Fast Times At Queerrie High by EddyZ.
“Customs, miss. Please show your passport.”
Alex looked amazed at the two men dressed in indistinct uniforms at the airport of Derby.
“Uhh? I thought this is still Australia.”
“Oh yes, miss, but it is Tasman Land too and we have our own rules. As far as they do not violate the law. Have you anything to declare? Do you happen to have any narcotics in your luggage?”
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Indignantly Alex shook her head which made her long dark tresses move back and forth.
“Of course not! Are you crazy? What do you think of me?”
The two men laughed: “Just kidding, miss. We don’t think you are the type to smuggle stuff. Here is your passport. Are you here for tourism?”
“No, I’ve got a job. Not in Derby but in Queerrie.”
The two men exchanged a significant look: “I wish you luck, miss. They have peculiar customs there.”
“Yeah…..Tasman, huh? Is there a bus service towards Queerrie?”
“Oh yes, every hour.”
“Does this bus drive along Bickfordstreet?”
“Certainly miss, I’ll tell you when we are there. What is the number?”
“It is in this block, miss. I’ll help you with your luggage.”
“Wellcome in our town, miss Arrows. Did you have a good flight?
Alex had flown that morning from Melbourne to Derby. The heat had struck her when she left the aircraft. Towards the end of August the temperature in Melbourne had amounted to about 60* but this was a different, tropical climate and the temperature about 40* higher. She was 23 now, just graduated from university and had applied for a job as a teacher for the English language at the only high school which Queerrie posessed. After a job interview she had been accepted. That wasn’t surprising as she turned out to be the only applicant. But that she didn’t know by then. Jane Hunter, the sturdy, middle-aged woman who had wellcomed her had made her an offer for the rent of a small furnished apartment. It contained a living-room, a bedroom, a small kitchen and a shower cubicle with a toilet.
“Fine,” said Alex, “I’ll take it.”
“You have to pay one month rent in advance,” Jane told her.
“Listen sweetie,” resumed Jane motherly, “Queerrie is a small town; do you know anything about it?”
“Not much,” answered Alex, “but I’ve heard that some things are peculiar.”
“Well, listen, it is a very closed community as few people from elsewhere come here. In the course of time our community has developed several qualities and customs. Extravagancies are not appreciated and decency is emphazised. Offending our morals is badly tolerated and eventually will be punished.”
“I see but how is the specification of those morals?”
“Well, you know: decent behaviour, decent clothing, decent hairdo and make-up. Got that?”
“Errr….yes, I think so.”
Apparently Jane would not or could not be more precise. Well, Alex thought, I’ll look around and see how the people in the street look like.
When she changed her clothes to go outside Alex decided not to wear a short skirt but to put on a flowered cotton dress of which the hem just reached her knees. A panty hose? No,too hot in this temperature. She had always worn this summer dress with bare legs and open shoes and no one had ever thought it to be indecent. Alex had slender legs, relatively long though her total length only amounted to 5 feet and 7 inches. A rather broad pelvis accentuated her wasp waist. Her friends said that she had the butt of Jennifer Lopez but that her boops were proportionally too small. They said that she had the face of Jacqueline Bisset and the hair of Susan Sarandon, though a lot longer. What she really didn’t like were fleckles on her breasts, neck and shoulders. She knew that they occurred at her back too but these gave her less trouble.
What to do with her hair? Mostly she wore it loose and it cascaded just over her shoulders and she didn’t see any reason why she should change that habit. No one ever had called this hairstyle indecent!
Nevertheless people gazed at her. Probably they knew or guessed that she was new in town. Alex didn’t see women and girls with trousers and the skirts and dresses covered their knees. But the most striking issue was the length of women’s hair. Young girls had long hair, worn loose just as Alex did. Elder women had their hair pinned up or rolled up into a bun when it wasn’t short. And the young women, twens and older teenagers, nearly all of them had short hair, permed or not.
Alex entered the building of the high school where she had an appointment with the principal. To her relief the temperature inside was agreeable compared with the heat outside. The principal was a tall and skinny man. Alex had to look up at him while they were standing. Fortunately he offered her a seat. He gave her information about the school, the timetable, what she had to expect in this new environment and so on. Then he switched to what he expected from her.
“Of course you have to set an example as all of my staff has. That is to be achieved by a decent behaviour but also by a decent appearance.”
He cleared his throat.
“Ahum, I think you should ask your female colleagues how to dress and so on.”
“You mean I should change that?”
The principal looked uneasy.
“Women can tell you much better than I could how your appearance must be to fit in with our habits.’
