Made up

“先生、先生、いい?(sensei, sensei, ii: teacher, teacher, can I…?)” my older, more brazen students would ask, already running their fingers gingerly through my hair.

I’d chuckle. These girls always preferred to ask for permission only after they’d started.

“Go for it,” I’d tell them.

Their hands would grasp the air for my wrists, where they knew I kept a hairband handy. I never admitted it to them but I always found their giggling and the gentle tugging on my hair an amusing distraction while I corrected students’ writing and homework.

In some classes, when this happens, I see other girls sink further into their books. Or some will never participate, but only watch on from the sidelines as they chat with my amateur stylists.

But I’m not the only one who notices these girls. I’ve heard others – sometimes adults and sometimes their own peers – reassure them that they’ll become more interested in these things as they get older.

When I hear it, I’m suddenly back, an awkward preteen afflicted with eczema and, worse, a liking for my brother’s baggy hand-me-down jumpers. I’m showing my teachers my palms when they ask to check my hands, implying that they’re really checking for nail polish at school. All the aunties telling me the same thing I hear these girls being told now; that “beauty is pain,” and that one day, I’ll be spending all day in front of the mirror “putting my face on” and chasing after boys.

They were wrong. That day never came.

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