the only part of her face visible anymore were two small slits of her eyes. Grabbing her purse, she left her apartment and headed down the stairway to the entrance. Along the way she came across other people. Some of them were women. Only some of them wore the veil.

Why did she have to be one of them?

Reaching the sidewalk, she strolled down the street with her head cast low. There was no point in drawing attention to herself. She was also worried about the wind blowing her veil off. It wasn’t highly unlikely, but it had happened. And if it was witnessed and reported, the consequences were terrible.

Other laws could be broken and forgiven. But there was no forgiveness for women who took off their veils in public. The ones who were required to, that is.

Aurora stepped aside as another woman sped down the sidewalk. She moved fast despite her heavy size. The most noticeable thing about her was her face. It was misshapen and unattractive. However, the woman seemed unashamed. Her head was held high with pride. Not because she drew reactive glances from men, but because she was among the women who could show their face publicly.

Behind her veil, Aurora cried softly.

Why did she have to be so beautiful?

That was her crime, to have been born with lovely features. Even with the veil masking her face, men couldn’t help but notice the brightness of her sapphire eyes. Her long walnut brown hair hung down to her shoulders, though it too had to be tucked away and out of sight per regulations.

Of course, it mattered not whether she or any man declared her beautiful. That was left to the Committee Against Sexism to determine. Whether a girl was too “beautiful” was determined through a vigorous review process starting when a girl was born. Babies were given somewhat lenient restrictions, though by age seven the rules were beyond discussion. Any aspect of her body deemed to be “perpetuating sexism” was to be covered, from her legs to her face.

There were other attractive women who were lucky; they didn’t have to wear the mask, just unflattering clothing to conceal their figures.

Three women approached Aurora, all of them without veils for reasons easy to see. They snickered and insulted her under their breaths as they passed by.

She wanted to protest, but she had learned as a child there was little recourse against that kind of harassment. The people who were supposed to care did nothing, and those that didn’t care wouldn’t listen. The Committee had long ago decreed that due to their beauty giving them “privileged status,” it was not sexist for ugly women to denigrate those forced to wear the veil. As long as there was no physical violence, they were free to harangue at will.

The dress Aurora wore was brand new. She had purchased it the week prior to replace one ruined by a group of drunk girls tossing their wine at her. She had reported it, but the police predictably had no suspects and no leads.

She suddenly felt hot as sunlight broke through a cloud and shone on her veil. She wanted to adjust it, just a little.

Her hand snapped back to her side as she sensed danger. Seconds later, a patrol car drove by. The officers inside looked at her suspiciously, as though they could read her mind.

A deep fear ran through her. The ugly girls could only use words. The police had no limitations.

It was known to all women what would happen if they removed their veil while out in public. A response call would be made, and agents would arrive to detain her. They wouldn’t arrest the girl, or even book her at the station. There would be no interrogations, no court date, and no trial.

The punishment would be administered immediately. It would only take a few moments, and then it would be all over.

Any woman forced to endure that penalty had no reason afterward to wear the veil ever again, unless it was to hide the effects of the acid spray. In an act of “compassion,” the Committee had prohibited lethal doses. Agents could only use controlled, diluted amounts, but it had its intended effect. The same for any woman who removed any part of her clothing they had to conceal.

It was hard to know how often that occurred; those who paid the price rarely changed their wardrobe.

Finally, she reached the department store she worked at. After glancing at her watch and realizing she was almost late, she hurried to get inside.

Several girls appeared on the other side of the door and blocked it, laughing at her. Timidly, she asked them to move.

“We don’t move for bitches like you!” one of them replied.

“Please, I need to get to work.”

“Nobody cares, slut!”

Aurora stared at them. She couldn’t understand how anyone could be so cruel to another for no reason. What had she done to them? Was it her fault the Committee considered her beautiful and not them?

“Come on, bitch,” a girl said. “Remove that thing and show us your face! I bet you’re ugly and just want the attention.”

“Yeah, bitch! Take it off, and we’ll open the door!”

They started to chant like a deformed cheerleading squad, taunting her to remove the veil. Looking at them with bewilderment, Aurora gradually perceived something that had always been there in every girl who had ever bothered her, but she had never noticed before. It wasn’t hate that drove them, but profound envy. The veil symbolized what they wanted, but could never have.

Deliberately, Aurora reached up to her face and, amid gasps coming from the other side of the door, pulled the veil off her head. She then offered it to them.

“I’m done wearing it. Which one of you wants it?”

All commotion on the street ceased. Every eye was fixed upon Aurora, but no one spoke. The three girls looked at her, and for a moment she sensed awe rather than jealousy.

The admiration didn’t last. One of the girls soon broke out of the trance and screamed.


As if on cue, a patrol car pulled up onto the curb. The agents stormed out and went to confront Aurora. It fully dawned on her what she had done. There was no going back.

Dropping her veil, she fled down the sidewalk. Everyone in front of her scattered, earnest to escape the acid blast from the agents as they chased her with their aerosol cans in hand.

As she was passing by a door, she heard a voice call to her. In desperation, she obeyed the command to enter and threw herself inside.

There she found a man roughly in his thirties. He promptly escorted her to the back and ordered her to change into the clothes in his office. Thoroughly confused, she nevertheless obeyed and put on the slacks, shirt, cap and boots in the office locker.

“Any makeup?” he asked.



He approached her, lathering his hands with dirty and oil. Without warning, he began applying it to her hands and face.

