A short story in response to the video clip in the Brooklyn Museum about how hair identifies an African-American child.
Lil’ Suzy Jackson held tightly on to Buttons as Mama insisted on combing her thick hair with a fin toothcomb. It was exactly because of this reason why Lil’ Suzy despised Sundays after Church. Lil’ Suzy understood at the tender young age of seven that if she never got her hair done on Sunday, she would be the laughing stock on the block.
Lil’ Suzy still painfully remember the day she was sent home from school for her ‘unkempt’ and ‘nappy’ hair. That was the day her little behind was introduced to Mama’s belt for making her leave work.
“What is you crying for little girl? It’s rather you get it done today or go to school with your head lookin like a black cloud tomorrow.” Mrs. Jackson sucked her teeth as she continued to comb the tangle knots in her daughter’s hair.
“But Mama it hurts when you comb it like that!” Lil’ Suzy bawled as she sunk her face in Buttons cotton back. Soaking the poor rabbit with her tears.
“Suzy Alicia Jackson!” Lil’ Suzy knew to keep her mouth shut whenever Mama used her full name. Mama stood up from the cushion-less couch and stormed into their overheated single bedroom where she cracked the window open more hoping cool air will pass through the evening. She opened her first draw and took out a crinckled twenty-dollar bill out from underneath her red bra.
Mama marched back into the living room and presented Lil’ Suzy the bill. “I has been doin your nappy head since the day you been born Suzy. It’s bout time you get yourself a fix.” She tucked the bill away in Lil’ Suzy’s overall pocket. “There’s a white lady’s salon down on Cherry Street. By the time I come home tomorrow your head betta be done. You hear me?”
“But Mama what about my-“ The little girl’s sentence was cut short by Mama kissing the top of her forehead.
“I can’t waste anymore time Suzy. Mama needs to go to work now. Take care of yourself while I’m gone.” Mama said as she grabbed her purse and headed out of the apartment.
Lil’ Suzy groaned to herself, knowing what will be in stored for her tomorrow. She sluggishly drew to the cramped bathroom and, with her stool, climbed up to look at herself in the mirror.
She pulled at the ends of her hair trying to lay her hair flat like Mama’s and the pretty white ladies on the front covers of magazines. Lil’ Suzy used Mama’s brush, trying her utmost best to flatten her hair. Once she believed she was getting some type of progress, like a spring, her hair sprung back up into a puff.
She felt the heat of tears come streaming down her flushed cheeks as gazed at the mirror.
“What’s wrong with my hair!” In utter frustration, Lil’ Suzy threw Mama’s comb on the floor and barged out the apartment with a pink cap and her Buttons.
She kept her head down to avoid any type of eye contact not wanting to start a conversation with any of the neighbors like she usually does.
“Hey Lil’ Suzy! Is you good girl?” Grandma Jones asked as she watched Lil’ Suzy stroll by her. Grandma Jones was everyone’s grandmother on the block. The fact that Lil’ Suzy ignored Grandma Jones sent a pang to her little heart.
“She ain’t al’right! Look at that child’s head.”
“It be lookin’ nappy like bush!”
“Is your Mama taken care of you?”
Comment after comment after each passing neighbor, Lil’ Suzy covered her head with her pink baseball cap and rushed on. The distinct laughter’s of people falling behind her.
Once the green sign that read Cherry Street came into her view, Lil’ Suzy took the bill out her pocket and scanned the area for any salons near by. Across the street, in big bold letters read “Maryann’s Hair Salon”. This was the first time Lil Suzy ever came to Cherry Street.
The roads were practically glistening, no waste, nor garbage lying across the floor and the air didn’t feel polluted but rather light and clean.
Lil’ Suzy looked left and right twice before scurrying across the street and over to the salon. She peeked through the glassed windows watching in awe as the white
ladies get they’re hair done by other whit ladies. She felt intimated, out of place as she pushed open the doors. All eyes gazed down to her.
“Do you need some little girl? Are you lost?” Lil’s Suzy liked the way the tall blonde lady spoke as she kneeled down and spoke to her. A bit hesitant for words, Lil’ Suzy presented her bill to the lady.
With her best and polished white voice Mama taught her, Lil’ Suzy said “Can you fix my hair ma’am.”
“I can do any type of hair sweet pea. Show me what I’m working with.” The lady responded nicely. Lil’ Suzy glowed as she removed her baseball cap and let her kinky curls spring out. In such unison the whole salon went quite. Everyone staring with their mouths agape like it was they’re first time seeing a foreign creature.
The tall blonde lady had the same shocking expression but forced a smile upon her features.
“Can you fix it ma’am?” Lil’ Suzy asked again hoping she can.
“O-of course we can! Come have a seat over here and we’ll set you up.” She said, guiding the child over to a chair and asking her politely to rest her head down. The blonde lady stared at her hair in confusion. Should she part it first? Can you even part that?
Just like Mama would, the lady began to wash Lil’ Suzy’s hair with sweet smelling shampoo. Her hands were gentle and not as rough as Mama’s hands, Lil’ Suzy thought.
But her attitude changed when she felt a slight burning sensation from her scalp and a unfamiliar smell. Lil’ Suzy tugged on the lady’s apron and asked why her hair felt like it was burning.
The lady responded, “It’s okay, this is a normal feeling when you get your hair permed.”
Permed. Lil’ Suzy heard this word whenever Mama was talking to her friends on the house phone. Perm. Does that mean her hair was going to look straight like Mama’s? Lil’s Suzy asked herself.
It didn’t feel right at all and a gut feeling told Lil’ Suzy to leave before something else happened. The burning sensation became unbearable for the little girl and she immediately jumped out of her seat, running to the nearest restroom where she dunk her head in the sink basin and set the water to its’ coldest temperature.
Does Mama do this just to get her hair straight? But why would you sit down through all that pain? Once the burning sensation subsided, Lil’ Suzy left the restroom with her hair damp and soaking.
Ignoring the lady who was asking if she was okay, Lil’ Suzy stormed out of the hair salon and began her journey back home.
“As much as I love Mama’s hair-“ Lil’ Suzy started as she put her cap back on. “It ain’t worth going through that.” The now big girl firmly said as she awaited for tomorrow.