Today was like any other day for me. The kids had picked up their lunches and ran out of the door into their yellow school bus. The driver briefly smiling and with a quick nod drove away recklessly on the paved road. My neighbor Mrs. Garcia waved her hand and greeted me good morning.
It was indeed a good morning, the birds chirped and the sun basked comforting warmth onto my wife’s flower bed. The beautiful palette of red, purple and yellow often soothes me even energizes me for my morning routine.
I grabbed the tray filled with a plate of eggs, bacon, toasted bread and a glass of orange juice. The center of the black gold lined tray was a small vase with a freshly cut rose. I walked up the steps to my bedroom and hoped that my wife was awake. This had been my routine for the past six months although it was never the case.
I met Anna interestingly during my first job interview. She wasn’t the recruiting person, nor the receptionist, she was not even one of the many girls who unbuttoned the top of their blouse when we fought for the job. She cut my hair. I did not know her then, she wasn’t my regular stylist, and I never even stepped foot into the salon that she worked in that day. Call it sloppiness, call it fate or whatever new age term is raging in the television these days. I saw my reflection on the mirror and knew I had to cut my hair.
Anna was very gentle, she smiled broadly and flashed her pearly white teeth. I remember that day fondly she was wearing a black apron on top of her cotton shirt and jeans. Her hair was tied to a bun with the use of a pen and there was a slight smudge of red lipstick on her teeth. She did not wear a lot of makeup which was different from her coworkers who would pat a pound of baby powder on their brown faces. Anna was simple and sweet.
‘Hi I am Anna.’ She said as she draped a thin sheet around my neck.
‘Hi Anna, I am Richard, I want to get a trim.’
‘Ok, how short?’
I ran my fingers at the ends of my bangs and measured the halfway point from my eyebrow to the roots of my hair with my fingers and showed it to her. She giggled. I didn’t know why at the time and I had never bothered to ask her, I always thought that mysterious giggling is what got me interested in her then and it is what keeps me interested in her today.
For the last six months Anna hasn’t giggled nor smiled. All I have is the memory of those happy times, carefree times. I reach the last door of the second floor hallway and rapped lightly. ‘Anna breakfast is here.’ Pushing the door with my shoulders I gingerly walked into the freezing air-conditioned room. I had left it on when I got ready because I wanted Anna to sleep more, but in reality she hasn’t slept much for the past six months, always screaming and writhing in pain since the accident.
‘I am here Anna.’
Anna was a tiny figure in the large bed in an even larger room with antique and hand-made furnishings from Cebu. She wore an ivory white night gown which shimmered slightly. She sat up on the bed and touched the cotton wrapping that covered her scarred eyes. The doctor said that she could remove them but she didn’t want anybody to see her scars, especially me.
I placed the tray on her lap and sat on the bed holding her hand. Her fingertips were cold and her palms smooth. I remember the first time that we held hands. It was the time I got my first job, after seven job interviews one company decided to take a chance on me. I returned to the salon and told Anna that it was her magical fingers that helped me get the job. She giggled, I love it when she giggles and after five more little visits with reasons such as hair treatments, pedicures and more haircuts until it was too short for anymore I finally asked her out on a date. She smiled as if asking me why I didn’t ask her earlier.
‘Where are the girls?’ Anna asked.
‘The bus picked them up.’ We have two beautiful girls. Both of them took after Anna’s features with button noses and rosy cheeks, I was just glad that neither of them got my bushy eyebrows. ‘I wanted you to sleep some more so I told them to go ahead without saying goodbye.’
‘I wanted to hug them before they leave for school.’
‘I know Anna but you hardly slept last night.’
Anna bowed her head and her silence spoke volumes of her disappointment and how the accident ate inside of her. The accident is what it was, just an accident, not a matter of fate or karma. Anna may not have been the perfect person often times engaging in idle gossip and judging people at a whim, but she was a kind hearted person who loved her family. That was just it, she loved her family more than anything and anyone outside of that circle didn’t matter to her.
It was no more than six months ago, Anna was trying to get the girls ready to take a bath. The power had gone and there was no hot water. She had to boil some water at the gas stove and slowly filled up a large bucket for the girls to use. She did this with love and devotion and never complained one bit. Where other women would curse and would tell their children to go to sleep without taking a bath, Anna devoted her life to the girls and she loved them to death. Little Lisa, our youngest daughter ran around the house naked and bumped into Anna as she carried the boiling pot over to the bathroom. The pot flipped and soaked Anna’s eyes with the boiling water, Lisa cried and Anna screamed. I only found out about what happened when my oldest daughter Mary called me at the office.
I was shocked, I still am shocked. I cannot see my beautiful Anna’s smile and could not hear her giggle. I really wish that I could make her happy.
‘I am not hungry.’
‘You have to eat.’
Anna felt her hand on the bed, found my thigh and slowly went up until she cupped my face. ‘I will eat later, but now I want to use the mannequin head.’
‘I will get your scissors.’ It was my sister’s idea. Anna loved her job as a stylist, she loved cutting hair and she loved how the person would feel better after cutting hair. Outside of the family it is only her customers that she cared about. I took the mannequin, placed on it a new wig and brought it together with Anna’s scissor kit to the bed. ‘I will bring the food to the kitchen.’ I kissed her lightly on the lips and picked up the tray.
Anna had gotten used to cutting hair by feel and she was as good if not better than she was before. But she was cutting a mannequin, there was no smile, no joy, it was just emptiness. I placed the tray on the counter and picked up the newspaper. I had taken the day off today for the girls first day of school. It was nice for the boss to let me spend more time with Anna.
