THE GIRL with her head on the woman’s lap may have been protesting. It was hard to tell since all I could see was the black hair cascading on the lap, and the woman nimbly threading her fingers in that black stream.
During an early morning ride on the MRT, two women and a girl boarded my train. The younger of the women had shaved both sides of her head, leaving only a centurion’s bronze brush in the center.
While the older woman picked lice from her head, the kid fought off drowsiness, her feeble protests sounding like a stream’s timid burble, punctuated now and then by the liquid pop of a tiny parasite disintegrating between the nails of those remorseless fingers.
The lice-seeking madonna and her child sped with us through Edsa and its monumental billboards peddling all kinds of religions, including body modification.
Hair remains a colony ruled by other people, other tyrants.
When my mother found out I had head lice one summer vacation, she stopped short of setting my hair on fire. A tomboy, I didn’t bother with combs, which would have been my mother’s first suspect if she had found one I actually used.
After I finally guessed I might have picked the lice from sleeping with the dogs and cats we adopted, my mother hauled me off to get the shortest possible haircut, her hairdresser stopping only while I still vaguely resembled a girl, not a hairless golf ball when it’s just sprung out from its package and has not rolled on any surface, gathering a stray tendril or two.
That one summertime invasion of head lice has changed my life forever. I decided hair is more trouble than it’s worth.
My yaya, who gave up her siesta so she could conduct search-and-destroy missions of the lice that had marched over with their nits (eggs) from my “aspin (asong Pinoy)” pillow friends, shushed my protests when I had to put my head on her lap by spinning the Horror Story.
She said disobedient girls who could not stay still paid for their lives when the lice took over and airlifted these girls to a fate too hair-raising to be mentioned. I dared her to name at least one unfortunate. She named three, who stole the boys who could have proposed and won her hand.
The thought of losing Yaya made the stubble on my head stand on end.
These days, I keep boring habits, including the use of a comb (one thing I don’t share with stray cats).
Yet, I have outgrown my usual boy’s cut. Strangers now approach me, offering comment or advice on how to deal with my hair, tangled, headstrong, ash-colored.
Like the girl on the train, I know by now hair is a mass noun: even if you tend the tresses on your private scalp, the people still own the whole crop.
(mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ firstname.lastname@example.org/ 0917 3226131)
*First published in SunStar Cebu’s April 29, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”