little braids

this was the most recent time i visited my parents. i stepped into the elevator, an armload of groceries that i insisted on carrying to spare either of them the effort. my father held the door for one of the building managers. 'oh!' she said, looking at me in surprise, studying my face and my father's face. people have always told me we looked alike; i wouldn't know. 'your son! ... sorry. daughter? i'm so sorry! your son??'

my father laughed. 'it's not the first time, it's not the first time,' he assured her.

because earlier that day, my father's youngest sister called me on video chat so she could see my face, 'it's so weird,' she said, her voice somewhere between awe and poison after she shared her bafflement at the shaved sides of my head, the mass of dreadlocks spilling down to my waist. 'you look like a nice young maiden from the back, and a weird boy from the front!'

i was sure it was meant as a jab; from across the room, my mother yelled at the tablet i held. 'i lucked out with this one, you see? i only had to put out the effort to raise one kid, and got both a son and a daughter.'

my cousin, a few years ago, said: 'you see, it's good for us that you come and visit.' she touched the knotted strands, still learning to bind to each other at that time. 'last time, you came here with blue hair, and no one on campus knew what to think. this time, look at how many people have blue or orange or purple hair! next time you visit, i'm sure we'll all have braids like yours.'

there isn't a chinese word for dreadlocks that they know; they all call them braids. little braids, little braids. how can you have so many little braids, cousin? that is hair like the africans. our hair is too smooth and thin. how can you do that?

'you can do this,' i once assured a security guard who gently touched my hair at my invitation.

'i'm half korean, my hair's so straight,' she wailed.

'i'm all chinese and no black, and it worked for me. you just gotta stick with it. i believe in your hair.'

14 March 2018 23:04

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