‘The veil’

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 all too often. She screamed so hard her mother cut the knots out with kitchen scissors. To her, 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 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’re not going to believe how good it’ll look.’

In his bathroom he would soak it in hot oil, stroking her scalp from forehead to neck with caresses that were both careful and caring. She leaned back to let him wash it in the sink, writhing and slithery like a just-birthed puppy. It filled the bowl almost entirely with its dark tentacles. Then he would comb it into strings, hold it up like a violin bow and cut great lengths of it with his elegant long-nosed scissors, as if following an invisible pattern.

Each time she went, she felt as if she was a revered antique harp, a treasured clarinet. She entered all knots and chaos and emerged the well-tuned instrument of a maestro.

Over the next year, Elif’s hair grew into grateful waves where the weight of its ends had been whisked away. It had a proud new shape, like a swan’s first adult plumage. The feel of it, all glossy and smooth against her back, surprised her every time.

Now, behind this black veil, she had become invisible. It wouldn’t matter if she had that wiry mess again, or no hair at all. On days when those thoughts crept in, she would visit Rik, transform, and leave holding back her glee at their secret beneath.