By Aidan Mock (13A01B)
It is the little differences.
The first thing you notice is the cold. You become aware of every caress of the air-conditioning that sweeps its way across the stubble that remains. As the last thatch of hair falls away, an entirely new plane of feeling has presented itself. And then it’s into the enthusiastic embrace of laughing friends that you stumble into and lose yourself.
The day passes and all anyone ever seems to want to do is rub the top of your head, fondle this alien absence as compared to their own mundane abundance. Eventually, it is time to head home and you break away from your bushy brethren, the abbot departing his disciples.
On the bus, people throw you fleeting, nervous glances; they think you’re not looking. Watch them, through the corner of your eye. Wait till they begin to stare. Bring eyes up. Match their gaze. They beat a hasty retreat. Is this the way to defend the image of someone else? Does it matter? You return to your role as lookout.
Walking home, you turn up the road; a breeze stirs and you can feel each tendril as the air works its way across your scalp, breathing fresh life into still space. A new clarity of sensation has breached the surface, much like wiping away the condensation on a glass pane to see the world beyond, you marvel at the amount that you can now feel.
Then it is home to loved ones and they pause and stare and exclaim at the familiar stranger that has now come back home to rest. They too insist on patting your head, a child half-familiar, now all grown up. But hair or no hair, they will still love you all the same.
Finally you are alone again, away from the fanfare and orchestrations that have become typical of loss, and it is the little things that matter.
As you flick on the light in the bathroom in the morning it takes a moment to register the face in the mirror which is not your own. A pause; then you are you again. While showering, pour out shampoo into a cupped hand but wait – there is too much, what do you do with the rest? Dump it on and work it into a foamy lather, it will make up for that which is not there. As you dry your hair the towel gets stuck on the bristles, like velcro. Detach and dry, detach and dry.
‘Toilet brush’ they call it, and they are not wrong.
The days go by and you cannot help but self-consciously run a hand through your hair, as if to check that it is still there. Sitting at the back of class, standing in the line for lunch, waiting for the train: it never goes away, instead offering the reassuring sound of new paintbrush scratching fresh paper.
Things you never noticed before come quickly to mind: how hot the sun is when hair is not in the way, how warm the head is to the touch of bare palm, how everyone seems to inexplicably love stroking the crown of those newly cleansed.
Surprise people by rubbing stubble across their nape of bare neck — their shrieks are amusing; don an orange robe and roam the streets with a porcelain bowl — alms are always in season, wear a ski cap to all classes and lectures — ‘the air-con is cold’ makes a good excuse if you can keep a straight face.
Is this community service or self-indulgence? A bit of both, you decide.
The months will go by and soon you will enter the awkward stage in between full blown bald and grateful recovery, when everyone else looks the same and the novelty has long been rubbed off. Those dreaded weeks of ugliness loom before you, did you not think about that before you made this stupid decision?
Perhaps not, it matters little. It is now dust in the wind and tomorrow, when you wake, you will have grown a little more.