Haircut by a Ghost by Feng Jicai
Female, age 33 in 1966
Unemployed in T City
I am telling you my personal story. When you write about it, though, I don’t want you to focus on me, but on another person.
Before I start, you must promise not to laugh. I have told the story to several other people, and they all laughed. As soon as they started laughing, I stopped, for I can’t stand someone laughing at other people’s misery. So can you promise not to laugh? You do? Then I will start.
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On a late autumn night of 1964, I had a horrible nightmare. I dreamed that many devils and demons were licking the skin on my head with their tongues. Yes, tongues of various colors, blue, red, green, purple. Some of them were multi-colored, but all were shining brightly. Still deep in sleep, I wondered how they could lick the skin on my head. What happened to my hair? All of a sudden I woke up with a scream, so loud that it woke my husband. When he turned on the bed light, he stared at me as if he was seeing a ghost. Pointing at my head, he was speechless. I raised my hand to my head, and it felt like a watermelon, round, hard and slippery. I was totally bald. Where was my hair, I wondered. Then my husband and I saw a pile of my hair on the pillow. We were stunned. Suddenly I remembered a bizarre and horrifying story that I had heard as a child, a story of a ghost cutting people’s hair. But I had never imagined that it could happen to me.
I covered my head with both hands and cried.
If you had seen my hair before, you would definitely marvel at its beauty. I dare say that not many women, Chinese or foreign, had as beautiful a head of hair as I did. My husband said that he first fell in love with me because of my hair. In the hair salons near my house, I never had to pay to have my hair cut. The proprietors all asked me to be a model for their new hairstyles. Unlike many other women, who had to rely on heavy make-up to compensate for their lack of natural beauty, my hair was beautiful enough for me to stand out wherever I went. Now that my hair was suddenly gone, I looked worse than any of the women with the worst hair. My bald head looked like an egg. How could I go out and face other folks again? For a woman who cared as much as I about her looks, the loss of hair virtually amounted to a death sentence.
My husband was even more worried than I was. He visited many doctors, looking for a cure, and came back with all kinds of pills and herbs. I even tried secret recipes from ancient times, like the one you wrote about in your novel “The Miraculous Pigtail.” However, none of them worked. My head was still as bald as a porcelain pot. My husband refused to give up and continued to look for doctors who could help me to grow hair. Eventually I became tired of this, and one day I yelled at him furiously, “Do you not like me any more because I’m bald? Do you want to desert me? Do you love me or my hair? If you only love my hair, why don’t you take it and leave. Listen carefully, I won’t try any more treatments.”
After that, he had no choice but to give up. However, one month later, I received a large parcel from the Shanghai Stage Costume Factory. It was very odd because I never even went to the theater to see performances. How could I have anything to do with stage costumes? My husband was standing beside me, not saying a word, as I opened the parcel. It was a woman’s wig! I tried it on and it fitted perfectly. On the sides of wig were two exquisite plastic hooks to hook onto my ears. I could hardly call it a wig because the hair looked so dark, shiny, soft, and natural. It was almost as beautiful as my original hair. I asked my husband, “Did you order this?” He just smiled and didn’t say a word, which was always his way. He was an engineer at a radio factory, and always preferred action to talking. Every time he did something for me, I’d say, “You are so nice.” For him, that was all he needed to hear from me.
It turned out that a wig actually had lots of benefits. In many ways it was even better than real hair. For example, real hair has to be cut and made up once in a while. This is not necessary with a wig. Moreover, since you can’t see the back of your head in the mirror, it’s hard to makeup real hair by yourself. With a wig, you can take it off, put it on a table, and work on it before putting it on your head. It is especially convenient when you give yourself a perm.
