Grey Glower

I have to admit that I’m puzzled –okay, naïve- but I’m having trouble understanding the agitation over grey hair. Not why achromotrichia occurs –that’s Botany 101 stuff: the flower parts of the hair growing in the follicles no longer need to attract bees, and so they just put out stems instead. It happens, eh? No, what confuses me is the fuss it causes.

I never thought much about it until I got older and discovered that all of my male friends were silvering around the temples, and balding over the rest. The only exceptions seemed to be those whose entire head was suspiciously bald. They were the lucky ones, I guess –they never went grey… This is in distinct contrast to those of my friends who were still female. None of them went bald; none of them went grey either, for some reason. It seemed rather counterintuitive. Unfair, to tell the truth.

But when I thought about it some more, I began to suspect that the answer probably lay in their chromosomes. I have always wondered why females had two Xs. It seemed unduly profligate to a one Xer like myself who has always prided himself on leaving less of a carbon footprint. On using only what I need. Conserving stuff for future generations. But, after I tossed the idea around for a while, I realized that their second X was a spare –you know, for when the original one they’d been using had reached its best-before date. After all, the proof was readily visible on any bus: seeing a woman there with grey hair was like spotting a woolly mammoth in the aisle.

But I couldn’t understand why Evolution would have made such an obvious mistake with men. Eventually, I found an answer of sorts while mousing through the archival section of my Guardian app:

Women cheat. I now realize why it was a good thing I stopped commenting on people’s hair at work. I used to be dazzled by lustrous, silky, glowing hair –well, I still am, actually- but the blonds were so golden, so… sunrise, and the browns (I forget, am I still allowed to say ‘brown’ instead of ‘hazel’ or ‘chestnut’?) –the browns were a velvety, deep chocolate, like O’Henry bars only without the peanuts. I could never understand why my hair always seemed so drab in comparison.

I remember wanting to point out my amazement one time to a woman sitting beside me on a crowded bus. She was a stable, matronly person whose wrinkles said sixty but whose curls laughed at the thought. Her hair seemed to sparkle in the sunshine filtering through the dirty window. I was feeling a little bored, and I thought it was a good opening ploy -she was just staring at the person sitting ahead of her anyway. First, of course, I checked her fingers for rings, in case she had a jealous partner with a cane watching her from another seat -there’s a section on buses where you’re supposed to sit if you have a cane. When I had satisfied myself that I was in no danger from a surprise attack, I pretended to look out of the window beside her and put on my best smile. Not my leering one, you understand –I’m older now; I can only manage a pleasantly surprised one nowadays –an elder smile. Anyway, I let my eyes stray from the window and onto her hair as if I were just wandering in a field of flowers, when her head suddenly turned on me like an angry bear.

“What are you doing?” she said in a voice that scattered my eyes like birds from a bush.

“I’m sorry?” I said in a softer voice, pretending innocence by suffixing it with a question mark.

“You were staring at me…” Her voice had dropped a decibel on the off chance that she was mistaken that I was a pervert. Then, when she actually focussed on what was sitting next to her, it descended to a hiss that really attracted attention. “You were trying to hit on me…”

It was now or never; heads were beginning to turn my way. “I…” I lost my courage in her withering glare. I had intended to stray into metaphor, but just as the words were lining up for their fateful jump, I changed my mind. She would have misconstrued even the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam at that moment. And besides, I rationalized, glancing at her hair in the now building-besmirched scene outside and parched of its once colour-giving sunlight, her hair was actually the colour of a mouse-pelt and the similes floated away like gossamer on the wind.

So I furrowed my eyebrows like an insulted patriarch and blinked regally at her. “I was merely checking to see if my stop was next,” I said in a flash of inspiration, but with practiced professorial condescension.

She, too, blinked, but I was uncertain whether it was in apology, or because her cataracts were acting up. And for my part, I didn’t deign to look again but pulled the cord and got off at the next stop. In a rare moment of agape, I realized it was probably best for the bus.







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