It just had to go. It was thin and long and not even one bit shiny. It was old fashioned and so tough to maintain. Plus it fell in clumps and threatened to all but disappear. She had it all through middle school and high school and the first year of college and that was a long time. Could she do it? She’d been threatening to ever since she could remember but always nothing happened and now when she started her mom would just shrug it off, her dad would feign shock and her brother would say- you don’t have the guts! Pah! Everybody thought she was a baby. Can’t they just quit telling me how to live, how to dress, what to do with my hair, she thought.
So one fine morning she took off with a friend, her long black hair tied back in a ponytail cascading behind her and reaching down to her hips. It swayed and bounced with her all the way to the beauty salon. When Priya entered, she caught a glimpse of her face in the mirror. Her brow was furrowed and her jaws clenched tight. Many older women were getting trims. The stylist’s scissors were clipping away furiously and wisps of hair fell lifelessly to the ground. She turned to the girls and raised her thinly plucked eyebrows as if to ask what they wanted.
“Haircut,” they both said in a chorus.
“ Wait 10 minutes,” she said in broken English.
The girls nodded and moved to a corner and watched while the stylist finished blow-drying and styling a mop of hair. The longer Priya waited the more unsure she was. She turned to her friend Gita.
“Am I doing the right thing?”
Gita gave her a wistful look and said what she had said a hundred times before, “ I don’t know Priya. I hope your folks take it well.”
Priya closed her eyes and thought of her mom. She had spent years oiling, massaging, combing, braiding, washing, drying and most of all loving her daughter’s hair.
“I never had long hair Priya,” she used to say to her, “and I always wanted my daughter’s hair to be long and beautiful.”
Priya swallowed hard but the lump in her throat stayed put. She opened her eyes. The lady with a mop of hair was gone. A young girl was sweeping away the hair around the swivel chair. The stylist emerged from behind a purple curtain and motioned for Priya to sit on the chair. Priya turned to Gita.
“You go first,” she said.
Gita moved towards the chair and sat down slowly and turned it around to face the stylist. The stylist ran her long fingers, tips painted bright pink, through Gita’s hair.
“U- cut please,” Gita said. The stylist nodded. Priya stared at the scissors and the hair flying all around. Before long she was done and Priya crawled into the chair and sat looking at herself in the mirror.
“What you like?,” asked the stylist after a long silence. “Trim?”
Priya woke up from her trance and said, “No. I’d like you to cut it.”
The lady beside her with short henna streaked hair, sat up in her chair.
“Long hair is so lovely. You can do so many things with it. Braid it, put it up, let it down…”
Oh please! Don’t start –Priya wanted to say. What did she know about having long hair for years. The same look through all of your teenage years. So boring. That’s what long hair was. Plain boring. Not one bit stylish.
“How much?,” asked the stylist, holding Priya’s limp hair in her left hand.
A wave of pain passed over Gita’s face. The henna lady clicked her tongue. The stylist clicked her shears ominously and lifted a bunch of hair. Priya was finding it hard to breathe. Oh just get it over with.
The scissors snipped away and Priya was aware of the hair being severed off from her head and falling to the ground. But she dared not look down. Suddenly this didn’t feel good at all. She always thought she wanted to cut her hair but now as they fell down all around her she was filled with a sense of grief. The stylist worked in bunches and finished cutting all of her hair to shoulder length. As if that wasn’t enough Priya wanted a step cut and also a fringe. The scissor- happy stylist cut away. Priya looked at herself. She didn’t look the same anymore. A tuft of hair hung over her forehead. The rest fell over her shoulders. Did she look good? Well, she had to get used to the ‘new look’. The young girl with the broom appeared. Priya held her hand up.
“I’ll take it.”
The girl frowned and disappeared behind the purple curtain.
Priya took a newspaper from a magazine rack in the corner and picked up her hair. There was a lot of it! If only it looked this thick when it was on her head. She carefully placed all the hair in the middle of a sheet and rolled it up.
“What’s that for?,” asked Gita who was obviously puzzled.
“That’s for my mother.”
“She told me that if I should ever cut my hair, she wanted to keep it.”