“Wandeka, is that you?”
I turned to find my former college roommate, staring, slack-jawed, at my hair.
I ran a hand over my shorn curls with a sigh. She’d never seen me with shoulder-length hair, but I knew how strange I must look to her with my hair so closely shaven that I looked like a plucked chicken.
I cringed then just as I did when I walked into the classroom with my new haircut a few months before.
“Miss Gayle cut her hair … Look, she cut her hair… Watch deh!”
Murmurs rippled alongside me as I walked to the front of the class.
Then, one brave soul addressed me directly, “Miss Gayle, is you cut it yourself?”
I smiled at the surge of laughter. I had thought it innocent enough, for I could not then see the patches where my scalp peeked through. It looked like I had cut it with a pair of dull craft scissors using a one-way mirror under a weak light.
That’s because I had.
I had never been attached to my hair, but this seemed a volatile act. I could blame it on a weeklong flu-induced stupor that created the matted monstrosity I could not bring myself to tackle with a comb.
Perhaps it was somehow the physical representation of a very disappointing period in my life. I had not taken up a paint brush in months, nor written a word of fiction, nor played a single new note on piano. Plus, teaching, intended to last just one semester, had stretched into a full year and a half and I had begun to despise research essays, run-on sentences, or trying to convince them “writing” didn’t have two t’s.
Most of all, I had not applied to graduate school as planned. I would picture myself walking across a stage once again in full regalia, but I would not apply, part from fear, part from complacency. I also couldn’t imagine living anywhere but Jamaica.
That ordinary day in July, ten years ago, walking along the piazza, and facing this specter from my past, I knew I appeared externally as far removed from the sensible, consistent person I had been in college.
“Of course, it’s me!” I said. “Just needed a change is all.”
She could have said something reassuring but that had never been her style. She had always been blunt even with misguided good intention. I remembered that this was the same woman who a day after swatting terms for her medical terminology test unceremoniously diagnosed me with halitosis because of something as benign as morning breath.
So, I decided I would not allow myself to feel diminished by her look of horror.
“What have you been up to?” she asked, seeming to recover slightly.
“I’m teaching up at the university and I still write features for a magazine and for the Gleaner,” I said.
It was in articulating these things to her that I realized things had not been as dismal as I had casted them in my mind.
I was twenty-five and I was doing okay.
If I could reach back to that self of a decade ago, I’d squeeze her into an embrace, tell her everything happens within its own time, that two years later we do leap for the Masters degree, and that in ten years would be chronicling the immigrant experience in a dissertation.
“We do cut our hair again. Many times,” I’d say. “And we look fabulous.”
Wandeka Gayle is a doctoral candidate at UL Lafayette, studying Creative Writing Fiction. The former journalist from Jamaica received her MA in English from Andrews University in 2011. Gayle is a Callaloo Fellow and a Kimbilio Fellow whose work has been published in the Jamaica Gleaner, Life-Info Magazine, Susumba, Southwestern Review, Rigorous and Spectrum. She is also a watercolorist whose art have appeared in Da Vibe Magazine, the Sunday Gleaner, Focus Magazine and on her website: www.wandekagayle.com.
Wandeka urges you to learn more about #1000BlackGirlBooks, founded by 12-year-old Marley Dias. You can send books to 59 Main Street, Suite 323, West Orange, NJ 07052.