She tilted her head to the left and scrunched her nose. “Do I know you?”
I replied sheepishly. Yeah, I came here a while back…
“Yeees, a long time ago! I remember you, come in!”
I followed her inside, and took my place in the space where her hand guided me. I sat back, and unfurled the rug of my shame.
“Ohhh, beautiful hair, of course I remember you!”
It wasn’t the first time she had said that to me, but my heart still jumped up in its cage and shuddered at the unexpected warmth. My body flexed and tightened before it realized that there were no walls to erect, that today the muscles of my defenses could take a rest.
My hair let out a sigh of relief, released its rebellious rage, allowed her to rinse remnants of crimson red tinge into the sink – blood spilled battling the enforcement of others’ wills on it.
“Inti ma a7san tafrudi sha3arik da?”
[isn’t it better to relax your hair]
She scrunched her nose, tilting her head and torso to the left to gain tension, traction, torque, ripping at the crown what remained of my glory.
“Kan faradteehu, sha3arik 7aygoom w ybga taweeeel” [if you relax it, your hair will grow and become very long]. The curls scoffed, then stiffened and shriveled into stubborn kinks, proving that whipping a living thing into submission was never the answer. When was it ever?
No, thank you, I declined politely. We both took the beating, my strands snapping under the weight of my own cowardice.
I stayed quiet, shrunk in my seat, tried to disappear so as to no longer offend the women present with the abrasiveness of my genetics. But my hair, far more boastful than I and not as easily defeated, stretched under the iron’s weight and swung down my back, sliding confidently into the home base of my waist, with a final flip that left their mouths flapping in the wind.
Oh, what victory in disbelief.
“That’s a loooootta hair”
She chuckled, and I chuckled back, nervously, my tongue clicking in its hurry to push out the rehearsed, tried and tested apology.
“You’re lucky”, she continued, “most people don’t have a lotta hair, but they want it.”
“Ufff, sha3rik kateer, kateer shadeed!”
[Ugh, you have so much hair, too much]
My eyes shot from my hair down to my face and found my mirror image mimicking her grimace. You’re disgusting.
My eyes shot back up to focus on the mane:
Taking up space.
I wanted to blurt out that it was the women in my family, that ummi [my mother] burdened me with her heavy curtain of waves, undercut by 3ammati‘s [paternal aunt] curse of stubborn kinks.
But the mane wouldn’t let me; this monster was grateful to its former master. My mother fed it well for 17 years before handing me the reigns, and I kept it bound for another 3 before I let it roam free.
It repaid me by terrorizing the villagers, so I starved it in punishment until even my mother could no longer recognize it. “Ya7laail ta3abi w shagay – aldafeera kanat gadur da, 7assi kulayn bigan 3 sha3arat” [all my hard work, gone – the braid used to be this big, now all that’s left is 3 measly strands]
“Sa7bati sha3ara zay sha3arik da, ka3ab shadeed, gamat 3amalat alkeratin nafa3a nafa3 shadeed, raggadu laiha. 7aggu ta3maleehu”
[my friend has hair just like yours, it’s so bad, but she does Keratin treatments now and they really helped her hair lay. You should try it]
Little girl running in the courtyard, sun shining through a fuzzy halo of ugly. Strands forever standing at attention, my hair never saw the sense in sleep; it lived carpe diem. They were horns, and I, bullheaded in my reluctance, tried to tie them down, unaware at the time that they were the only thing about me that was upright.
“My daughter has hair just like yours. She struggles. Back home, they don’t know how to handle this kind of beautiful.”
A tear peaked over the edge of its lid, but pride held it in. A drop of water plunged from a tress and rolled down my spine – these coils have little use for my repressed tears, they find their own release.
“Take off your glasses”, she cooed, and tipped my head back, leaning over to gently smooth my damaged edges. She smelled bittersweet – like perfume and sweat, and the scent of a curl burnt straight. Like fitting a standard we didn’t create.
She smelled of nostalgia and sacrifice,
And acceptance at a price
She smelled of home, but not quite.