Note: This is a story sequel for Chignon by Chi Chun. This was written for a literature class. 🙂
What, after all, is eternal in this world, and what is worth being serious about?
“Like I said, this is the main question you need to answer in your final paper. Remember–”
The bell rings and I dismiss the class, struggling to remind them of their paper due next week. It’s a Monday and I barely had time to sleep after I arrived from Hong Kong yesterday. I press my fingers to my head, trying to ease the headache that conveniently chose this time to come visit.
At times like this, I look back to my life growing up in Hang Chow and try to ask my mother for help. I remember the way she would unrelentingly brush my hair and tie it up. She used to tell me that I had to look attractive so I would get a good husband. If she saw me today, would she be proud?
I miss her dearly, but I have since left that part of my life and made a home out of the academe.
I think back to another part of my past, a more recent one.
After studying in Shanghai to get a degree, I didn’t know what to do. Both my parents had passed already and “auntie” was planning on starting a hair salon business in Taiwan. I was a Chinese woman with a degree in something I never wanted to pursue, so I had no place to call home.
There was an old library in my university. It was mostly empty, because everyone liked the new clean one better and that was precisely why I loved it. I would stay between bookshelves A324.1 and C15.5 with a stack of books I randomly pulled out, none of them about Biology. When I would got stressed about my future, I would make my way to those aisles and occupy my mind with book titles and authors.
One day, I went directly to my safe place right after bombing a major presentation, looking forward to ignoring the waves of embarrassment and shame, to burying myself in the world of a book. I guess it did occur to me that I rarely went there at that period because I usually had a class. This was important because when I got there, there was already someone sitting in my spot.
I was annoyed at first, but eventually I understood that this was also someone who never found a home and therefore had to make their own. After we met, suddenly we kept running into each other: the coffee shop that had disgusting coffee but decent cookies, in the hallways, everywhere. It was like we had already been part of each other’s life but we just didn’t realize it.
“My name is Girisha,”
I didn’t even realize we hadn’t introduced ourselves properly. She was called Girisha, like the Hindu God. She was a non-binary femme, and preferred that people use the pronoun “she” and maybe sometimes “them.” She had a shaved head and unmatching earrings and took philosophy.
She was everything my culture used to warn me about. Yet, I came to realize that we were so similar. Perhaps we look different, between my traditional hair style and her lack of hair among other things, but we understood each other so well.
She told me about her mother who raised her and her sister alone in the streets of India. I told her about my mother and my “auntie” and my father. She told me that she never knew her father and never intended on finding out who he was, because after all, he didn’t care enough to stay. I told her that my father wanted a boy to bring honor to our Chinese family, looking forward to someone that never came, leaving me feeling unwanted.
I asked her if she wanted to start dating a year later, during an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She looked up from her takeout Indian food (she missed it after being away for so long that she settled for the commercial slightly inaccurate Indian takeout place nearby) and regarded me confusingly.
“I thought we were already dating.”
I did too. “I mean, seriously dating. A commitment for a monogamous relationship.”
We both knew that that was something we both wanted, something we wished our mothers had.
She laughed. “Yes I would love to be in a committed monogamous relationship with you, you silly lady. Would you like to buy a house as well or can we go back to our show?”
I introduced her to my “auntie” a few months later. She had since started a salon business in Taiwan and it was doing very well. She called it Chignon. It was a healthy venture for her, since she had been so sad when my father died.
“Auntie” expressed her light-hearted despair when she found out that Girisha didn’t have any hair to style. We laughed over some pastries that day. It was one of my fondest memories of her. She died soon after and I found out that she left Chignon for Girisha.
I had lost the last of a set of parental figures, but she left something for my partner and me. For my future.
I understood then that what matters was not who you were or how high you were in social class or how many children you have or how you style your hair. What mattered was your life and how you spent it and what you left behind after you leave.
I linger on these thoughts as my students shuffle out of the class. It seems like a lifetime go when I was young and learning.
“Ma’am?” One of my students waits for my attention. “I wanted to say that I really liked the topic of this paper. It’s, like, something that I didn’t really think about before, so that’s kinda cool. It is confusing though.”
“I thought the same thing too, Chloe. It was a while ago, you hadn’t been born yet I think, but I eventually figure it out. You will too.” I assure her.. “Well, I’ll see your paper next week, right?”
Afterwards, I head home.
The lights are on which is strange since the only other person that lives here doesn’t get home until 7. A scent fills the air. Lavender? Oh, I can never tell. It smells familiar, like hair oil.
“G? You’re home early and didn’t tell me,” I say, more as a question than a statement.
“Wait! Don’t move.” She calls out from the kitchen, and I hear the clink of glass.
She comes out, greeting me with a hug. “Hi.”
She has on a dress I didn’t even know she has. It was red and gold, and she looks very good in it. Or maybe it is the dress that looks very good because it was her.
“Hello. Don’t you have a shop to manage?” I ask, a light-hearted scold.
She rolls her eyes. “It’s fine. Thal has it covered. You know I’m trying to force him to be more responsible since I’m an old woman and I need to retire to the countryside with my farm soon.”
“There’s rarely good internet signals in the countryside…” I start to say, playing along with her little show.
She shushes me and pulls me into the dining room. There are at least five different dishes on our tiny table, and they smell good mixed with the scented candles. It’s a mix of both Indian and Chinese dishes. I am overcome with emotion.
And then I sit down and eat dinner with my wife.