A bad hair day
I was at the hairdresser today. He asked why I didn’t grow my hair longer and I replied airily, “Oh, short works for me.” But my eleven-year-old self nudged me the ribs and said “Hey, I’ll remind you why. Remember that winter’s day?”
It’s cold. The leaves have fallen off the trees, their branches scratch the sky and let the stars peep through. Mum woke me up and said “Come and sit on the edge of the bed and I’ll plait your hair.”
I love it when she does that. I lean against her with my eyes closed while she brushes and plaits. Sometimes she hums quietly, sometimes we talk, but I’m mostly sleepy. When she was done she patted me on the back and said “There you are. Now get dressed and come downstairs.”
Our uniform is dark blue with red bits around the sleeves. The cardigan also has a red stripe. My tights are just blue. They’re scratchy but they keep my legs warm. It’s assembly today. I do so hope I don’t stand near Sarah. She always teases me. And now Mary’s joined in too. My tummy hurts when I think about it, so I stomp down the stairs and rattle the banisters.
We sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”. I can hear them giggling behind me. They’re teasing me about my plaits ‘cos their hair is short. I turn around and stick out my tongue at them. Then the prayers start. The headmaster has just begun when they pull my plaits. Hard. I scream, I can’t help it. Mrs Brown wades through the girls and grabs me by the arm. She pulls me outside. It hurts and she pinches but I’m too scared to tell her.
She hisses, “How dare you!”
“But Mrs Brown,” I squeak, my cheeks hot.
She snaps back, “Not another word from you or you’ll be sorry!”
My heads aches with unfairness. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even start it. They always pick on me. But I can’t tell her that. Still holding my elbow, she drags me to the dorm and locks me inside. It’s freezing and I’m really crying now. My nose is running and my eyes burn. I’m going to run away, that’ll show them. They’ll open the door and the room will be empty. Mrs Brown will get into loads of trouble for kidnapping me and no-one will ever know what happened to me. I’ll cut off my plaits and no-one will ever tease me again.
I jump through the window and fall into the flower bed. There’s only mud in there now. My tights are dirty so I stand up and brush my knees. My nose and my eyes are all itchy from crying, so I rub them too.
The headmaster’s voice booms out behind me, “Just where do you think you are going to, young lady?”
I turn around and look up at him.
“Ah,” he says, “tunnelling out through the rose bushes?”
I giggle a little, but it’s more like a snort because of my snotty nose.
“Sir,” I start, “it wasn’t me, they keep teasing me sir, and they hurt me too.”
“I know,” he says, “I saw them. If Mrs Brown hadn’t hustled you out so fast you would have seen me call them up to the front for the rest of prayers. They’re waiting to say sorry to you. First of all though, let’s get that mud off your nose.” And then he gave me his big white hanky to clean my face with.
They said sorry that time, but they carried on teasing me when no big people were around.
When I turned thirteen I cut all my hair off. The next time Sarah tried to tease me I punched her nose. She bled buckets. It was a fantastic feeling. Then I kicked Mary so hard on her shins that she fell down. After that they really did leave me alone.
I saw them one day many years later. They were pushing a rickety trolley down the High Street and squabbling with each other. I tossed my hair back, smiled and left them to it.
“You know,” I said to my hairdresser, “I cut all my hair off when I turned thirteen, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.”