My moment came on a warm afternoon spent in front of a mirror trying once again to figure life out in an instant. As though a 15-year-old could possibly know who she is and what she wants from life. A magazine is sprawled beside my crossed legs, turned to page 15 with a beautiful girl smiling up at me from the glossy paper and once again my hair refuses to comply with the example I have beside me. She had the hair of an angel, silk strands styled into the latest waterfall trend. My hair protrudes from my skull in rebellious curls, harsh edges and spongy texture. There is no greater desperation than the desire to be beautiful when coming of age. My concentration is broken by a soft knock, for a minute I forgive my impossible hair and lower the comb. Looking up, I see my mother standing at my bedroom door, wearing a look crossed between disappointment and disapproval. She walks in with the wisdom of a hundred thousand days and does something I considered out of character – she kicks the magazine aside.
“You cannot compare your crown with that of another queen,” she states. “Don’t you remember how I taught you to wear your hair?”
I shake my head, never remembering such a lesson. Besides the numerous childhood mornings, she had pulled my hair into intricate pigtails, braids and beaded strings on school mornings or special occasions. They hardly seemed like lessons, more like creative and desperate ways to tame the wildness my head carried.
Seeing the confusion on my face, she clicks her tongue with a gentle shake of her head before she retreats from my room. Within minutes, she is back carrying oils and lotions I have watched her work into her large afro. She instructs me to sit on a nearby chair. After dumping the bottles on my study desk, she turns to me with a weapon of an afro comb. My mothers’ hands are gentle as she curves paths through the thickness of my curls. She picks out the lotions like a ritual; the sweet-smelling oils quickly turn my untameable hair soft and comb-able. My unforgiving afro disappears into tracks of neat, long cornrows. When she is finished, she turns me toward the mirror.
“That is your crown, Lungile,” my mother whispers over my head like a crowning ceremony.
My hair not only looks different, it feels more like my own. I am overcome by a deep sense of nostalgia, recalling the familiarity of my natural beautiful self. I quickly forget the discarded magazine at my feet with the strands of silk I envied less than an hour ago and I touch my own hair like a handshake shared between long lost friends. I find myself in the same mirror I despised. By the time I pull myself out of my trance, my mother has stepped out, taking her grace and wisdom with her.
In life, I continue to play around with my hair, not to say it is easy, but it is rewarding. There is much that can be done with it, the resilience it retains amazes me. I can pull it into my complex styles, add extensions, straighten it, dye it and even cut it. There is no limit to what I can do to what my mother refers to as my “crown” as an African queen.
These days, I am rocking braids and loving every minute of it. I have no idea what will become of my hair in five or ten years from now but from that encounter with my mother, I hardly envy the hair of other equally beautiful women. That life lesson transcends further than just hair. It has gone as far as loving my skin colour, the shape of my body, my development of my maturity and even my flaws. Loving yourself is everything.