My fingers weave through the mess of my hair, smoothening the strands and arguing with the tangles. Poking against the knots until slowly and silently, they come undone. Like an ancient scroll finally discovered, my braid unravels and a curtain of ebony cascades down my shoulders.
The way it’s always been. Dark, narrow alleys twisting and turning down corners, leading up to a single green hairband coiled in place. A map of my years spent growing. From crawling to walking. Velcro to laces. Short hair to long. It’s not just a crown meant to adorn, but a relic meant to represent who I am and why.
Gleaming scissors inching towards me. A blur of metal underneath the white barbershop light, growing fuzzier by the minute as my vision is blinded by my tears. Seconds turn into ages, while my trembling fingers long to weave through my hair one last time, instead of being imprisoned behind the cold plastic of the barber’s cape. Every tangle is now a blessing, every knot is a gift. Every strand is a memory I desperately cling onto, wishing to spend another minute with the thing that knows me the best: my long, dark, Indian hair.
And the strangled silence is slashed to pieces, like the clumps of black gently touching the ground. Inch after inch. Comfort after comfort. The most painless piece of me, the most coveted, the most loved — clearly hurts the most. My mind, scattered with the dark masses on the blue tiles, struggles to collect words.
“They fell like birds,” I thought.
A strange phrase, but something true. Maybe I want my hair to have wings. To land gently on the ground. To reach the barbershop floor in a flurry of feathers, silently waving to me as I cry. As everyone else, from the makeup-caked hair stylists to my own mother, watches.
Lining the glossy windows. Some of them advertise lipstick and gleaming brunettes, and others scream in capital letters about the latest blow dryer available at my nearest Walgreens. And one poster in the corner, with the image of a child, hospital-bed ridden, who dreams of hair. Her eyes are small, and yet she looks like she has seen much more than anyone else. I stare at her image as the barber places my clumps of hair into a plastic bag, all the while assuring me that short hair is “just totally the new style.”
A word, a step in another direction altogether. My tears crust along the brims of my eyes, and I remember the feathers. The hair. The ground. And the poster.
“Maybe, they fell like birds,”
I say to myself, shrugging off the barber’s cape and emerging someone different. The girl in the poster smiles, and I find hope in a thick plastic bag handed to me.
“Maybe they fell like birds, so that someone else could fly.”