Alex looked puzzled. In what way was her appearance indecent? Before she could ask there was a knock at the door which immediately was opened by a young woman. She had a round face, short blonde hair, cut in a boyish style, blue eyes, spectacles and a round body. Very round, she unmistakingly was pregnant about seven or eight months and as she was small her length and width seemed to be equal.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Bob, I didn’t know that you have a visitor,” she tittered.
“Come in, Alice, and meet our new English teacher, Alexandra Arrows. Miss Arrows, Alice Simmons is our mathematics genius.”
Alice shoved her spectacles right on her nose and looked at Alex with her intense blue eyes: “Glad to meet you, Alexandra.”
“Call me Alex, please. Everyone does.”
“Alex!?” the principal cried out, “That sounds like a boy’s name. Do you agree when we change that into Sandra?”
“Oh….yes…okay..fine,” stammered …….Sandra.
I’m being transformed, she thought. My name, my clothing…. my hair?
“Do you want to speak to me, Alice?” the principal asked.
“I’ll come back later. It’s about my maternity leave but it can wait.’
“Will you do me a favour? Shaw Sandra round in the building, the classes and so on. I’ve a few phonecalls to make. Afterwards we’ll talk.”
While they strolled through the empty building Sandra asked Alice: “What is the matter with this town? Everyone speaks about decent behaviour and appearance and indeed, when I look at the people they seem to be different from those in Melbourne where I was raised.’
Alice looked at Sandra.
“Of course you cannot compare a big city like Melbourne with this…..dull hole. But there is more. Since the first inhabitants founded this place few people from outside have settled down here. It has always been an isolated community and the ideas living here didn’t change much. Yes, decency is a big issue here.”
“But why do I get the impression that there is something amiss with me?”
“Sandra, I’m sorry to say that but it is your hair.”
“My hair? No one ever told me that it is no good. On the contrary, everyone admires my hair.’
“Yes, it is beautiful…anywhere else….but here….Look, it has its origin in that peculiar ritual.”
“I can’t follow you, Alice.”
“No, I’ll explain it to you. Look, Queerrie is an isolated and close community, everyone knows each other and no one, with a few exceptions, has the guts to ignore the ritual. You know, it is assumed that when a child reaches the age of 16 years, it is on the edge between childhood and adulthood. When you are 16 you leave your childhood behind you and you enter your adulthood. And to symbolize that a strange ritual is maintained: your head is shaved. Sacrificing your hair indicates that you leave your former life behind you..’
“I see, in this way boys enter their manhood.’
“Not only boys, Sandra, girls too,”
“What? The girl’s heads are shaved when they are 16?”
“Yes and it is for them especially arduous as their hair isn’t cut during their childhood. All those 16 years old have long hair. But it isn’t done on your birthday. No, it is restricted to two days in a year: the first day after the summer holidays and the first schoolday after Eastern. Everyone who got sixteen in that time is shorn at school. There is a big gathering of the whole school together with a great deal of the parents. You’ll see it next Tuesday.”
Sandra was shocked by the story and Alice noticed. She resumed: “The principal makes a speech and calls the persons concerned to the platform. Not only the children but also those who want to support them. For to encourage the children a number of people have their heads shaved before it’s their turn.”
“Are you serious, Alice? I can hardly believe it.”
“Yes, it is a peculiar town. I too did it a year ago.”
“Well, I came here two years ago. And guess what happened: I fell in love with a young man and he with me. But that produced a problem: he was an inhabitant of Queerrie and I was an outsider. A serious problem; marrying an outsider wasn’t done.”
“I think that is stupid!”
“Maybe but that’s the mentality here.”
“I would refuse to be treated like this.”
“Sandra, if you are in love you think in other tems.”
“Didn’t you consider to go to another place with him?”
“No we didn’t. And Gary, my husband, knew a simple solution: the ritual. If I submitted to a headshaving it would make it easier for me to be accepted as member of the community. My hair wasn’t as long as yours and not so beautiful too, so it wasn’t a big sacrifice.”
Sandra remembered what Alice had said about her hair.
“My hair. You said my hair is not decent.”
“Let me explain. You know when your head is shaved when you are sixteen, it would take years to grow back to the same length as before. But that’s no custom, on the contrary, the young women are considered to keep their hair short. Look around you in the streets. When you have long hair, wearing it loose, you are thought to be a prostitute.”
“Oh my god! I look like a prostitute in the eyes of the people here?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“But I don’t want to cut my hair, sooner I would leave the town.”
“If you don’t cut it you should pin it up as some elder women do. Or wear it in a bun or braid it and coil it around your head. Whatever you prefer don’t wear your hair loose like you do now. Only sluts do.”
“Well, I think better can put it up. Will you help me please? I seldom did it.”
The next step in my transformation, Sandra thought.
“I think I need to buy other clothes too,” Sandra said, “Would you come with me and advise me?”
