by Gabrielle Turner
Thick hair like hers was not a blessing but a curse, Elif’s mother always told her. She remembered with painful clarity the eye-watering tugs of a comb through the matted birds’ nests she woke up with. She screamed so hard her mother ended up cutting the knots out with kitchen scissors. Hair was nothing but a painful – and expensive – chore.
As an adult, hairdressers would charge her thirty lira more, sometimes fifty, on account of the extra time it took to wash and dry. And even then, they never understood how to cut it – they would hack from the bottom, chop in bluntly from the sides, take razors to the ends, and still it would frizz out to a great black pyramid around her face. They would stare at the wiry mass before them, perplexed, then shrug their shoulders: ‘Well, you came here for a cut, didn’t you?’
That is, until she found Rik, who took her wild tresses in his hands, and, staring deep into her worried reflection in the mirror, whispered, ‘I’m so glad you came to me, Elif. You won’t believe how good it’ll look.’ She had never seen his work for herself; only the way her sister-in-law’s eyes looked when she talked about him.
“Thick hair like hers was not a blessing but a curse, Elif’s mother always told her.”
In Rik’s tiny bathroom on the twelfth floor of an apartment block to the south of Izmir, he combed hot oil through her thirsty hair, stroking her scalp from forehead to neck with caresses that were both careful and caring. She leaned backwards over the sink to let him rinse it, writhing and slithery like a just-birthed puppy. It filled the bowl almost entirely with its dark tentacles. Then he combed it into strings, held it up like a violin bow and cut great lengths of it away with his elegant long-nosed scissors, as if following an invisible pattern.
Over the next few months, Elif’s hair grew into grateful waves where the weight of its ends had been whisked away. Sometimes he set it into bouncy, theatrical curls with hot rollers, but mostly he dried it so sleek and straight it could have been a waterfall. When she left, the feel of it lying glossy and smooth against her back surprised her every time. She found herself taking a taxi to Bornova twice a week; entering all knots and chaos and emerging like the well-polished instrument of a maestro.
Now it wouldn’t matter if she had that wiry mess again, or no hair at all. Behind this veil, she had become invisible. On the days when those thoughts crept in, she would visit Rik, transform, and leave holding back her joy at their secret underneath.
Gabrielle Turner is a writer, artist and sculptor currently working on ‘the ink said’, a collection of 100 flash fiction stories inspired by her abstract paintings. Her work has most recently been published in Popshot magazine and The Emma Press Book of Beasts.