Her steps faltered as she walked into the hair salon, the waft of shampoo, just-washed wet hair being blown dry, struck her senses and almost stifled her already excited breathing. She looked at the row of chairs…
“Hi! How may I help you?” a pleasant voice asked from somewhere, she was too busy in her own thoughts to notice from where. A hand lightly touched her shoulder, she drifted back to the here and now.
“Are you here for a haircut?” the pleasant voice had a pleasant smile with a pleasant mushroom cut that adorned her beautiful face.
“Haircut… Haircut… Haircut.” The words echoed in her mind, she suddenly felt queasy in a very pleasant sort of way, almost like when Neil had kissed her the first time, but better, much better.
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She must have smiled nervously, because the pleasant voice guided her to the chair and sat her down.
“Hi again, my name is Karen and I will be your stylist today. You do speak English don’t you?”
“I would certainly hope so, otherwise my Bachelor’s degree in English from Oxford might be a tad fallacious,” she answered in an arrogant Oxford accent that betrayed a hint of the Indian habit of rolling the r. “Americans,” she laughed to herself. “I’m Vandana, but just call me Wendy. Delighted to meet you”
“If only you knew how delighted” Wendy mused.
“So, what can I do for you today?”
“I’m here for a haircut”. She couldn’t believe she actually said that, she had really changed.
“Okay, so let’s see what we have here,” said Karen, as she started to pull up her braid.
It was a thick braid, and long, long, long. And the end was rolled up so it would reach the waist.
As Karen unrolled the end, her eyes grew wider and wider in amazement…
Wendy, meanwhile, had drifted back to her childhood in India, the days that mummy would comb and braid her hair, sometimes in two braids with a centre part and tell her stories from the Mahabarat of how Drupatie refused to braid her beautiful long hair until her 5 husbands had avenged her and brought the blood of her enemies for her to wash her hair with. Her mother had never cut her hair and Wendy had followed suit maintaining the form of the ‘Kurupali woman’ that her mother had been. She had been very proud of her hair and when she had gone to Oxford, was often ready with a quick repartee to any statements about her hair. But now she had met Neil…
“OH MY GOD!” Karen exclaimed. “Wow! How long have you grown this?” she asked, excited, “Please stand, I want to see how long it is on you!”
Wendy willingly obliged, and her braid fell to just short of her knees, thick all the way. Karen reached out and started to undo the braid, half-gasping for breath.
Soon, the glorious magnificence was apparent. Needle straight thick black hair with sun-bleached streaks cascaded down Wendy’s back like a silken waterfall glistening in the evening light. The ends ended randomly but in a natural V and looked just as healthy as the shiny hair on her head.
Karen stood speechless, holding some of it and feeling its softness in her hand.
“It’s so beautiful!” she finally managed to say, as Wendy sat down, then expertly gathered up her hair and flung it over the back of the chair.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Karen, still holding on to the hair and playing with it in her palm, “Okay, how do you want it cut?” she gathered herself.
“I’m not too sure,” Wendy said, “I’m looking for something stylish and practical.”
“Why don’t you think about it while I wash it, I would love to wash it!”
As Wendy leaned back in the bowl and Karen spent her sweet time shampooing and washing, her thoughts drifted to Neil…
He had caught her eye at Oxford, a visiting student, more interested in sampling the local brew, but he wasn’t like her, he was very relaxed. When they had met at the Trinity Ball, his first question to her after being introduced had been, “Do you speak English?” to which she had replied, “I most certainly hope so, otherwise I shan’t be awarded my Bachelor’s in English” and thought to herself “Americans!” But he had that look in his eye when he talked to her that had betrayed his true self, the self she had fallen in love with and come to America for.
“Almost done,” said Karen, her hands hidden by fluffy suds.
And after 6 months of a most blissful existence, Neil had asked about her hair…
“Don’t get me wrong, I love your hair, but I see you struggling with it. You’re rushing in the morning to get the right bun for work, in the evening it looks like you got run over by traffic. When we go out you’re always conscious if it’s not out of place or some tendrils aren’t sticking out. When you’re doing stuff at home, it’s either in your way or on your way. I have to help you wash it, not that I mind. But it hurts me to see you struggling. Why do you keep it so long?”
She made the speech about the Indian woman. He did not buy it. Then she had started to cry, and tearfully told him of the abuse that her mother had borne for bearing a daughter and not a son. Wendy thought she was to blame, and tried to please the family in the best way she could, taking up the ‘accepted’ form of the Kurupali woman. And when Neil asked if her mother would have liked to see her struggle the way she was doing right now, she had stopped crying and fallen into his arms. He was right.
And today she was making peace with herself and letting go of her guilt…
“Have we decided?” asked Karen as Wendy sat on the chair once again, the long wet locks flowing down the cape.
“Yes, I think a bob would be good.” She had always wanted a bob.
Karen had obviously had a different mind-set. She was thinking layering, trim, bangs maybe. This had again shocked her. She cupped her hands and gathered some hair around Wendy’s face.
“A bob will definitely look good, but what about all this hair?” she asked, holding up a fistful of 40″ hair.
“Cut it while its open, don’t braid it”
“You sure?” Karen was in love with Wendy’s hair.
“Yes,” Wendy was firm in her resolve
Karen gathered up the scissors and her courage. She combed out Wendy’s wet hair one last time all around her and looked philosophically at the majestic mane about to be shorn.
“A hundred percent.”
She started on the right, just below shoulder length, and started to cut. There was a nervous silence broken only by the crunch of the scissors blades coming together to sever Wendy’s past. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
She had reached her back now. With bated breath, Wendy watched lock after glistening lock slide off the cape and fall silently on the floor. She felt a bit of her hair slide forward over her shoulder and in front of her. She wept quietly as she looked at the straight edge of the cut end that barely reached her breast. Karen’s back was hurting, she had been snipping forever, and wasn’t done yet. Crunch. Finally she reached the last lock of hair on Wendy’s left side.
The floor around Wendy was a mass of long wet hair lying still.
Wendy looked at herself in the mirror and smiled through tears at the beautiful female sitting, smiling and crying she was meeting for the first time.
“Okay, part one is done,” said Karen.