Grade five was an important year for me. It was when I first developed Alopecia. I actually never saw any difference in myself, until I began to realise I was getting more and more hair on my pillow every time I woke up. Grade five was also the year I changed schools. I had found those changes extremely hard and found things difficult to deal with. But, there was one thing that made me happy, and her name was Alice.
By the time I started at my new school, almost all my hair was gone. Everyone had stared at me as I walked down the corridor, watching my every step, every movement. I hated them for that. I hated the silence, hated their intent eyes, hated their attention, which were all for the wrong reasons. During those times, my mother always reminded me this: 'Sticks and stones would break my bones but words would never hurt me.'
What about silence? Silence can be murderous.
'Girls and Boys, we have a new student. Her name is Alice.' It was three weeks into school, and I had not made one friend. Instead I buried myself into my beloved books. I had looked up at the teacher's introduction and still remember not believing my eyes. She was very small and slight but what had left me dumbfounded was her hair. The blackness of it, the way it shimmered under the light, how it bordered her features perfectly and lay softly around her waist.
Alice was seated in the only spare seat, which was next to me. She gave me a big smile and I watched her eyes flicker to the top of my head and back again. Without missing a beat, she introduced herself.
'Hi I'm Alice.'
Alice and I became quite good friends. She shared my interest of reading and we'd often talk about the books we've read. She told me how she would pretend she was inside the stories she read and make up stories about the character's lives after the book is finished. I wished I could make up the story about my life, I wished my hair would grow back. Alice never mentioned my hair. She never stared but treated me as if she has never seen anything more normal. One thing for sure, I always stared at hers. And every time she would turn around, her hair would brush against my arm. It was so soft and silky and the sensation would tickle my arm.
I remember the boys at school said she was hot, they also pulled her hair and acted very strange. But I had tired not to see any of that. I could only see her hair. Then one day when someone pulled Alice's hair, I told him to go away. Then the teasing began.
'James loves Alice!'
'Lover boy James!'
'They're only jealous.' Alice had told me. 'But of what?' I wanted to ask. I wouldn't have admitted that I liked her and the truth was, I never thought I did. But the more I ignored them, the worse the teasing got.
'James wants Alice's hair!'
'James, don't you think Alice has nice hair?'
'I bet James would like it if Alice cut off a bit of her hair and made a wig for him.'
Their comments had suffocated but not affected me, I was used to shutting myself out. But it silenced all conversation between Alice and I, and she even ended up changing seats. As the days went on, the quieter she became and soon she just became just another shadow in the corner of the classroom. She was like a sponge, absorbing all the cruelness. It was directed to both of us, to destroy our friendship. She would absorb it all, until one day, that sponge would hold no more.
A short time later, I remember Alice had come to school with her hair tied back. The minute she walked in, everyone nudged and smirked and began to whisper. She hastily marched to her seat, whipped out a pair of scissors, twisted her hair to the front and cut it off with one clean snip. My heart had sunk like a rock and even today, I get the same feeling every time I think about her lovely hair falling to the floor.
Alice was sent home that day, and that was the last time anyone from school saw her. We were all made to go to the next room after the incident but we can guess that her parents were called and took her home at once. And the bullies never mentioned the word 'hair' again.
When I went to my desk that afternoon, a note was folded in my book.
I am sorry you're teased because of me, and that I cannot help, except I can tell you this. If a rose did not have its perfume, it would still be called a rose. And for that reason you shouldn't hide yourself. You are an individual, just like everyone else.
Seven years on, which is today, as I recap the events of grade five, I realise how much strength this one person has given me. Her existence in my life is what makes me today. Now, even when I've recovered. I still remember every word in her note. And I still wonder if I had ever loved her, which I'm still not sure. But, I sure did love her hair!