The main article talked about the upcoming presidential election. The editorial page had a funny caricature of the central bank. Everyday there is something to talk about, a new rape gang had emerged in the neighboring city while the current corruption case of a senator is still ongoing. They say that he will go free. I turn the page and on my right hand side just below the revelation of an actress about her sex life is an advertisement. It is the first hair styling competition and the winner gets a cash prize and a job at the new French hair salon.
The intercom rang and I picked it up. ‘Robert, we need to get a new wig.’
‘Isn’t there more in the drawer beside you?’
‘No it is finished.’
‘Ok do you need me to help you get ready?’
‘I can take care of myself while you are away.’
‘Let’s go together Anna, some fresh air will be good for you.’
The phone clicked and I looked at the advertisement once more. This is what Anna needed to smile, to giggle, to be happy once more. Once Anna got ready, I guided her to the car and drove out of the subdivision. The day continued to be spectacular. The leaves were green and the birds flew in pairs, here I was with my sweet Anna.
Anna cocked her head to the side as if looking through the window watching the scene outside. It had been a habit of mine since the accident to describe what was going on, I often tried to pitch in a joke or two but Anna always frowned. She would normally pinch me for a really bad joke and I loved that, but she didn’t react, she just laid there like a mannequin.
‘It’s taking a long time to get there Robert.’
‘I’m trying out a new place.’
‘Yes there was an ad on the newspaper, I want to try it out.’
Silence, Anna has been doing this for awhile and maybe I should get used to it, but I haven’t. I miss her old chatty self. I turned around the corner at the end of EDSA extension into a large fairground. Many cars were parked on the street and people walked in groups of two and three, a few of them had numbers on the back of their shirts. I gathered that the numbered shirts were contestants.
I walked Anna to the central area and told her to wait at the entrance while I registered her for the competition. She doesn’t know that I am entering her into a hair styling competition. ‘Let’s go Anna.’
‘It is noisy here Robert, where are we?’
‘There are a lot of people here, must be a sale.’
I looked at Anna’s number and it was number seventy five. Doesn’t seem to be a lot of competitors out here today, we walked to the competition area and the announcer called in number one. The crowd cheered and booed. Anna held tightly on my arm and this was the only semblance of her old self since the accident.
A bald headed man with the number one on his shirt walked up. He was fairly stout and had a thick chin beard. His arms were tattooed and the crowd cheered loudly as he raised his hands up. A tall model sat at the chair, he was very thin and wore a tight tee. His hair was gelled to a Faux Mohawk and he looked very stone faced.
‘Ok Mr. Azana! You have thirty minutes to style his hair, and at the end of the time the judges will score you.’
‘What did the announcement say?’ Anna asked.
‘There is a hairstyling competition going on Anna.’
‘You planned this didn’t you? We are not in some new wig shop.’
‘I wish I could watch.’
I smiled, knowing very well that she would do more than watch today. ‘I will tell you what is going on.’
This was the first time that Anna became very chatty. The competition moved on and soon enough it was ten more contestants until Anna’s turn. I described to her different hair appearances and she identified them as Ringlets, Mohawks, Layers, Bowl Cuts, Feathering and many others that I only learned today. This was indeed her life and I would love to give her that life back, even for a tiny moment.
‘Number seventy five!’ The announcer bellowed.
‘Let’s go Anna.’
‘Is it over?’
‘No it is your turn.’
I did not give her a response and led her through the crowd. My firm grip on her hand told her that I believed in her and she walked calmly without any resistance behind me. ‘Here!’ I waved at the announcer, holding Anna’s hand up.
‘Wait a minute.’ The announcer said with a high pitched twang in his voice. ‘This woman is blind isn’t she? How can she cut hair if she can’t see, she might injure the model.’
‘Is it against the rules?’ I asked.
‘The…there is nothing in the rulebook about that but…’
‘I won’t let her cut me!’ A model screamed. ‘Me neither!’ Another spoke up and this continued with all the models waiting at backstage.
‘Then let me be the model.’
‘Robert no…’ Anna whispered.
‘Don’t worry Anna, I need a haircut anyways and we both know you are the only person who is allowed near my hair.’ I sat down at the chair and Anna stood behind me. The announcer hesitantly called for the timer to start and Anna had thirty minutes. My hair was salt and pepper and fairly straight. It was quite long as well, reaching to the base of my ears. Unlike the other contestants, Anna did not rush. She danced with me. Her hands felt around my face and I closed my eyes at the warm touch of her hands. The audience gasped as Anna picked up the scissors. I had faith in my Anna. She squeezed a lock of my hair between her fingers and snipped it off. My heart raced. More snips came and more tufts of my hair fell on the sheet and on the ground. The crowd was quiet, with no cheers or jeers, their breath were held by Anna’s graceful movement. I wish I could have seen how she moved, and how her face looked. Maybe she smiled, or giggled slightly I don’t know. I just know that I am lucky enough for her to cut my hair. This was the moment the I fell in love with her and I will never tire of this.
‘Time!’ The announcer screamed on his microphone.
I stood up and dusted the hair from my shoulders and looked at the large video screen on my left. The left side was low and curled upwards to the right side with a small pointed part gelled and sprayed and who knows what else Anna did. I only felt the warmth of her hands. Below my image numbers appeared. The first judge scored an eight, the second a nine and the third judge a nine. The crowd cheered and started chanting Anna’s registration number.
‘What happened?’ Anna asked.
‘I smiled, you got a twenty six out of thirty and everyone is chanting your name.’
In a moment the crowd broke out into applause while still chanting her registration number. I held Anna’s hand and whispered in her ear. ‘They love you Anna.’
‘I love you Robert.’ Small beads of tears rolled from her cotton bandage and spread out on her wide smile. The smile that I hadn’t seen for a long time, the smile that I crave, that warms my heart and fills me with joy. I wrapped my arms around Anna and pulled her head close to my chest. ‘I love you Anna.’