A true short story by Msendoo Akosu
As a child I always wanted straight black hair, I never knew why I wanted it so much but I would always dreamt of it, hair that billowed in the wind like I saw on TV or the one that could make a sleek ponytail, I imagined it with a center part, either bone straight or bouncy waves but never the black tough illusively short nappy hair I had on my head. Mother would never let me have relaxers in my hair which always turned me into a green little monster, I never could understand it, all the other girls at school did and mother too had straight hair, maybe not like the one on TV but it was definitely less painful to comb. She always worried about my scalp and told me that it was the best and that when I was older I would do as I pleased, that I could never understand all I knew is that I hated my hair.
Finally it came, the day and time when I was old enough to straighten my own hair, as I sat there in the small old salon with other ladies who were already used to the procedure. I could imagine the outcome, short but straight silky hair will be what laid on my hair. I refused to reflect on the burns often complained about, the intense heat of the dryer which men said made women ruthless, all I wanted was straight hair and if my burnt scalp is what it would cost, then I was more than ready to pay the price. And so, I sat there as he slapped the chemical in my hair and unto my scalp, the smell dangled with harsh riskiness and subtle fragrance, the queue was always “when it starts to itch each after the application then it means it has set and so we will wash it off” but he was only half way done and my hair started to itch, I felt a small panic for I had no idea what happened to people who itched too soon and my need to have my hair straight was so strong that I decided to be strong to hold it together and let it set but the itch soon became a burns and like wildfire it spread all over my head, I sat there unconsciously stomping my foot against the floor trying to harness endurance until my mother walked and screamed “wash if off its starting to burn” and so he washed it off with a little resistance for according to him it has still not yet set, but relief didn’t come as soon as I would have liked and not before long the next challenge laid before me, to get my short now shy and frail hair devoid of life and volume but never the less straight into rollers and ready for the dryer.
And so, I sat there with self given breaks and direct heat on my fresh burns until my hair was indeed straight and crispy dry. A few years passed and I flourished in the new length of my hair, it was black not silky but straight and with each new growth of my nappy despised hair I went back for another session of torturous straightening until it finally hit diminishing return. Soon the new growths so greatly harassed stopped showing their face, disabled by the continuous burning they retreated under my scalp and their ends so beaten and broken from the constant ironing began to fall off, and there I was with the stagnant lifeless stump that was my straight processed hair. I did what everyone else did and slapped the latest weave over my defeated hair, covered my wounds in camouflage and went about with this easy to comb hair that sometimes billowed in the wind but which was sadly foreign to my being.
Just like a new beginning I enjoyed my new rescue, but soon the constant itching from the heat infested dirt generated by the sewing weaves soon made me uncomfortable, it smelled and each and worst of all it wasn’t me. And soon I moved onto a new agenda which were wigs, they offered temporal respite from the disgrace which I now called my hair but the split personalities it presented unsettled me, the change of instant identity caused an unwanted chill in my spine.
The constant need to instantly feel shame or discomfort when viewed without my wig was unwelcoming to me and so there I was again at odds with what I should do with my hair, this part of me that I cherished and yet destroyed. About two years earlier my elder sister had embraced her nappines, basking in its glory she twisted, hydrated, rapped and conditioned. Beautiful hair that defiled gravity, she rocked her afro, its blackness shimmering in the early afternoon sun with countless styles at her feet. With each inch it grew and became something more glorious she could do which at the same time never made the previous styles any less glorious.
It was indeed a beauty to behold but I gave myself boundless excuses of how difficult and painful it would be to handle and maintain until finally I looked at myself in the mirror and saw the empty shell that was now my hair and all that came to mind were the allures of the beautiful black fullness of the nappy black hair that my sister enjoyed and that became my new goal, and so my natural hair journey began with an overly excited big chop. Just as black skin is diverse in its shades so is black hair. I have thick, tough, never the less, beautify 4c hair which sadly I could barely handle. I loved what natural hair looked liked but I was unwilling to give it the time of day, my hair grew and braiding became my rescue, but the more I braided the more I dreaded the long hours of intense hair pulling pain and fed up, I went for another big chop, but this time not out of damage and poor decision born from the inherent need to be something I was not, but from my inability to manage who I was even though I loved me. I loved me and couldn’t be with me, I loved everything I was and stood for, my skin, accent, culture, language and hair but I couldn’t be with my hair.
In my disappointment at my own inability and subsequent frustration, I went radical and decided to stick to the barber shop. Two years went by with this look and I was mostly complimented. Some people told me I stood out, others admired my courage and some praised my beauty that they say somehow remained without my hair. For two years I was content, proud of myself, observed uniqueness.
Zahemen my brother always had his reservation about my look. For him, there was something about a woman having her hair that he deeply admired, it projected her femininity and gradually this thought although strongly resisted soon started to sink in gradually. I started to feel less comfortable but more at alert as to how masculine the barber shop was and not long I started to feel less like an outsider but more like an intruder, it was out of my element and I had no business being there and for the first time in two years, I yarned to grow my hair in its true natural and beautiful state for the purpose which it was meant for, this urge awakened in me again and this time funny enough I took an new turn and have decided to grow locs.
The research and discovery of the versatility of locs have been highly enriching, the process tremendously exciting and the outcome enticingly beautiful and so I do not know what the future holds for my hair but I do know it will remain in its natural beautiful state no matter the circumstance. I share my short story today that as you read it you may remember the first time you burnt your scalp and probably truly ask yourself why you still do but most of all I hope you recognise that BLACK HAIR IS PERFECTLY BEAUTIFULJUST THE WAY IT IS.