Eyes follow me. It’s always the same: a quick glance, followed by an immediate drop of the gaze, like they know they shouldn’t be staring. But they can’t help themselves, and ever so covertly their eyes creep back. Some blatantly stare, while others make tiny darts with their eyes, like they’re trying to catch me unawares. Little kids stop in their tracks, mouths agape, like they’ve just seen something magical. When I smile, they smile back. Teenagers are more vocal. A passing girl calls out, “Hey, I love your hair!”
I always reply with a huge “Thank you!” and the biggest smile I can muster. I’ve learned that people love it when they can engage, especially with someone as wildly colorful as I am. On any given day, in any given place, people reach out, asking, admiring, awestruck.
The two ladies approach gradually, neither of them more than five feet tall. One carries a shopping bag, the other displays hoop earrings and sunglasses, and both have the gait and bearing of grandmothers many times over. They settle themselves next to me, and sure enough, their gazes fall on my hair. They lean together conspiratorially, considering. Finally, the one on the right speaks:
“Your hair… It is so beautiful!” Her Latin American accent caresses the vowels, pushing them across the sentences.
I smile, stretching my face to its limit. “Thank you so much!”
The ladies smile back in unison. They lean in again.
“ The colors, how do you do them? Your mother is ok with this?” They chuckle matching laughs, their faces wrinkling up.
I laugh along with them. I get this question all the time and I know exactly how to answer:
“Well, I get the colors with a lot of time and effort, and my mom doesn’t really mind- it’s my dad who’s more of the problem!” They nod knowingly, as if they’re thinking, “Ah yes, the patriarchy strikes again!” Their eyes remain fixed on my blue and green hair, glowing brightly in the summer sunshine. Even as we settle into a comfortable silence, their smiles stay, and so does mine, until the bus comes and we board, each of us going our separate ways.
“Ohmygosh, I love your hair!” The woman smiles, bright and earnest, as she ogles my hair through dark lenses.
“Well thank you!”
“How do you do it? It’s so bright, it’s amazing!”
“Just gorgeous.” The other woman adds.
“How do you do it?”
I stop and assess my flatterers. Two women, one mid 20’s with brown hair pulled back, the other maybe in her mid-50’s, wearing a sunhat. Both have sunglasses, and similar coloring. Mother-daughter, maybe? They seem like they actually want to know, so…
“Well, I have to bleach my hair first, because otherwise the color won’t take. I use semi-permanent dyes to get the color. They fade after about six weeks though, so it leaves plenty of room for changing it when I get bored!”
The women seem to drink in the information as I rattle it off. They can’t stop grinning and looking at each other, like they’re thinking, “Can you believe this girl?”
“What’s your natural hair color?”
“Dark brown, and booooring.”
“Can we take a picture of your hair?” I pause. People rarely ask to take photos, and when they do, it’s never with the honesty and open awe of these two. Their enthusiasm, strangely, matches mine, all of us focused on this slightly bizarre manifestation of my inner rainbow. I view myself through my hair, and these women seem to catch that, and want to remember this moment.
“Um… sure!” I nod my assent for the photo.
The older one whips out her white iPhone, fingers flying across the screen in her eagerness to take the photo. I lean back and turn my head a bit to the side, to show off where the neon pink melds into shiny turquoise. The click of the phone camera signals that a random stranger now owns a piece of my soul, if you believe that sort of superstition. She asks for one more, so she can see the top, and I obligingly tilt my chin down so she can capture the colors on my cranium. The camera clicks once more, and then they’re done. With a last chorus of “Amazing!”, they continue on. A few minutes later, my bus comes, ferrying me from one set of people to another, crazy hair and all.