How to Comb an Old Lady's Hair

            It changes with age, hair: thins, brittles, refines. This is what she says.  

            Use large-toothed combs. And patient fingers.

            Oiling the hair is important. Massage the scalp. Pay attention: oldladyskin grows silken, just like oldladyhair. Separate a clump. Loosen the knots with your fingers; run them through, quiver the strands apart, while pulling down with the comb. Sometimes she impedes by clasping your hand.

            Remember: Impatient hands are useless.

                                                                                              (from Life, on Old Indian Photos)

                                                                                             (from Life, on Old Indian Photos)

            Untangling hair takes time. Why waste it? Ask about her husband’s portrait which hangs so she can see him from her bed. Place your fingers—all ten—at the midpoint of her hairline, and scuttle them to the base of her skull parting her hair. Listen. Come sun, come rain, he stealth-waited by the pond where she went for water. Push the parted hair to either side twisting lightly to keep them divided. Brush one segment toward yourself and separate it into three as she laughs her way through their first wedding-night kiss. You’ve forgotten hair-ties. Do not worry about her impatience. She tells you where they are before resuming. He has been dead for decades; but her body still yearns for his. Blush when she touches your naked waist. Usually demurely hidden by your sari, it was bared when you crouched to get the hair-ties from a drawer. Begin the other braid and pretend you’re unembarrassed by her comment about your curviness.  

          Above all, do not worry about pulling her hair too hard. “Sometimes hurt is good,” she chuckles, “hasn’t your husband taught you that yet?”

- Shabnam Nadiya