I remember her hair was soft and different from my own. I could hardly wait to get her alone so I could undo all her braids.
She was black, and I was white. We were both 4 years old.
On the day of my greatest triumph, finally having the chance to undo her hair at a sleepover, we were mutually separated by our parents. I was labeled as naughty. I buried that memory in the back of my mind for many years.
Eighteen years later, on my college graduation day from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, I sat across from my current roommate. Earlier that week, we made plans to drive three hours, returning to Baton Rouge with our stuff jam-packed into a tiny station wagon.
Our lives about to turn the page, we went that last day to a new cafe on the local main strip for lunch. Various artistic artifacts decorated the walls, including two African ceremonial masks.
“Oh,” my roommate said, “I’ve never seen those on the wall here before.”
We went over to examine them and discovered they were for sale. But my friend who collected African artwork could barely afford one. She persuaded herself to purchase one, because it was the last time we would ever be in that cafe. She agonized that the pair now was broken up.
The day and evening filled up with the events of graduation, the cafe artwork forgotten.
That night, we sat on the bed across from each other.
I quietly frowned about my hair. I planned to just pin it up under my cap, but having my hair done on special occasions was always important to me, and I could not afford it this time.
“You know what,” she said, “I’m going to do your hair for tonight.”
I was surprised at this offer. We never discussed hair much, mainly because our hair textures were so different. As she worked on my hair, I related the story of when I was 4. We laughed, as my hair fell from too much gel and hairspray. I remember I still had a little curl for my diploma walk.
The next day, we were on the way to our families in Baton Rouge. We went to her house first.
From there, my father came to pick me up. I made sure that I carried my big brown tote carefully the whole trip.
While she was helping her mother in the kitchen, I slipped the object out of my tote and placed it on her bed. I cannot tell exactly what she thought at the moment she saw that other African mask on her bed, but now she knew the reason I had not gone to a beauty parlor for graduation. I had returned to the cafe during the afternoon, on the excuse of picking up laundry.
Unknowingly, that day I paid for the best hair treatment I have ever received, because it was done in friendship and with love.
Charlene Moore lives
in Denham Springs.
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