I look at myself in the mirror. My hairdresser is struggling without success; it just isn’t working. I am not terribly concerned, I’m not really paying much attention, I’ve been coming to see her for so many years that by now I know how meticulous and how talented she is, she has nothing to prove. She had decided to give me a fabulous hairstyle, and now insists on it. She’s in fine Anna form today. As her hands toil gracefully, she tells me how happy she is with her boyfriend, her child, everything is going so well it’s absolutely amazing isn’t it fantastic? After so many problems! You have to make the best of it, she says. So she wants to take her time creating an ultra-modern look, something bouncy, feminine, free and easy. Even though I haven’t asked her to do anything but my colour. After completing that task and washing my long hair, she refuses to style it in a predictable way.
But despite all her expertise and enthusiasm, nothing is taking shape.
“I cannot dry your hair,” she declares.
“It’s true, I don’t know what it is but your hair just won’t dry today,” she replies calmly, a smile on her lips.
My scalp is a bit sore because Anna is winding each section of hair around a big round brush, which she leaves dangling there on my head. Then she takes another brush and does the same thing on the other side and on the top and at the back of my head as well. She directs the dryer’s blast of hot air onto each one. I observe myself, thusly adorned by the tools of her trade; it’s pulling and although I am accustomed to surrendering myself, this is really not my cup of tea, such elaborations, no seriously, not at all. I wear my hair long because I find it’s much easier that way. I don’t style it, I just let it fall naturally even though I sometimes think that I should make an effort to do something more exciting and do it in a more interesting way, but instead I’m happy just to dye it red. I don’t have the patience for extensive beauty treatments, there is too much to do and too much life to live.
“I’m telling you, I don’t know what’s going on, but I cannot get your hair to dry. If this keeps up, we’re going to be here all afternoon.”
I come out of my bubble: it’s not possible, hair that doesn’t dry. What is going on? It occurs to me, of course, that I have just returned from Colombia. And in that country, mysterious things are always happening. I had gotten used to it; I expect all kinds of surprises down there, things that were incomprehensible, but trying to explain them served no purpose, you can’t conceive of such things in Montréal. You have to go there to fully understand; you have to accept that reality. So I try to adopt a more down-to-earth perspective, to join Anna in trying to see what might be different about my hair, to find a logical explanation or something.
“Maybe it’s because I ate a huge bowl of papaya every morning for two whole months.”
“You think that’s it?”
“It truly is one of the most amazing fruits on the planet.”
“I overindulged on a daily basis.”
“Oh, yeah?” she asks, incredulous. She does not like fruit.
I withdraw back into my bubble. I try in vain to describe to her the pure delight I ‘inflicted’ upon myself in Colombia, thanks to the perfection of the papaya’s taste, so sweet and sensual, it’s to die for… no, she can’t imagine, such flavours don’t exist in our country and even the imported version isn’t the same, since it ripens in an airplane or on a ship, I’m not sure where, but far from its tree.
“Maybe my hair has been completely transformed by pleasure.”
“It’s so silky.”
“Unless it was the altitude.”
“You think so?”
“The altitude gives you all kinds of strange ideas… it certainly must have some small effect on the composition of the hair. It also increases your red blood cell count, so with Bogotá being at an altitude of 2,640 metres, you can count on having a voluptuous mane—assuming that red blood cells strengthen your hair…”
“Well, okay, I don’t know if all that puts more humidity into your hair but it still won’t dry.”
She coils up another section of hair, leaving a fifth brush on my head. Sure of her plan, she perseveres in her effort to create nice supple curls.
“Maybe the water is different there,” she says.
Hmmm… Montréal water always smells of bleach.
“But,” I say, “the air in Bogotá is so polluted that I had to wash my hair twice as often as I usually do.”
I think about the noise, the chaos of the place I’ve just left, I think about the joy, the camaraderie, the bookshops and the poets, the mountains that play with my insides; I think about how every fibre in my body is unfurled when I’m there, despite my strong attachment to my own world.
“It’s still not working.”
“That can’t be.”
“What can I say… Your hair is still wet.”
“Let’s just leave it,” I say.
She keeps working, happiness personified, she insists on doing for others.
“That’s the country of cocaine, right?”
“It’s the country of so many other things…”
“In any case, I’m telling you: your hair is a thousand times silkier than it was before.”
Had my hair come alive, more than alive, by dint of having bathed in exuberant foliage inhabited by a thousand birds the colour of mangoes, berries and melons of all kinds? I do believe I had swallowed too much smooth creaminess. I—born in the snow and enamoured of our harsh spaces—had gorged on milky guanabanas, fleshy art, powerful books and words that question.
“I can’t let you go out with wet hair, you’ll end up with icicles on your head,” she says.
The first snow of winter had welcomed me yesterday, at the airport. Our latitudes resemble combat and cotton wool alike. So what is this place, South America, and why does it stir something in all of us? It’s us and yet it’s not us, it’s America and it’s like us, the colonizers and the colonized, so powerful is its nature, it is like us but it is not us. There, in the place I have returned from, minds perceive the space with the sharp edge of reason, and four millennia of musicians grown from the seeds of three different continents give rise to green, black, red and yellow sounds. Just what is the body, what is dance? A vibration, a flow, a wave, yes, wait… it must have something to do with the water, a drop that colours, mouthfuls that do not become snow, a light that undulates, sultry mountains that permeate the skin.
Slowly, time passes. Anna manages to fashion the loose ringlets that she had imagined from the start. And I notice the dikes that have given way, the merriment and the mysteries absorbed, the shape that I have assumed. She smiles, satisfied, hands on her hips as I stare at myself in the mirror. It reflects back at me the earthly and peculiar proof that I have long been Colombian.
Kathryn Gabinet-Kroo was born and raised in Oregon and after earning a BA from Cornell University, she moved to Montreal, where she has been a professional artist for over 40 years. She also earned a Master’s in Translation Studies from Concordia University in 2001 so now works “two jobs” from her studio on the Lachine Canal. She is passionate about literary translation and her translations of four novels by Quebec authors have been published.
Joanne Rochette is a writer from Montreal who has published two novels Vents salés (Montréal, Éditions VLB, 2011) and Quartz, (Montréal, Éditions Mémoire d’encrier, 2014). She recently finished Le rire de García, a novel set in Colombia. She went many times in this country to do researches and continue the writing and it is at the returned from the second trip that she wrote Tinctorial Plants. Author Photo by Dominique Lafleur.