Things Your Mother Couldn’t Teach You

Maya sweeps in to my room and slams the door behind her.  “Take it all off,” she demands.  Her chest is rising and falling.

I get confused because my parents are just downstairs, but I start to pull off my skirt anyway.

Maya moans. “Kiri, I mean my hair.” 

I stop taking it off and leave my skirt at my feet.  I feel stupid and horny.  I should have known.  When I was younger I dismembered my dolls and cut off their hair.  Now I trim Maya’s every three months, cut dry, three-quarters of an inch off, per her mother’s request.  I usually do it with a ruler, because her mother scares me.  Once, when we were five, she caught us playing doctor under the dining room table and slapped me with her rolling pin. 

Maya’s holding her head in her hands.  She looks like a stick figure in distress.

“So you want me to take all three-quarters of an inch off?”

“No I want it all off.”

“The whole inch?”

“No, I mean all the inches.”  Maya tries to rip her hair out with her fingers, but it’s too thick.  She just grunts a lot.

I grab her hands and kiss her knuckles.  I speak to her like she’s a small child with a  bruise.  “Why would you want me to do that?  I know this isn’t what your mother wants.  She loves your hair.”  What I mean to say is, “I love your hair.”

But Maya is funny in that way and says, “Everyone loves my hair, but I feel it weighing me down.  I can barely hold my head up at all.  My back hurts.  It’s like having big breasts, but no cleavage.”  As she says this she rests her head on my shoulder and, true, I do find it difficult to stand upright.

I try to explain to her.  “Holding your head high is never easy, it shouldn’t be.  Besides, it’s the hand you’re dealt.  It’s probably big boobs or big hair and if I cut yours, you won’t have either.”

“I hear it’s liberating.  I want you to liberate me.  Maybe I can do the same for you.  It will be so romantic.”  She says it like I should want it.  I sit her down on my bed.  She immediately flops back; there is a thud.

I scrutinize myself in the mirror.  My hair isn’t long or shiny like hers.  It is a coarse curly mass that always looks dull and ends just below my shoulders, the furthest it’s ever gone.  But I have nice tits that don’t sag just yet, so at least that’s something.  I start to feel angry.  How would she like it if I decided to chop off my breasts and sweep them in to a bin or donate them to some breastless cancer patient, or whatever she was going to do with her hair now?  I try to hold my breasts down and imagine life without them.  I get wet, so I pull my skirt back up.

I look at Maya on my bed, hair fanned out around her head.  She looks so sad biting her lip and holding back tears that I decide to do it anyway.  Saying no feels like something a villain would do. 

I sit her down, pull out my scissors, and begin to count the things I’ll miss about her.  The way her hair feels against my skin when she’s being careless with it.  The two braids she wears every Sunday.  The way they hit against her ass when she walks.  The feeling of grabbing on to something perfect. 

Maya has her head in her hands.  My palms sweat.  I wrap her hair around my fingers and pull, just to be mean.  I try to cut it at the nape of her neck all in one go, but the scissors just gnaw at the same spot.  Three strands fall to the ground, but I don’t give up.  I keep at it for seconds or minutes or hours and Maya doesn’t complain.  Instead she says things like, “You should remember that all pleasues are external,” and, “Now I can be on top, too.”  When the last sheet of hair falls, it makes a sound like a heap of silk hitting the ground.  I feel relieved.  Her head raises a little, I can hear bones creak.  She smiles at me in the mirror.  “That’s much better, please keep going.”

I try not to turn away from the mirror too quickly.  She looks so young, I couldn’t fuck her without feeling some type of wrong.  Her nose looks bigger, longer, foreign on her face.  Her cheeks are too round, they make her eyes look small and beady.

“Don’t you think this is good enough?  Aren’t you worried about your mother?”  I’m careful to keep my gaze on the back of her neck, where the little black hairs are populous and thick.    

“Kiri, you’re the only one who cares about her.  I want my head back.  I want my back to stop killing me.  I want the sun to reach me everywhere.” 

“She’ll beat the shit out of you.  You’ll get skin cancer.  You’ll be cold in the winter.  People will call you names and you’ll have to drop out of school.” 

I’m trying to save us but she doesn’t listen. Instead, she says, “Then I’ll run away,” and takes the scissors from my hands.  She starts cutting haphazardly at large chunks of hair, tossing her remains to the ground as if they were trash.  I look on horrified as she smiles and says, “I haven’t been able to move my arms like this in forever!”  I try not to look.  I hear the scissors squeak manically.  I look up in time to catch the final tuft of hair float down.  I almost want to reach out and catch it.

She looks like an ugly pubescent boy with bedhead.  Her eyes get smaller as her grin widens.  She likes what she sees, but for the first time, I notice several red pimples dotting her hairline.  A few dark strands of hair get caught in the creases of her smile. I feel disgusted with myself for ruining her so completely.  I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from crying.

“What do you think?” She closes her eyes and slaps the collateral damage from her face.  I think she looks like a stranger.  She blurs slightly and then asks, “What’s wrong?” 

“It’s just such a mess.  Let me clean it up for you.” 

“Okay!” She settles back contentedly into the chair. 

“Close your eyes.” I try to run Maya’s new hair through my fingers a couple of times, just to see.  I’m surprised each time it disappears from my touch.  She starts to hum and I wonder if she’s forgotten about me.  It feels like I’ve already forgotten her.

I cut Maya’s hair down to one uniform length.  To do a good job, I pretend that she’s my little brother and that he has an important piano recital tomorrow. 

He can’t play, not really.  But after every performance he shoots a lopsided smile out at the polite applause and I feel relieved.

About Alana Mohamed

Alana Mohamed lives in Queens, NY. She is an editor at The Coalition Zine. She can also be found on Tumblr and Twitter.

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