Combs

I stared at the cabin; it was so old and dingy that a huff and a puff would surely blow it down. Amber and Glinda stood there too, in their ‘Camp Grizzly’ t-shirts and shorts. Being forced to come to summer camp by my over achieving mother, I was still in my ‘civilian’ clothes. Amber and Glinda had been really excited about camp. What they would do the whole summer was the topic of discussion throughout the car ride here. “Let’s just go in,” I said. The other two nodded and followed me. I opened the door to see a very old cupboard with claws for legs and a beautiful angelic face with long, wavy hair floating around it on the top, staring down blankly at us. There were three beds on all three walls and one flimsy looking table and chair. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling swaying in the balmy breeze. The cabin smelt damp, as if it hadn’t been used for a long time. Glinda opened the windows and the door so that some air would start circulating. I sat on one of the beds and saw all this with a total disinterest. Finally Amber spoke, “We should unpack and then return shouldn’t we?” “I guess,” I said, and opened my rucksack, took out my yellow Camp Grizzly t-shirt and pulled it on the tank top that I was already wearing. I pulled up my hair in a bun because they were so curly and it was too hot to let them remain open. I started taking out my other clothes, there weren’t many because this t-shirt is what we had to wear for most of the day, camp rules. Suddenly Glinda screamed. I turned around to see that she was jumping and flinging her hair all over the place. She looked like a head banger in a rock concert. “What is it?” Amber screamed at her, and then ran to her and shook her by her shoulders, “Sp-Sp- Spider in my hair” Glinda stuttered, I walked up to her and saw the daddy-long-legs entwined in the shiny locks of Glinda’s blonde hair. I took it out and threw it out of the window. I wasn’t afraid of little things like spiders. Glinda finally stopped jumping and sat down, still shaking.  “I just opened the cupboard and it jumped out at me,” she said. Amber sat next to her, rubbing her back to calm her down. I peered inside the cupboard, it was a little dusty but I didn’t see any other spider. I was too short to reach the top shelf so I didn’t know if any creatures were lurking there. We finally unpacked and then left for the main activity area of the camp.

We returned at dusk, muddy and sweaty. “I’m going to hit the showers,” Amber said as she took her clothes and left. I was too tired to do anything. I had spent the day hiking, rowing and candle making. I knew I smelled like a skunk but my whole body felt like it had broken into tiny pieces. I plopped on my bed and lay down with my legs hanging down. I closed my eyes but I could still see the light from that hanging bulb through my eyelids, I vaguely remember Glinda telling me to at least change my clothes before going to bed. That is the last thing I remember before I felt a little tug in my hair. I opened my eyes to see that it was already dark and the lights were off. How long had I been lying like this? I again felt the tug. It felt the same as when mother tried to comb my hair for school when I was little. I sat down and felt a sharp pain in my knees. That was not a nice position to have fallen asleep in. I looked around; I could see the sleeping forms of Glinda and Amber breathing softly together as if to some silent harmony. Behind me was just the wall. What had caused the tugging? I felt my hair and felt something cold and hard in it. I pulled it out; it was a light blue comb made of plastic. I stared at it for some time completely awestruck. What was this comb doing in my hair? It was not mine. Was I sleepwalking? Did I take someone else’s comb and decided to finally obey my mother and untangle my hair before sleeping? I turned it around in my hands and suddenly felt the same tug at the right side of my head. “Ow!” I cried. This time it was a wooden comb with carved roses on the handle. What was happening? I looked around and saw the door of the cupboard was open. A dark shape that looked suspiciously like another comb floated out of the top shelf and came towards me. It slowly flew and hung there in mid-air in front of me. It was emerald green and translucent. Then it flew around my left ear and started running through my hair. The other two combs in my hand buzzed like bees with excitement. I opened my sweaty palms and they flew out like a canary just freed of its cage and I felt my hair being tugged in all directions.