Whenever I did up my hair, I would lock myself in the room, close the drapes and take off the wig. I never looked in the mirror without it. If I did, I might find that I looked like the evil spirit depicted in the classic novel “Strange Stories from Liaozhai.” With the wig, however, I felt sure that no one could imagine that I was actually a bald woman whose hair had been cut by “ghost.” Even my husband looked at me in admiration because of the beautiful “hair.” He never came into the room when I was working on the wig, and he knew exactly what I was afraid of seeing and saying.
My husband was a senior engineer. Consequently we became a target of attack when the Red Guards started to ransack houses. After all, that was what the Cultural Revolution was partly about. It called on the uneducated and ignorant to attack the intellectuals. The Red Guards who raided our home were mostly young kids, each with an ax in hand. They smashed whatever they saw and didn’t leave a single item untouched. What I feared most, though, was that they would cut my hair. And they did, because my hair was too outstanding. Among the Red Guards were some young women who were jealous of my beautiful hair. It is no secret that women are jealous of other women’s beauty, while men are jealous of other men’s success.
I was pushed to the ground by a dozen hands and I saw my hair fall as two scissors mercilessly cut through the wig. The Red Guards pushed me as hard as they could, as if they were afraid that I might put up a fight. But how could I dare to fight? If I did, my wig might fall off and my bald head would be revealed. After they finished messing with my hair, they seemed satisfied. They cursed me some more and then left.
I cried my heart out. How could I live with such disheveled hair? My husband didn’t bother to comfort me, but busied himself cleaning up the mess. I was so angry I yelled at him, “Is that garbage more important than me?” Without saying a word, he continued to comb through the room, until he had cleared away all the trash in front of the wardrobe. Then he stood on a chair, reached to the top of the wardrobe, and produced a parcel wrapped in old newspapers. When I opened it, I saw it was a brand new wig. And before I had a chance to open my mouth, he said, “I had ordered an extra one a long time ago, just in case.”
At that moment, I felt he was truly marvelous. I had heard from his colleagues that he always knew what would happen next and so made the necessary moves accordingly, like a great chess player. Of course, he didn’t know how to play chess. He devoted all his talent to the development of radios.
But I have to blame myself for all the mishaps.
At that time we were not completely out of danger yet. I should have wrapped up the wig and hidden it. Instead I removed the damaged wig and put on the new one. But the mirror was broken, so I couldn’t see how it looked. Suddenly there was a loud bang on the door. It was kicked open, and the same Red Guards returned. At that time I couldn’t understand why they had come back. Later I found out that they wanted to take the leather handbag on the clothes hanger. My husband had bought the bag for his use on business trips. The Red Guards wanted to take it away. When they saw me, however, they screamed. The looks on their faces were exactly the same as my husband’s when he first saw my bald head.
“Who are you?” they asked.
I didn’t know how to answer and simply said, “It’s me.”
“What happened to your hair? Tell the truth. If you play tricks on us, we will beat you to death,” threatened one Red Guard. After that, they all shouted: “Beat her up.”
I was terrified, not knowing how to handle the situation. My husband jumped in front of me. He was shaking so hard that his knees bent forward, as if he was about to kneel down and beg them not to hurt me. Unable to come up with an excuse, he told the truth. He said that my real hair had been “cut by ghost” and that I was wearing a wig. “She is not intending to cheat and play tricks with you young revolutionary fighters,” he said. To prove it, he turned and took the wig off my head. Looking at my bald head, the Red Guards burst out laughing. A woman Red Guard said, “How can a bourgeoisie demon like you care about her looks!” She turned to the other Red Guards and said, “Let’s burn her wig.”
They grabbed the wig from my husband’s hand and lit it with a match. Almost instantly the wig was aflame and turned into a pool of dark dust. After that, they left, with the leather bag.
This time I didn’t cry, but my husband did. He seldom cried, but when he did, there was no way I could stop him with words of comfort. He turned to me and said, “Please forgive me. I have done harm to you. I was afraid they might beat you to death.”
Moments of joy and happiness may not be remembered for long, but those of sadness can hardly be forgotten…