Zahirra Dayal

Sundays smelled like burnt hair because that was when you had your hair tamed. First, your aunt took your wet hair and marshalled it with crocodile-teeth hair grips. Then, she released each small section from the mouth of the crocodile and aimed the Philips blow dryer like a gun at close range.

The stretching and pulling squinted your eyes. You heard the sizzling of your singed curls. The burnt smell floated around the room and into your nose, making your nostrils flare. You sat frozen to the stool for the hour it took to wage battle with Mother Nature. After your hair was blow dried, you studied the flattened version of yourself in the oval mirror of her oak dressing table. You felt the distance widen between you and the girl in the mirror. 

“That’s better,” she said, smoothing down your brown hair with the coconut oil spread like butter on her palms.  

You could feel the edge of your freedom 

“I’m not finished with you yet!” she snapped, sensing you were about to fidget. 

You didn’t move, supressing the raging restlessness that flowed through you. She divided your straightened hair into two, rolled it into four balls which she fixed with triangular pins that dug into your scalp. Last, she put a brown stocking over your head and told you not to take it off to seal in the straightness. She was terrified that rain, humidity or any form of invisible moisture would undo all of her work in an instant; so precarious is the nature of blow-dried hair.  

“Be careful with it or it will turn frizzy and wild again,” she warned before you broke free and ran outside to play.

Now that you own your hair and your Sundays, you wash it and leave it to dry naturally. It grows bigger as the moisture evaporates. A tangled mass of untameable brown curls rises to frame your face. The woman in the oval mirror smiles back.

Zahirra Dayal is a writer and language teacher living in London. She has also lived in Zimbabwe, South Africa and The United Arab Emirates and draws from these diverse experiences. She has stories in Fahmidan Journal, Ayaskala, Small Leaf Press, Opia, Odd Mag and Melbourne Culture Corner. She tweets (@ZahirraD).