black hair as a veil into the African women’s soul
“I have an audition tomorrow, ” Wanda said to Wode,” they asked me to send a picture. I did, but… I haven’t told them I no longer have the hairstyle I had on the picture.
I don’t know, aarph.
I should have just kept it for one more day. You know?
I just don’t think..” *shrugs*
“I just don’t think they’ll think I’m as beautiful with my natural hair.”
Almost to highlight that they wouldn’t think so, but perhaps she might dare to. You know? She might take the risk and think of herself as beautiful.
In the distant future when she believed-it-believed-it she had a list of things she would do with it on. She’d travel to another province or another country with her natural hair. Go to a friends wedding with her natural hair. To her graduation with her natural hair. In the distant future, she might take the risk and walk down the aisle, to the altar to say “I do” with her natural hair.
“Well that’s bullshit if they don’t think you’re beautiful with your natural hair” Wode responded to Wanda’s passing concern.
His short response lit candles in her little soul, little-little magical candles crackled. His words felt like protection. They fell from his chest and graced over her like peeled rose petals. Soft. tender. loving. A warm feeling of beauty kindled inside of her. Perhaps that feeling and the feeling of liking her kinks had been cramped in, shut up in her bones.
She hadn’t been searching for an answer like that from him. You know?
She had never been the kind of girl who needed a boys compliment to find pains in herself. Nor the kind of girl who would take from a lovers balm of tender words to heal herself. It scared her to think there may be more places like this in her, “places (she’d) entered as a young girl, from which (she’d) never return(ed).”
The mop was Wanda’s favorite thing growing up. She envied its many many strands, full, thick, moppy strands. The clean-clean mops deserved to rest on her head from time to time. She’d playfully make-do a fringe, white strands flopping over her forehead or an array of other styles, straight back, flipped to the side then the other side. She liked that she could still tie a full round bun after holding the mop’s hair. That’s the look she was going for.
Girls with pony’s had a way you know. They were neater and parents referenced their cleanliness. They looked more organized.
At school, their socks never rolled down, they were stolid, high up by the knees. With their silky black hair, they seemed to have sharper brains beneath. They could become the next African Rapunzel. You know? And you know, If they became anything close to Rapunzel there was a higher chance of becoming the next head girl. If not, at least, prefect.
The rebels, though. You just knew the rumbustious rebels. Their frenzy hair was left in the open symbolizing an unruliness. A fearlessness. That kaffir har’er, a clear sign.
Wanda though, she was in between. She tried-but. You know? But one couldn’t always be sure with her. She had potential. But, you know? Perhaps, she’d easily be swayed by her ‘other’ peers. It was obvious. You could tell from her hair.
Wanda knew this too.
So on the days when her dark and lovely relaxed hair was wearing off, recoiling back to its natural coarseness she would stand in front of the mirror and flatten her fingers into her kinks. Starting from the hairline she’d gently press all ten finger to help push her hair back.
Oh, how beautiful she could be. How badly she wished.
Growing up, braiding was an occasion for her as it was for most black girls. At school, in the street where she lived, on communal transport, long before the school holiday the conversations would begin, “uzakwenza’ntoni enthloko ngehol’day wena?/ “What hairstyle are you getting this holiday?” Then a hot exchange of ideas would stir, “perhaps have it short this time. You know la’hairstyle ka Brandy, like that shoulder length, have it like that?!” It didn’t matter that she would feel the strain on her scalp later, It would be for a few nights anyway.
At a tender age, like most black girls she had long learned that “ubuhle buyasetyenzewla.” She understood that you toil for beauty. There was a price to pay for it. It was not freely given.
Beauty. Beautiful. She could not remember when it became important to her to be beautiful. Nonetheless, it was a word that pleased her so. To be called beautiful.
When she became more conscious, though, she became slightly mad-mad that her beauty was tied to a multi-billion industry. White men who knew nothing of the years spent wanting. Men who knew nothing of her invisible self-rejection had built an empire, weaved (once-again) on the existence of black bodies. The demands of capitalism had thrust demands upon her soul, her desires. Absurd demands, demands so normal,
demands so beautiful.
As if growing up in South Africa was not enough, her senses grew sharper to how capitalism had found another way to engulf blackness. The labor of black men at low cost. The labor of black women at low cost. Her aspirations too, her beliefs, even these were tangled.
On the days when she thought of chopping her hair off, she chuckled remembering conversations about short hair which she had with friends. They had all concluded, if you are going to keep short hair, you must at all times carry a color lipstick. Also, before cutting your hair short, you ought to become a runner, a rigorous runner just to shed off. You know?
It’s funny right?! But It’s true, it seems.
Black hair till now hasn’t existed single-handedly. It’s always required a handmaiden. Color lip-gloss. Hoop earrings. And before lipsticks, it needed relaxing, after relaxing it needed rules accompanied by a school governing body (SGB).
For the first time after her conversation with Wode, Wanda wished she had a name for her hair, like Natasha or Lolly or another endearing name like Panini or Nana. But she didn’t. She’d never spent an afternoon with Panini.
Even with her hair tightly knitted through her skin, strand by strand into her scalp, she had never thought of it as hers. It had always been a carrier. A carrier to hold braids or plaits. She had always put her hair on a mission to search, to search to find a beauty outside of her.
For the first time, she wished she fully knew that it genuinely belonged to her. You know? She wished she could feel a slight ache from having coily strands sewn in her scalp. Just to be sure. You know?
Almost like the surety of knowing you have a soul. To really know. To know-know, the same way she knew her moods, her sweat, her fingers. The same way she knew how it feels like to have a heat current running through her chest when racing to catch a flight or a bus. She wished she knew.
Perhaps, if she started by knowing her hair, she could move past the scalp. She could soon find a veil to peep through, into her soul. She could search incessantly and start to find the many things she had lost without knowing.