Raveena Grover: Frizz Witch
Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQI+ storytelling night I host and programme. If you’re new to Queerstories, welcome. Please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast. Head out to your local bookseller to buy the Queerstories book, and enjoy listening to this incredible archive of stories by LGBTQI+ Australians.
Raveena Grover is a multidisciplinary creative who has written for Sweatshop Western Sydney, UTS Vertigo and Hijacked. She has also performed poetry with Bankstown Poetry Slam and Between Two Worlds. She performed this story at Queerstories Western Sydney at Riverside Theatres Parramatta, in February 2019.
This is my first time here performing at Queerstories. It’s also my first time at Queerstories.
Thank you. The first time I practised this story, I practised in front of my dogs and managed to hold their attention for a good five to ten minutes. I think I’ll be fine. This is a story about my childhood and the first crush you have but you don’t really realise it’s a crush because she’s a bitch to you, and you also go to a Christian primary school, and you think gay people only exist in Europe.
No, it’s true!
This morning’s breakfast is made from my hair. Long, thick strands poke out from my buttered toast, curling around mountains of scrambled eggs and sticky Nutella blobs like spider legs. The comb Mumma uses to brush my hair sits on the edge of my plate with its oily coils reaching out.
As my breakfast of hair and eggs stare back at me, Mumma threads her fingers into my scalp, and her hands feel like blunt knives. She tells me to finish my toast. I gag at the spindly legs poking into my eggs, and break a corner off the Nutella toast instead, shoving it into my mouth as my baby hairs catch on my her fingers. Thank God she is making only one plait today. I’m too old to be wearing two plaits to school now. It’s enough that Georgie and her girl group still neigh at me whenever I walk by.
Georgie’s voice was high and squeaky like the sound new sneakers make on tiled flooring. The neighing didn’t annoy me as much as Georgie did whenever she grabbed onto my hair without asking and yelling, “Giddy up horsie!” When we had time Mumma would make a French braid, and I loved those because Georgie called me a mermaid instead of a horse and wouldn’t mind if I sat with her at lunch.
Mumma taps me on the shoulder and interrupts my daydreaming. “Rubber band,’” she says in her firm voice. I pass her my hair tie. Georgie taught me the proper name at church camp. We’d been bunking in the same dorm and were running late to hall breakfast one morning because she stayed to help me look for my rubber band. Georgie flicked her blonde hair at me and told me, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. And I guess you’re, like, my neighbour now.”
So, after five minutes of searching, Georgie picked up a rubber wristband with the phrase “WWJD” pressed into it and handed it to me. When I tried to explain to her what I meant by rubber band, Georgie rolled her eyes and shoved me. I fell flat on my arse and my throat stung when she said, “It’s called hair tie. Whatever. I can’t be neighbours with an idiot.”
I break another piece of toast as Mumma finishes tying my hair tie. Today, starting when school ends, is the Year Eight Starology Sleepover. I can feel my skin tingle when I think about being out in school grounds wearing mufti with my hair out. Maybe then Georgie would call me her friend.
Mumma checks the clock on the crockery cupboard and lets out a shrill, ‘”Hai ram!” interrupting my daydreaming, and I don’t even have time to finish my toast. Arriving five minutes late to assembly, I shuffle to the back of the line, and Georgie’s there. She leans over to me with our shoulders touching. Up this close, her face looks like paper with pen marks for freckles. “You excited for the sleepover, horsie?” Georgie asks me, and the corners of her pink lips twitching. “I am,” I tell her, and my shoulders feel itchy. “Just as long as you keep your hands off my hair, yeah? And I’m not a horse.”
“Okay, Brownie,” Georgie laughs and points to my mouth. I poke my tongue to the side and feel a smudge of Nutella on my bottom lip. I look away and take a heavy breath from my nose. She was also racist – it goes without saying – but you know, that was the Nutella.
By the time 4 P.M. rolls around, frizz had started to build from the top of my head but I wasn’t too worried. Everyone from class has started on the Subway sandwiches provided for dinner by the time my mum came to deliver mine. It’s Thursday, our Hindu vegetarian day, so meat subs were out of the question. Georgie nudged me and goes, “Wow, your mum brought you a special meal, huh?” And I rolled my eyes at her. “Yeah, I have to miss out on bread and pig,” I say.
I walk towards my mother and she grabs my school bag and hands me a thermos. Her brown skin is smooth except for under her eyes, which are heavy and black. “Make sure you eat the food now while the rice is hot. I don’t want you catching a cold,” she says. She tugs the end of my plait and I watch Georgie rip a dangling strip of ham from her sandwich with dirty fingers. Mumma turns my face back to hers. “Jaan?” she says. “Yeah, I will. I promise,” I tell her. I don’t want her touching my face or my hair in front of Georgie. I wave bye, and turn around for a quick second to see Mumma’s car’s tail lights indicate left onto the main road, and then gap it to the bathroom.
I stretch my plait out and the hair tie comes off easy. The reflection of glossy segments of one long, brown river stares back at me against my white skivvy. It didn’t matter that I had forgotten to pack my good jeans. I strut out of the bathroom like a teen vogue model and take a seat on the floor near Georgie.
Our sleepover facilitator, Mr Leonard, chucks on a DVD to play until it’s dark enough outside. The movie is average, and Georgie keeps pinching me every few minutes trying to get me to pass the popcorn. I pretend I can’t feel her and hide behind my hair instead. By 7 P.M., the movie is over and I’m so excited to stargaze. Mr Leonard takes us outside and begins to hand out worksheets, asking us to take ten minutes to draw and label how we see the sky. Despite the wind, my hair still feels sleek and I guess a plait sometimes did it good.
“I think that constellation looks like a horse, don’t you?” Georgie snickers at me from behind. I flick my hair out of my face and continue on my worksheet. I’m no horse today. It’s started sprinkling though, and I can see little silver drops plopping on to my sleek brown river. Mr Leonard yells out from the middle of the grass quad to hand in our worksheets, and almost all of mine is filled, save for one constellation I’ve forgotten the name of. Georgie pushes past me as I’m handing my worksheet over and places hers on top. “I think I got all of them right, Mr Leonard,” she says, and Mr Leonard grunts and his silver glasses slip a little bit down his face.
“Do you know what you remind me of now?” Georgie asks me. Her breath is hot in my ear and smells like ham.
I roll my eyes but the skin down my neck is covered in goosebumps. I’m still scared Georgie will push me and curse me with the Bible. “Shut up. I don’t even have plaits in my hair anymore.” Georgie nudges me with her shoulder. “No, not a horse. Idiot. Now you look like a frizz witch.” Georgie forks her fingers through my hair and moves them about bringing back the frizz I had tried so hard to keep at bay.
Later that year when Divali rolls around, I use my gift money to buy my very first hair straightener.