a short story by Vivek Shraya
I learn a lot about how to be a boy from my brother and the lessons he learns in school. Not in the classroom but the gym change room. Lessons I miss because I change in the corner, facing the teal-tiled wall, so that no one can accuse me of a wandering eye. I listen intently as he tells me how the boys discuss the pros and cons of shaving their pubic hair and other regions of their body. Girls don’t like hairy. He even purchases his own trimmer. I hear a sharp buzzing coming from the washroom as he mows down his legs and chest. But I am in no hurry to follow his lead. No one is going to see me naked anytime soon. I am more preoccupied with eyebrows.
I’ve watched my mother pluck her eyebrows over a hundred times. Anytime she is in the washroom, she is armed with tweezers and concentrating on her reflection. Once she spots where to strike, her hand lifts mechanically, tweezers tightening and precisely pulling the bad hair from its root. Her mind is somewhere far away. She is calm, comforted that there are things, however small, that can be removed, that can be changed. When she is summoned back by the sound of the garage door opening or remembering that she has to drive my brother to basketball practice, she puts down the tweezers and pencils thin almond brown arches over the surviving hairs.
My own eyebrows look like a variation of Burt's from Sesame Street, two furry caterpillars forever headlining my face. So I pluck. And pluck. It’s hard to stop. My face is changing, my eyes seem to be getting bigger and brighter, my face narrower. People say tweezing hurts, but I like the pain. Like when you floss your teeth for the first time in three weeks. I try to reciprocate with my brother, imparting upon him my new lesson. He is surprisingly dubious.
When my mom tires of me constantly borrowing hers, we head down to Zellers where she buys my first pair of tweezers. She splurges on the fancy gold-plated ones. She hands them to me in the parking lot. Thanks Mom. This passing of the torch has to be a sign. A sign that she knows my secret and loves me just the same.
Vivek Shraya's first book is a collection of twenty-one short stories following a tender, intellectual, and curious child as he navigates the complex realms of sexuality, gender, racial politics, religion, and belonging. Told with the poignant insight and honesty that only the voice of a young mind can convey, God Loves Hair is a moving and ultimately joyous portrait of the resiliency of youth.
The stories are accompanied by the award-winning full-colour illustrations of Toronto artist Juliana Neufeld. God Loves Hair was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, won the Applied Arts Award for Illustration, and is currently being used as a textbook at several post-secondary institutions.