My hair was too unmanageable and took too much of my time if I combed it, so I just let it be and tied it up. As a result, these combs trying to untangle weeks worth of tangles really hurt. “Stop it!” I whispered fiercely. I didn’t want to wake up the other two. “Now if you took care of it I wouldn’t have to, would I?” said a cheerful childlike voice. I nearly jumped out of my skin. I thought the combs were speaking, but that is absurd. Combs don’t speak! “Up here dearie,” said the voice again. I looked at the cupboard and in the moonlight coming in from the window I clearly saw the angelic wooden face wink at me. “Such beautiful dark locks of hair, so poorly kept! You should be ashamed!” The face spoke. Her eyes danced like a clockwork doll as her lips opened and closed. “It just takes too much time… Hey wait a minute, why do you care about how I treat my hair?” I suddenly got angry. The face was talking like my mother. I couldn’t do anything about her, but I’m not taking a scolding from a WOODEN head on top of an cupboard no matter how angelic she looked. “I care because the hair is one of the few things that that truly makes a woman look beautiful when everything else fails. She can be too fat or too thin, she could have pock marks or spots but if her hair is neat and kempt, she can look like a princess.” The face preached in her singsong voice. “You know what? I really don’t care. Call your ‘dogs’ off me.” I said. The combs were really hurting, and it annoyed me that everyone tried to run my life.  “As you please dearie, I was just trying to help.” The face looked a little disappointed. “Well you are not my fairy god mother and I don’t have to go to any ball and in fact I like the way I look, thank you very much” I said. I knew I was being rude but I just wanted the combs out of my hair, literally. “Ok, come along now my little ones” the face said. The combs struggled out of my hair and floated back into the top shelf where they belonged. The doors banged shut. Glinda snorted and woke up,  “Wazzit?” she slurred sleepily. “Nothing, go back to sleep.” I told her. “You know you should really change your clothes,” she said then turned over and fell asleep. I lay down again and this time I put my shoes up on the bed.

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Memories

Looking out at the window, she saw darkness and nothing else. She sighed and got out of her rocking chair slowly, ready to go to bed. Her old knees creaking and cracking as she did. She had been alone for the past forty five years so the sudden thunder clap had no effect on her. She had stopped being afraid of creaks and squeaks a long time ago. She walked slowly to the sink, kept her mug in and turned away from it. The soft kitchen lighting had an eerie effect on her face, the shadows showed her wrinkles in greater relief. She stood still for a while and then turned back towards the sink, she had second thoughts and washed the mug instead of leaving it for the morning when she would need it for her tea. She put it upside down on the rack above the sink for drying and the droplets of water fell noisily in it. In the silent house this small sound was magnified and sounded more like a gong ringing. She looked at the droplets for a while, turned around for the second time and finally turned off the light.

She was ready to go upstairs to the bedroom but she did not have the strength to walk this much yet. She sat in the big armchair in the centre of the living room in which she had been sitting for the past 69 years. Now it was like a part of her, even the arm chair was used to her curled up in it. Next to this faded red and gold armchair was a small wooden table and on it was an old photo album. The kind that has black pages and faded black and white pictures are stuck in it with decorative borders on them.  The pages were curled at the edges. She looked at the album, sighed and picked it up. She kept it on her lap. The cover was hard bound and grey. The word ‘Memories’ written in curvy writing had faded to nothingness, just like in her mind. She opened to the first page as fast as her stiff fingers allowed her.

The picture on the facing page was of a beautiful young woman and a man with a thick head of hair. She touched the man’s forehead with her fingers and the black and white picture suddenly filled with colour in her minds eye. She saw his smooth milk chocolate coloured skin and jet black hair. His brown eyes which had so much of depth in them that she drowned every time she gazed into them. She remembered the day that picture was taken. It was a sunny day so they had gone boating at the lake. It was just the two of them and the ducks quacking around their boat. She was wearing a white frock with pink flowers. The same pink was in her cheeks. They were newlywed and so much in love. The person who rented them the boat took this picture. It was a close-up of just their faces staring into the camera for all eternity.  She kissed the picture for the umpteenth time and put it to her chest. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. After he passed away she had been devastated for months, the well wishers and relatives slowly slipped away and then they never asked about her state again. She helped herself though the pain till one day looking at his photo didn’t hurt, it just brought back fond memories and she finally started smiling.

She did not turn to the next page. With his youthful face fresh in her memory, she closed the album and slowly got up and shuffled to the stairs. She climbed one step at a time and finally reached the landing after two whole minutes. She took a break to catch her breath and then shuffled to her room. Her four poster bed was high and bouncy. There was a white comforter with purple flowers on it which was spread on the bed and there were four big pillows, just the way he liked it. She had put a footstool on the left side bed because she could no longer climb on the bed without its help. She got in the covers and faced the right side of the bed. She still imagined that she could smell him there, feel his presence. She gently ran her hand on the sheets on his side. It was like a nightly ritual, she put her arm on his pillow and closed her eyes. She was content and happy with her life. It was predictable but she was fine and she was grateful for the memories of the few years she had with him. She was at peace and the next morning she woke up and had that cup of tea like the last morning and the all the mornings before that.