“Sure, let us do that tomorrow.”
Down with my miniskirts, short dresses and trousers, Sandra thought. I won’t more wear them.
Sandra was sitting next to Alice on the first row, facing the platform. The principal addressed the pupils and others present. Suddenly Sandra heard him ask her to join him at the platform. Startled she looked at Alice who grinned: “He only wants to introduce you to the mob.”
Uneasy Sandra ascended the platform.
“Wellcome miss Sandra Arrows. She is our new English teacher. Would you please tell the people something about yourself?”
Sandra told them that she was 23 years old, single, coming from Melbourne where she had been schooled. She expressed the hope that the time spent at Queerrie high school would be fruitful as well regarding the school as herself. There was a polite applause when she descended the platform but no more than that.
“It has nothing to do with you but they always react very reticent on outsiders,” Alice told her.
Then the shearing started. First a row of supporters, men chiefly but a few young women too. The 16 years old pupils who had been called to the platform watching.
On the platform eight straight chairs had been set up and eight barbers with huge Oster clippers made short work with the hair of the victims. Two girls were busy sweeping the hair on the floor towards a corner before they sat down themselves.
Twenty two boys and fifteen girls lost their hair. Particularly the girls had a hard time as they all had long hair. Not incomprehensible that tears were flowing.
But afterwards they were congratulated and praised as if they had won the first prize. All went outside where a fire was lighted and the mass of hair was thrown on it and burned. Connecting there was a barbecue to celebrate the memorial events.
“Phew, still three months,” sighed Alice, “I’ll thank god if the time of delivery has come. My swollen belly is killing me in this climate.”
Sanra had become a good friend of Alice. The inhabitants of Queerrie were polite but maintained a distance towards Sandra. The contacts were formal, their attitudes businesslike.
Alice’s baby was born in the beginning of December, one week later than was expected. Ten days later Sandra flew to Melbourne to celebrate Christmas with her relatives. Weeks before Sandra had looked forward to this journey but just before she should depart she met Michael, the brother of Gary, Alice’s husband. Recovered from the delivery Alice had invited Sandra to a dinner-party.
“Michael, my brother in law has returned to Queerrie. He has qualified as a surgeon and got a position at the local hospital. This is a good opportunity to celebrate his return.”
Sandra had expected him to be a younger edition of Gary who was a nice chap but with him too she felt the distance so characteristic for the inhabitants, the incrowd, the insiders.
Michael was a totally different man, good looking, steelblue eyes, fair hair, an angular chin. And especially sympathetic! They chatted a long time together and Sandra immediately got the feeling that he was the man she had always dreamt of.
Later Alice had said that he liked Sandra too. Yes okay but could he love her?
“I think he can but there is a problem.”
“I know, I’m an outsider.”
“Mike wouldn’t care if he loves you. He has been away so long that he has got broadminded. But you don’t automatically become an accepted member of the community by marrying him.”
This conversation had taken place after Sandra’s return from her trip to Melbourne. While being there she had missed Michael awfully and she had become aware of the fact that she had hopelessly fallen in love with him.
Unfortunately she did see Michael only occasionally. He was not only busy with his work at the hospital but also by visiting his new colleagues to get acquainted with them and with a lot of other people too. After all he had been away from Queerrie from his eighteenth till his thirtieth year.
The principal had told Sandra that it would be decent to visit a church at Sunday, not to smoke in public and to be sparing with alcoholic beverages. She didn’t smoke and never drank much but also she never went to church. Now she started to do so, hoping to see Michael, most times in vain.
Up till now Sandra had not regretted being an outsider, not belonging to the inhabitants of the town. Now she craved to be one! She remembered what Alice had done to become accepted as one of them. The ritual! But Sandra shuddered if she thought of such a sacrifice. Could or would she ever do that?
The Eastern holidays had ended and Sandra made her way through the crowded corridors towards the auditorium where the ritual would take place. She had her hair pinned up as she usually did. Suddenly she felt someone tugging at her hair and a few tresses got detached. She had no idea who could have done it and she hastened to the ladies toilet. Three of her shorthaired senior students were chatting, standing there together.
“Oh Sandra, your hair!” said Mary, a redhead, “can we help you?”
“Yes please, I hate to be late.”
Their help turned out disastrous.
“Oh my god, I can’t go in like this!” cried Sandra.
The girls laughed and Mary said: “Indeed, it is a sorry sight. You know, better wear it loose.”
“Yes, why not, it suits you,” another girl supported her.
“But that is not decent,” Sandra objected.
The girls convinced her that she had no choice, time pressing, and they ushered her to the auditorium.
Sandra sat down next to Alice who looked at her, astonished but approving.
