Warning: This poem deals with challenges in ethnic hair care. If that's touchy territory for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Bad Hair Day"
Danso came home from school to find
a sullen Lakia seated in the kitchen with
Hannah braiding her hair into cornrows.
"She hasn't combed her hair all week,
and it was turning into a rat's nest,"
Hannah said as she worked.
"Well, she's soft-headed," Danso said,
setting his backpack on the nearest chair.
"Combing her hair pulls too much. She
never wanted me to mess with it either."
"She can't just ignore it, or it will mat up,"
Hannah said. "I told Lakia that she can
take care of it herself, let me take care of it,
put it into a hairstyle that doesn't require
daily attention, or cut it short so it
doesn't need combing at all."
Lakia looked mad as a wet cat,
and Danso felt certain she'd be
throwing off sparks if not for
Hannah's damping field.
"What did she decide?" Danso asked.
"She didn't, so I decided that we're
going to try cornrows this week,"
Hannah said. "If that doesn't work out,
we can try something else next week."
"What do you think, Lakia?"
Danso asked, trying to coax her
into talking about the issue.
"Braids are stupid," Lakia grumbled.
"Only girls wear them, and the boys pull hair."
"Nah, a boy in my class has zig-zag cornrows
and braids down to his shoulders," Danso said.
"He plays football. I'm pretty sure he'd
tackle anyone who pulled his hair."
Lakia smirked. "Yeah."
"Do not give her ideas," Hannah said,
pointing at Danso with the tail of the comb.
Despite Hannah's best efforts,
Lakia hated the cornrows.
She hated how they looked and
how the beads clacked together
and how it felt sleeping on them.
At school, Lakia picked out the braids
and let her hair coil itself back into
the same wild mane she always wore,
where it promptly turned into tangles
and then into denser mats.
By the end of the week,
it was a wreck again.
When Aidan returned for
a visit with Saraphina in tow,
Hannah lamented that she'd
had to use a de-matting comb
and Lakia complained about
Hannah fussing with her hair.
"I think that Lakia just isn't
used to anyone taking care of
her hair this closely," Aidan said.
"Tell me about it," Danso muttered.
Hannah added, "Some of her foster families
were white, and that never helps. They
let her run around like a wile chile."
"It's just hair," Lakia said,
rolling her eyes at Hannah.
"I always just wore it loose
and it's fine that way."
"It may be to you, but to your mother,
hair is important," Aidan explained.
"When Hannah puts your hair up all nice,
it shows people that she loves you and
she wants to take good care of you --
that she's proud to be your mom."
Danso missed his birth mother
with a fierce, sudden ache. He
remembered how much time she'd
invested in braiding his hair, no matter
how outrageous a pattern he chose.
He wondered if she had realized that
he chose some of them not just because
he liked the look, but because they were
so intricate that it meant she would
spend more time with him.
"That's part of it, but it's not healthy
to ignore hair," Hannah said. "It needs
regular care. Lakia is just so soft-headed
that she hates everything I've tried."
"May I take a look?" Aidan asked,
hovering a hand over Lakia's ragged mop.
"I promise to be gentle with it."
"Fine," Lakia said.
Aidan worked his fingers
carefully through her fluffy coils.
He frowned over the uneven ends
where Hannah had needed to cut out
some of the mats. There were still
tangles in places close to the skin.
"I think it would be easier if we just start over,"
he said finally. "I'm facing a similar challenge
with Saraphina, because of the saltwater damage
to her hair, and the hospital staff had to trim out
the worst bits. I thought we'd have to cut it all,
but it turned out not that bad, it just needs
a bit of a patch job. I've got a favor
set up to cover that soon."
"You just want to chop it off?"
Hannah said. "Girls don't like that."
"Yes and no," Aidan said. "My friend Trudi
will be arriving in town shortly after school on
Wednesday, call and find out where you can meet.
She's a blue-plate hairstylist who specializes in
hair growth. Start by shaving off Lakia's hair
completely, and let Lakia decide how long
to make it, back to the original length."
"And then what?" Hannah said.
"We'll be right back where we started."
"Why don't we try something else?"
Danso suggested. "I've been dealing with
Lakia's hair for a while, and nothing has
worked, but now we've got resources
that I didn't have when I started."
"Such as?" Hannah said.
"I've been thinking about
Happy Curls hair foam from
WeGeex," said Danso.
Hannah shook her head.
"I don't want to test a new product
on Lakia, and I can't try it myself
because my hair is relaxed."
"Mine isn't," Danso said.
"I'd be happy to test it."
"Why can't I do it?" Lakia asked.
"Because we need to know how well
it works, and some products suck,"
Danso explained. "You're not used
to taking care of your hair yet, so
you wouldn't know what to look for.
But if it works for me, then you
can try it and see if you like it."
So they met up with Trudi, who did
a great job of repairing Lakia's hair.
They also talked about hair care
and hair tools and hair products,
which fascinated Danso because
he hadn't done that in a while.
He was tempted to go for one of
the bright colors -- Happy Curls came
in neon brights and metallics -- but
settled on the plain brown since that's
what Lakia would be using to start with.
His own hair was barely an inch long now
if pulled straight, and it curled close to
his scalp in a dense cap when left alone.
Happy Curls made the individual locks
stick together in a more defined way,
but didn't create the crunchy effect
that he hated with most products.
"What do you think?" Hannah asked.
"I like it a lot," Danso said, patting his head.
The foam felt soft and springy under his hand.
