I sat down on the chair closest to the door, staring into the endless illusion of the mirrors inside Lee’s Hair Salon. Chau gracefully draped the black nylon cape over my body. While I’ve been a loyal customer ever since I was 10 years old, it’s rare that Chau would cut my hair on her own. Normally one of the other barbers would do it as she took care of the female customers. At 9:30 in the morning, however, the salon was quiet save for the inane chatter of a small CRT TV attached to the ceiling. The bright white tile floors gleamed free of hair trimmings. The thought of destroying its temporary purity with my black hair made me grin.
We made eye contact through the mirror as she grabbed the hair clippers and a long brown comb. Chau’s black hair fell to her shoulders in large glossy curls. Her bright red lips popped from her fair skin, yet her overbite and large front teeth commanded to be seen. “What you want today?” She asked with a heavy Vietnamese accent. I told her to give me “the Usual,” causing creases to form on her face as she smiled widely. “Short on sides, spike up top.” She recited as she flipped the switch of the clippers and shaved the entire right side of my head in just three strokes.
“You have many white hair! Too young for white hair!” She exclaimed, raising her voice above the buzz of the clippers. We looked at each other in the mirror once again, and I saw her holding on to a long wispy white strand of hair still attached to the top of my head. From where I sat, I saw one more strand of white hair close to my forehead. “How many now? You had two long ago?” She turned off the clippers, looked at my shoulder and picked up the two white strands in the pile of freshly cut hair. I was amazed and horrified that she remembered where she first saw them.
I indulged her curiosity. I told her that I stopped counting. I was convinced that a few strands of white hair appear whenever a traumatic or life-changing event happens to me. The first two, I explained as she stared at the strands she held between her fingers, was from the time I drowned when I was 7 and from immigrating here when I was 9.
She returned the two strands carefully on my right shoulder, like they were bombs that could explode at any minute. I gave out a hearty laugh and said I didn’t mind divulging those two things. I asked her if she would like to count the rest that’s on my head; I was curious myself. With a small nod, she used the comb to probe through my thick black hair.
“Here. Three.” Chau proclaimed as she spotted the strand near my forehead.
From when that girl I didn’t even like in 7th grade shouted that I was ugly in front of the entire class.
Further up my head, Chau poked at two more strands of white in a sea of jet black. “Five!”
From when I finally accepted that I was gay.
At the top of my head, Chau gently pulled at the first strand she saw earlier. After a few seconds, she spotted two more, raising them up to meet the first strand. “Eight! That’s lots!”
From a car accident where I could have been crushed by an upside down flying car, and from dropping out of college twice. I’m sure two of the three strands were for that accident.
She moved on to the back of my head, where I felt her pull on two more strands. She just laughed, seemingly amazed at what she’s discovering in her expedition.
From when one of the first friends I made here in the US told me that he never wanted to see me again… From my first ever break-up.
Chau resumed shaving off my hair with the clippers. Just before she swiped at the left side of my head, she pulled on another strand of white hair and showed it to me in the mirror. She left it alone and shaved the hair off.
Chau brushed off the small clippings of hair on my face with a brush before pulling the nylon cape off and scattering my hair all on the floor. I opted out of adding hair gel on my head, since I was gonna head home and shower anyway. I stared at myself for a few more seconds as she went up to the cash register near the door. “Hope no more bad things happen.” She chanted cheerfully. “But it’s okay. White hair means mature and smart. You’re already good, not like other people.”
I couldn’t help but grin. The screen on the cash register flashed “$13.00,” I grabbed a $20 bill in my wallet and handed it to her. I told her to keep the change, thanked her for the haircut and walked towards the door.
She sang “Thank you, come again!” behind me as I felt the wind on my scalp for the first time in months. Both black and white short hair strands on top of my head danced in the breeze.