When I was very young, my mother did my hair in two plaits.
I plait my life today with so many others.
She would make me, sit, pull my nose out of a book, talk about my day; and all the while her fingers would be at work, combing, untangling, oiling if necessary.
I still have the hair, the mother and more things to put in my hair than that time in 1974; but now I want to be the one caring for her.
She always divided my hair in two. The parting at the back ran like a logging road through virgin forest. White, pristine.
As the comb moved through my hair I complained if it bit too deep into my young skin, unmarked by the pains of growing up and knowing.
I deal with those now on my own. Virginity to me is completely a state of mind.
She used a length of black ‘caar’ to tie the lengths up high on my head. Tightly, because that was the accepted way to make hair grow. Her mother had done the same for all four girls of hers.
I pick up a butterfly clip and pile my hair in a messy up-do, shabby chic is more my style. The silver that I have stopped hiding gives me highlights in the mirror of my imagination.
Then the fingers play, up and down, through and over. Three strands always, occasionally four – in what she called ‘tentul paata’, the tamarind leaf, or the more ambitious ‘chataai’ or mat weave.
I sit now in meetings, bored if people take more than ten minutes to make their case for yet another piece of useless pfaffing, a new way to engage the kids. I play with ‘caar’ threads in my mind…..suddenly I know, it meant cord! Eureka! I am out of here!
I used to do my daughter’s hair for a long time. Carefully brushing the baby curls into three or four wisps, attaching the little shiny baubles that the writer Susan Kurosawa has called Love In Tokyo. I still do it for her, once or twice a year.
When my mother finished she wrapped the plaits in ribbon and twisted them Heidi-style along the back of my head. She would pick loose hair off the back of my dress and give them to me to throw in the bin.
Me? I was just happy to be allowed to move again. But now I think how much I learned from that comb, those fingers, those teeth. Patience above all, then an ability to put up with pain. Accepting what was old fashioned simply because it came labelled, Fragile.
I have watched so many children since then; girls mostly, a few boys too, playing with doll hair or strings. I always see if they can plait three together; if not, I try to teach. My thread tied to the threads of my past, splitting each day into more strands.
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