"I think it's safe for Lakia, it'll keep everything
in place, so we won't have to mess with it.
I may use this for special occasions."
Lakia wanted to touch it too, and Danso
let her, enjoying the casual intimacy of
her fingers in his hair, even if she
didn't like people touching hers.
It was a little bit of family connection
that he appreciated when he could get it.
"It does amazing things for curl definition,"
Hannah agreed. "Lakia, how about you?"
"Will you leave my hair alone if I use it?"
she asked them, narrowing her eyes.
"Most of the time, yes," Hannah said.
"Then I wanna try it," Lakia said.
So Hannah put the foam on and
carefully twirled the locks to set them
in loose spirals while the product dried.
The result was something that looked
a lot like Lakia's hair normally did when
it was freshly washed and dried,
but would stay that way.
"Crisis averted," Danso said,
watching Lakia frisk around
the house in her new hairdo.
He took a snapshot and sent it
to Aidan, who replied with his own
photo of Saraphina's current style,
which was equally adorable.
It made Danso feel a little bit
more at home with his new family.
* * *
Blankie (Danso Ward) -- He has milk chocolate skin, nappy brown hair cut close, and brown eyes. He grows a faint shadow of moustache to make himself look older. Danso is homosexual. Although he grew up with a loving mother, she died and left him with a much less tolerant uncle. Danso successfully hid his superpowers, but at sixteen he got caught kissing another boy, after which his uncle kicked him out. He survived on the street, collecting a group of other young soups.
Currently Danso lives in Onion City with his foster mother, the Muffler (Hannah Patterson). This reorganization of family structure has left him with four younger siblings: Boomer (Hadyn Kennedy), Whipcrack (Lakia Collins), Howl (Nathaniel), and Poof (Rosita Consuela Durante).
Origin: His ability to interact with other people's superpowers arrived with puberty.
Uniform: Street clothes. He tends to dress in faded, secondhand clothes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Dutiful, Good (+2) Family Man, Good (+2) Streetwise, Good (+2) Thief, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Letting Go
Powers: Good (+2) Power Manipulation
This meta-power includes such uses as detecting, tracing, enhancing, suppressing, and copying other people's superpowers.
Limitation: Because Danso is so young, he doesn't have much control or strength yet. His abilities are clearly still growing in, and can be erratic.
Motivation: Family comes first.
Whipcrack (Lakia Collins) -- She has tightly curled brown hair, brown eyes, and tan skin. Her parents are drug addicts, which led to her placement in foster care. She is six years old when she meets Danso. Lakia looks up to Hadyn.
Origin: A boy in her foster home had the Power Bestowal gift; he gave her a tail that can generate a neural strike. She ran away before anything worse could happen.
Uniform: Street clothes. She dislikes girl clothes, preferring to dress as a boy.
Qualities: Good (+2) Fast Learner, Good (+2) Fierce, Good (+2) Tomboy
Poor (-2) Self-Destructive
Powers: Average (0) Nerve Blast, Average (0) Prehensile Tail
* * *
African-textured hair is often referred to as nappy, other times kinky or coily, and actually spans a range of textures. You can see that Danso's has very tight spirals whereas Lakia's has a much larger twist. The children's book Nappy Hair introduces some of the issues that black children face regarding their hair. Hair care for very young children should stay simple. Parents with silky straight hair raising children with thick squiggly hair may need extra advice.
The cornrow style comes from Africa and works very well on thick, nappy hair but less well on fine, straight hair. One good way to think about nappy hair is as a sculptural medium -- it can be dressed up in fabulous shapes and will stay put very well, as seen in many traditional African hairstyles. Thus cornrows can be made into myriad patterns depending on personality and creativity. Braiding can form bonds and express culture. Learn how to make cornrow braids.
Black hair is political, especially for black women and girls. Perfectly done hair is seen as a sign of love and care for a child, whereas messy hair is seen as a sign of neglect. For some black children, their memories of hair care are very fond; for others, a nightmare. These two things are equally true.
A rattail comb is about half teeth and half tail. The fine teeth are not suitable for combing nappy hair, but the pointed tail make an excellent detangling tool for creating parts and sections.
Matting is generally spoken of in regard to dogs and other fluffy pets. However, human hair can also form mats. To solve this problem, de-matting combs come in several styles with sharpened blades. African-American culture has long made use of improvised tools, because in slavery days, purpose-made tools were unavailable. So today, many black people will still appropriate whatever they find useful for hair care.
"Wile Chile" is a term with dual meaning: a willful young person, or the early stage of forming dreadlocks when they just look messy. Hence the occasional use in reference to a headstrong black girl who won't let people do anything with her hair. "The Girl with the Hair That Would Not Be Tamed" is a poem about hair as a superpower. The overall idea is that hair must be controlled in order for its owner to be acceptable in civilized society. Some girls just don't get on with that.
Happy Curls hair foam is an ethnic hair care product, primarily made from cellulose and some natural setting agents. It forms a coating around small locks of hair to support the texture. Typically it dries into a soft sponge texture, although a stiffener can be added. On African-American hair it lasts about a month; on finer European hair, a few days to a week. Once it starts to break down, it comes loose in a matter of hours, and at that point can be washed out with ordinary shampoo. Removing it earlier requires a special shampoo with the kind of chemicals generally considered safe by the cosmetics industry. Happy Curls comes in neon pink, orange, yellow, green, blue; metallic gold or silver; and plain brown or black. This is a WeGeex product made by several employees trying to invent something fun for their daughters' birthday parties.