Hairfall

 Now.

Sitting in a traditional Jewish bakery in Stamford Hill, she gobbled the last piece of a jam doughnut. It hit her body like acid: first it blacked everything out, then it projected a stream of kaleidoscopic images before her eyes, it dilated her pupils and caused her limbs to shake uncontrollably. The eight doughnuts and twelve other desserts she had eaten before, in a collective mutiny, ripped her stomach open and then violently swam upwards to gush out through her mouth. After drenching the kosher bakery in her vomit, her voluminous body – accentuated by spectacular rainbow-hair – hit the floor with a thud, on the holy day of Sabbath.

*

Twenty minutes, forty-five seconds ago.

An envelope rested on the table between them – an oddly calm presence compared to her fidgety fingers and wiggly toes. The logo on the envelope read: We make you love what you do. She turned over every single word in her head a hundred times; the same head that had been used as a mounting for her rainbow-coloured hair. She sneaked a look at the notifications on her phone – a message from her bank saying she had exceeded her overdraft limit, a text from her ex warning her to stop texting him. She scraped a milky spot on the table like an angry kitten. The impeccably dressed woman sitting across from her – whose job was to help other people find jobs – threw another disparaging glance at her, put her coffee mug down and finally said, “Look, your hair is going to be a problem. What can you do about it?”

She read those words again. In reverse order this time. Do You What Love…

“I don’t know, I spent a lot of money getting it done,” she blurted.

The woman’s instinctive reaction was to be shocked, followed by a deep sense of unconcealed relief. “OK then! There’s not much I can do for you I guess. Sorry and good luck!” she rose from her seat and smoothed out her skirt.

“Your hair…”

“Yes?” she had her attention momentarily.

“I don’t know … I think I spotted dandruff flakes. You might want to fix it.”

The woman rolled her eyes, clutched her handbag and walked away.

She looked at those words on the envelope a final time and started to feel sick. She instantly ordered an apple tart, a lemon meringue pie, a pecan pie and a mug of hot chocolate. With whipped cream on the top.

Conversations about hair made her edgy and edginess induced in her an appetite that could only be quelled by things that contained a lot of sugar. She ate until it made her queasy.

She picked up her phone and texted the guy from Tinder again.

While she was waiting for his reply, she received a text from her dad in Dubai.

“How did the job interview go?”

“It was not a job interview dad!”

“Ok. But how did it go?”

“I wanna come home dad. Can you send me tickets please?”

To break the deadly silence that ensued, she ordered another round of desserts – rolls, tarts and doughnuts.

*

A week ago.

She waited for him in her new rainbow-coloured hair. It had no fewer than seven colours in it – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, pink and silver. She kept pulling the sleeves of her off-shoulder top down so that her bra straps would show properly, along with the tattoo on her now-buried-in-fat collarbone. She flipped through his photographs on Tinder for the nth time. She resisted the urge to open another beer lest her breath should give her away as a recreational alcoholic. It had been hard to get rid of the sickening bittersweet stench in the apartment – of beer and saccharine – as it is. She aimed the nozzle of air freshener at the same layer of air once again, completely messing up its molecular arrangement. The clean smell made her dizzy.

Her mother called.

“No, I haven’t met him yet,” she said.

“No, you don’t have to worry. I can look after myself. Please tell your sister not to worry either. I am not going to marry that stupid son of her friend’s.” She disconnected.

The doorbell rang. He came in with a box of chocolates. Organic, homemade ones. He looked like his photographs; only, he had appeared much taller in them.

He was partly shocked, partly amused. This is not what he had expected. When he sat down beside her, he became acutely aware of his own smallness. He made a mental comparison of their palms – hers was twice his size; both long and broad, her fingers lingering and solid like they belonged to a different species of animal altogether. Her plaintive face was framed by oddly youthful shades of hair. He didn’t know what to make of her.

When he sank into the sofa beside her, he nearly disappeared into its battered upholstery. Her giant frame towered over him. She felt like she was his mother; he, a little boy. Before she could be distracted by such pointless emotions, she grabbed the nape of his neck, pulled him closer and kissed him on the lips. His response to her move was driven by complex feelings – an element of pity mixed with a sense of entitlement; this is why he had travelled all the way to hers, even picking up a box of chocolates on the way. The second most expensive ones in the store.

“Condoms? You have condoms on you?” she gasped.

“Oh yeah, sure. One sec,” he dived into his pockets.

The real reason she stopped him wasn’t her untimely concern for protection – her phone had flashed a notification. She – her ex-boyfriend’s new love – had accepted her friend request. But she didn’t remember sending her one; she must have been drunk. In the time he took to tear a condom open and slide it on, she scrolled down her profile which was now accessible to her in all its glory. There were pictures of him and her together – on beaches and at candlelight dinners; she, cuddling his dog and he, stroking her hair.

She was odd. Everything with her felt weird. She had stopped moaning abruptly and was staring intently at her phone with an urgency that could only accompany the news of someone’s death. It was annoying.

“Your bed is off limits or something?”

“What?”

“I mean, are we going to do everything here on the couch?”

When they were done, she lay on the bed imagining how the two of them fucked – her ex and the lawyer woman with long and shiny hair who was now her 651st friend on Facebook. Did her hair dance with the rhythm of her body and drive him crazy?

“Hey, what’s with this colourful hair? You had dark hair in your pictures,” the man from Tinder whispered, gently kissing her earlobe.

“And you looked much taller,” she spoke in her normal pitch. “5’9”, your profile says.”

“So? I am 5’9”!”

She smirked.