“Your name is Jake,” he commanded. “You’re a male friend I met yesterday. You say nothing else. Got it?”

Still shaking, she nodded her head. “Who are you?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

The man returned to the front of the place to greet the officers who stormed inside. They looked over the man’s shoulder and eyed Aurora.

“Who are you?” an officer asked.

“Jake,” she said in a neutral voice.

“Got ID?”


“Then we’ll have to take you to the station.”

“I can tell you he’s Jake, alright,” the man said. “He’s my friend; my male friend. Right, Jake?”

“Yes, that’s right,” she said. “I’m a man.”

The officer glared at her, then at the man. He ordered the other agents to leave before walking out the door.

The man directed Aurora to be silent for a while. When he felt it was safe, he allowed her to speak.

“Why didn’t they arrest me?” she asked softly.

“Because you identified as a male,” he explained, peeking out the window before returning to her. “They can’t arrest you on probable charges, because there’s nothing probable about you. You said you’re a man. They’re looking for a woman. The officer can’t say you’re a woman and contradict you, especially since you had a witness. He had to catch you admitting you’re a female, but again, he can’t detain you unless you admitted you were one to begin with. Then he would have had probable suspicion.”

“You seem to know a lot about the law.”

The man grinned, guiding her to his office. “You’re not the first damsel in distress I’ve rescued.’

He pushed the locker to the side, revealing a hidden passageway. “Go there. You’ll be safe for now.”

“What’s in there?”


He sealed off the wall again, leaving Aurora’s curiosity to lead her forward. She entered a small cramped room. On a small bedroom and bits of furniture were a dozen girls.

All them clearly fell under the veil requirement, but none of them complied. She had never seen so many women as beautiful as her in one room.

It was technically legal for them not to wear veils in private residences, but there were risks. A woman doing so—or a man who allowed it in his house—could get fired from their work.

“Welcome,” one of the girls said as she stood up to greet Aurora. “Get some rest. We’ll be leaving soon.”

“Where to?”

“Where being beautiful is not a crime.”


“Hurry!” the truck driver admonished the women as they lined up beside the vehicle. In the pitch black, Aurora could scarcely see in front of her. The man who had saved her was standing beside the driver’s door, offering him money to transport them across the border.

Or at least that’s what she assumed. There was no light, for fear a border patrol would notice. The old forest roads hadn’t been used for decades, and it showed. When it was still light, she could see the deep holes and foliage covering the center of the roads. Every now and then their vehicle had had to slow down to a walking speed to avoid fallen tree limbs or standing water.

“Where are we going from here?” Aurora asked the woman in front of her.

“Who cares? As long as it’s away from here.”

“Why you miss anyone?”

The girl paused, then answered bitterly, “No, because none of them cared enough about me to stand up for me. They don’t deserve to see me again. They don’t deserve to see anything beautiful again.”

They hushed as the man gestured warningly at them. They knelt and huddled against the truck as a large search light shone into the sky above them. A helicopter flew by briefly, its light unable to penetrate the thick tree-line camouflaging them. Their only real threat was ground patrols.

“Hurry, hurry!” the truck driver repeated. “We can’t wait long between patrols.”

The women began crawling into the back of the truck. On the ground beside the vehicle was a metal plate that would seal off the compartment hiding them.

Aurora anxiously awaited her turn to get on. As she went to get aboard, she was blinded by bright lights coming from behind. Terror gripped her as she looked back and saw the silhouette of vehicles on the road quickly approaching them.

“Stop!” a voice cried on a loudspeaker. “We have you surrounded!”

The man ordered the truck driver to take off, then ran over to help Aurora get into the truck. However, she held up a hand to stop him.

“No, I want to stay with you,” she said.

“Are you crazy? You know what they’ll do to you.”

The truck driver didn’t wait, a cloud of exhaust blowing into their face as it plunged into the darkness.

“You have a knife?” she asked.

He paused. “Yes.”

“Give it to me.”

She took it and immediately began cutting her hair until it was as short as his. She gathered the cut hair and tossed it into the woods before stooping down to gather dirt and smother her face in it.

“How do I look?” she asked him as she stood up.

The man seemed perplexed, but then grinned. “You look hideous.”

“Let’s hope so.”

A row of patrol vehicles surrounded them. Agents poured out with aerosol cans and rifles, ready to deliver the punishment. Their momentum was halted as they searched for a beautiful woman.

The man stepped forward. “Good evening, officers! We were just taking a walk. Can we help you?”

The patrol leader emerged from the crowd of officers and confronted Aurora, a flashlight in hand. With his nose inches away from hers, he studied her closely. The flashlight made her squint and hide from him her sapphire eyes, the only part of her face that might deem her “beautiful.”

The patrol leader stepped back, turning off his flashlight with a grunt. “You’re free to go. Go home, it’s late.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied.

The patrol cars drove off, leaving Aurora and the man alone on the road. He took out his flashlight and used it to find their way back to the main highway.

“Why do you do this?” Aurora asked him.

“Beauty is a terrible thing to waste, isn’t it?”

“I suppose. But why don’t you leave?”

“Maybe I will, someday. Why did you stay?”

She smiled. “Maybe so you won’t be surrounded by ugly girls.”

“You mean like the one I’ve got with me right now?” he joked before kissing her.

She reached out and held his hand. Even with her dirtied face, her eyes glimmered in the dim light illuminating their path.

“I’m just wearing a different kind of veil now,” she remarked. “Maybe someday things will change, and I can take it off.”