“So you are going to do it,” she said, jumping to conclusions.
“Do what?” asked Sandra, not understanding.
“Don’t you know? If you have long hair and you are going to sit here with all hanging loose around your face it means that you will take part in the ritual.”
“Oh no!” cried Sandra standing up, “I’ll leave!”
“You can’t, sweetheart,” said Alice with an evil smile, “You have to stay. Too late for backing out.”
Sandra noticed the principal looking at her with a big smile. He called her to the platform!
With shaking knees Sandra climbed the stairs and sat down on the first chair. A barber appeared behind her, put a cape around her shoulders, fixed it, switched on a pair of huge Oster clippers, grabbed her hair and put the clippers at her forehead……
Sandra screamed and……….awakened! She sat upright in her bed, wet with sweat.
“Only a bad dream, thanks heaven, she thought. But…..it really is the first schoolday today! What is the meaning of this dream?”
Sandra couldn’t more sleep…..the dream haunting her mind.
“Rubbish!” she said to herself, “It is just a dream and it doesn’t mean anything.”
“Or does it? Is this an instruction? If I take part in the ritual everyone will congratulate me and I will be accepted in the community. Isn’t that what you want, Sandra? Your final transformation!”
Alice had told her that Michael possibly would attend the session. What would he think of me with a bald pate?
“Michael will love you, Sandra! Do it for him!”
Who had said that? The voice of Alice it seemed but Sandra was alone in her bedroom.
“Should I really do this for Michael?”
Sandra looked at her radio alarm clock. Nearly seven o’clock.
She called Alice……
Sandra entered the schoolbuilding. Pupils, parents, teachers gazed in awe at her. She strolled through the corridors and everywhere the conversations stopped when she passed, people fell back, making a free way to her.
She sat down next to Alice who smiled at her. The principal caught sight of her and his lower jaw dropped, then he raised his head as if asking for confirmation. Sandra nodded and a bright smile spread over his face.
Sandra was called to the platform together with number of other supporters.
Suddenly she got wobbly; doubt overpowered her: did she really want this? Her heart pounded, her respiration accelerated, she began to sweat. But it was too late, she couldn’t back out anymore. Reluctantly she sat down on the first chair, just like in her dream. Her long tresses flew along her face and over her shoulders. Since she had come to Queerrie she hadn’t visited a beautysalon, scared that they would cut too much, trying to talk her into a short haircut. Her hair reached to midback by now……
The barber grabbed in one movement all of her hair in his left hand, pushed her head gently towards her chest, flicked on the switch of his clippers and put them at her nape. He moved them up towards her crown, leaving short stubble in its wake and revealing white skin. Again and again he plowed through her hair making the bald area at the back of her head bigger and bigger, not visible for the audience in the hall but the sixteen year old pupils who were looking on behind the chairs at the platform had a good view. The barber moved to the right side of her head, then her left and at last he made a few passes with the clippers over the top and …the big bush of hair in his left hand was separated from her head. After some final strokes over her head the chore was finished.
Sandra had not moved during the procedure. As in trance she stood up and lined up in the row on the platform. Suddenly she became aware of a woman next to her who grabbed her hand. “Wellcome aboard,” she heard her say. She recognized the voice very well.
“Alice?” she asked, astonished to see her head clippershaved.
“Hey, I’m your friend, you know. Did you think I should let you endure the ordeal alone?”
For the first time Sandra got tears in her eyes….
Literally everyone came to congratulate Sandra when the barbecue had started.
Michael approached her: “You look as lovely as ever, lass. I had no idea that you did care so much for me. I must have been deaf and blind.”
Alice who all the time had stayed at the side of Sandra, said to him: “You had better wake up before it is too late. Now everyone wants to make friends with Sandra. The coast is not clear any more.”
Michael laughed: “I won’t let them have any chance.”
Two months later the marriage of Michael and Sandra was celebrated in the church with nearly all of the community present. With amazement everyone looked at the bride. In the two months since her shearing her hair had grown to a lenght of about one inch. When she had put on her wedding dress she detested her hair.
“I cannot go to church with this terrible hair,” she said to Michael, “Please, chop it off, all of it!”
“But I have no clippers, you should go to a hairsalon.”
“Impossible, I can’t go in this dress and there is no more time for a change. You have a razor, so shave my head. Please?”
Those present in the church looked in awe at the baldheaded bride, her shining dome clearly visible through the sheer veil.
The last step of the transformation of Sandra? No, the end of the beginning. Soon she got pregnant and she and Michael started to raise a family.
In any case the longhaired Alex had gone once and for all.
A few months later a former pupil of Sandra, the redheaded Mary, followed her example and shaved her head too when she was married.
Would this be the start of a new ritual in Queerrie?