“But you looked thinner too. So I guess we are even,” he pretended to laugh.

After he left, she looked in the mirror. Her rainbow hair was so powerful that it was hard to notice the barren patches of scalp that had begun to reveal themselves. That was the whole point, after all. The gargantuan pang of hunger struck again. She looked for the chocolates he had brought but couldn’t find them anywhere. Did he take them back with him?

She opened a can of beer.

“Hey, I need some money urgently. I wouldn’t be asking you if it wasn’t urgent. Gotta pay my rent and I am broke,” she texted her ex.

She wasn’t even expecting a reply. But she got a message from her bank instead saying that someone had credited money into her account.

“Thanks!!”

“No probs. But don’t ever text me again.”

*

Two weeks ago.

She decided to go for a walk to take her mind off the imminent catastrophe. She took a bus to Finsbury Park where a thick carpet of golden leaves announced the arrival of autumn. After a short walk, she drifted off to the adjacent Lidl to buy groceries. Carrying bags in both hands, she came and sat down at the bus stop. As she put the bags down and waited for the 254, a powerful pang of hunger surged through her. She glanced at the baguettes jutting out of one of the plastic bags, tore off a piece and began to nibble. Soon she had finished almost half of a baguette but her hunger hadn’t left her. The bus hadn’t arrived either. She rummaged inside her shopping bags for the jar of Nutella. She took the remaining half of the baguette out and dipped it directly into the jar, leaving a trail of gooey brown between her lips and her chin. She finished the whole baguette like that – sitting at the bus stop uncomfortably – with her large behind perched on a tiny bench which could only have been intended for anorexics.

When she got home, she opened a can of beer. A cursory glance down the wooden floor revealed stray hair everywhere. How is it that she had not noticed it before? When had it begun – this soul-crushing, gut-wrenching hairfall? She took a large gulp of beer and texted her Tinder date.

“Hey! Sorry, something came up. I am back now. Would you still like to know the things I would do to you?”

She checked her Facebook and Twitter feeds. He was probably never going to answer.

But he did. “Go on!”

She stood in front of the full-length bathroom mirror as they sexted again. She dropped her clothes, one by one, until she was facing the mirror stark naked. Her stomach protruded out like a jagged plateau, disturbing the symmetry of her body from the front as her two large and unshapely mounts of buttocks did from the rear. All her sharp contours had been flattened by newly acquired flab. Her breasts too had lost their firmness. Two lacklustre eyes fixed on a sombre face shot a deflating look at her from the mirror. There was little left to admire about her, much less to love.

“I just came – you were fabulous! And you?”

Was she – fabulous? She highly doubted it. She was nowhere close to climaxing, she had hit the rock bottom in fact. But she didn’t want to ruin it for him yet again. It was simpler to lie and get it over and done with.

“Mmmm … me too!”

“Ok, Goodnight then! :* ”

She put her clothes on and looked her up on Facebook. Her ex-boyfriend’s new love. Her profile was private but for her display picture. The caption said Greece 2016 and there she stood posing in a pastel tank top and white shorts; tall, skinny, and sort of attractive. She looked at that picture – the only one on her profile visible to her – for what seemed like hours on end and analysed it from every angle as if each additional minute spent staring at it would reveal some new information about her. She stalked her friends, and friends of her friends. All she got to know about her was that she worked as a lawyer. She pictured her sleeping with her ex-boyfriend. The thought and the viscerality of it churned her stomach so she could taste bile in her mouth. Her face was long and disproportionate to her body, she concluded. That which had initially struck her as prettiness was now dismissed as skilful makeup. But there was no way she could refute the fact that flew in her face: she had a head full of thick and lustrous hair that cascaded down to her waist!

She opened the fridge on a whim and saw the muffins she had bought earlier in the day. It was almost midnight. She ate one, then another one, and before she knew it she had finished a pack of six raspberry cheesecake muffins. Then she picked up her phone and texted her date, “Hey, why don’t we actually meet up?”

*

A little more than two weeks ago.

It all started when she was in the middle of sexting a prospective date. A minor event – if it can be called an event at all – that would consume her for weeks to come.

The sexting was going rather well. They had reached this point after a week of texting each other about their favourite music, TV shows, food and other clichés that dates usually talk about. The man on the other end seemed interesting, adventurous and forthcoming. She was reclining on the sofa in the living room of her studio apartment with a beer. He was giving elaborate and colourful descriptions of things he would do to her if they met.

“What would you like to do to me at this point?” he interjected.

Visualizing the situation at hand, she casually toyed with her freshly shampooed hair. What would she do to him? As different scenarios started playing out in her head, she twirled her fingers around a thick tuft of hair tracing its length. An inordinate number of them landed on her shirt when she unclenched her fingers. Shocked, she repeated the action. Again, hundreds of hair detached themselves from her scalp.

“Are you there?”

She knotted the loose strands together and put them beside her on the sofa. As she kept running her fingers through her hair purposefully, the ball of hair grew bigger and bigger. If one experienced hairfall at this rate, how long before they went bald?

“Come on! You can’t be so selfish!”

She could be. She tossed her phone aside and went to the bathroom – to have a look at herself in the mirror – all the while staring at the massive ball of hair wedged between her thumb and her index finger like it was a bomb waiting to explode.

About Nandita Dutta

Nandita Dutta is a journalist and writer from India. Her first book on women in film-making will be out this year, while her short stories have been published in numerous Indian journals and anthologies. Besides holding a Masters in Gender Studies from SOAS, London, she is a bona fide barista and chai addict.

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