The kinks were becoming more rebellious. They no longer obeyed when I slathered them with gel and tried to lay them flat with an old toothbrush. My strands had absorbed as much sun as they could handle. I called Auntie Theresa. She would know exactly what to do.
Because of my strong-willed coils, I found myself parked on the side of the road, heart in throat. I had been listening to my favorite song, thinking about how smooth my mornings would be, now that I wouldn’t need to worry about my hair. The blaring of the siren startled me. The red, white, and blue streaks cast their shadow over my car. I pulled over, parked, and waited. The officer tapped on the glass. I rolled down the window, and greeted him with a cleverly woven calm.
“Ma’am, can I see your license and registration?”
This needed to be done as quickly, and as painlessly as possible. If done well, my chest would still be rising and falling when this was over. I suppose I should not have judged this police officer. Yet, given the time continuum of deaths at the hands of uniformed men, the faces plastered all over the headlines, and “Black Lives Matter” dyeing the fabric of reality, I couldn’t resist the urge to use my defense mechanisms. Fear could be buried for a moment, but if probed enough, it would eventually come oozing out. I knew that much. It was best to avoid putting your hand in your pocket, so that you did not evoke suspicion. Suspicion pulled back the curtain. Fear would sneak out of hiding, even if the officers weren’t aware it had been hiding in the first place. Fear would pull the trigger.
“Ma’am, can I please see your license and registration?”
I took a deep breath.
“Sir, you can retrieve it.”
I aimed at the glove compartment with my lips and held my hands up. As a child, I had learned the art of lip-pointing. If my parents ever wanted you to place something on the table, or retrieve an item, you would simply follow the direction of their protruding lips. Not everything needed to be spoken, and you never argued with authority. They taught us well. The tension melted, as the officer’s smirk said “don’t get smart with me.” He knew exactly what I was getting at.
“Ma’am, that’s okay. Open the glove compartment, and get the documents I requested.”
I needed to reassure him that this girl with dark melanin, wearing an even darker headscarf and black t-shirt, was not a threat. He had to know exactly what I was doing, at every moment.
“Sir, I am lowering my hands; I am opening the glove compartment, and retrieving my wallet. I am pulling out my license and registration.” I handed him the documents and he nodded in approval.
“Thank you ma’am. I just wanted to let you know, that your tag sticker is upside down. It is best that you replace it as soon as possible if you aren’t able to peel it off, and turn it the correct way.”
“Okay, I will make sure I get that done.”
“Alright ma’am, have a good one.”
As the police officer disappeared behind my rear-view mirror, the purring of my car engine broke the awkward silence of trying to collect my thoughts. Now, I was late for my appointment. I drove a few miles before I turned up the music again. That afternoon, Auntie Theresa braided my hair so stiffly. I held each braid individually, so that my roots were not being pulled too much. I opted out of having a receding hairline by the end of the ordeal. I told Auntie Theresa what happened with the officer, and she laughed.
“Haha. Smart move girl.”
She laughed because it was just her way of dealing with these kinds of things. She knew that it had boiled down to life or death. She knew the police officers had a soiled history. Too much black blood slithered on the cold concrete, while their blue uniforms stayed blue. When she touched my shoulder, I felt a spark. I felt it move into me–the laughing spirit. I started laughing too. My braids were too tight, but the laughter rolled out of my mouth, until I began choking on the air bubbles that had sneakily slid into my throat. My head throbbed, but I was glad my hair would be protected for the next couple of months.
That night, as I rubbed my scalp, I wondered who would protect our brothers and cousins and friends. There was no way to know what lurked behind the red, white, and blue shadows. They would have to use their silent weapon. They would have to lip-point.
Faith Esene is a Nigerian-American undergraduate writer whose work often focuses on cultural duality. She values the ancient tradition of oral storytelling and views it as a nexus between the young and the old. When not writing she can be found reading, engaging in critical conversations, or embarking on culinary adventures. Her previous work has been featured in Sterling Notes, and Love Letters to Our Daughters.