The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta.
My hair is a fascination. I cannot explain why. I have spent my entire life ignoring it. It grows. I cut it. I wear it curly. I wear it straight. I twist it in two strands. I braided in close to my scalp. I wait for my hair to give me strength like Samson.
I think of Delilah. She was right. I dream of cutting it all off.
My hair is a fascination.
I don’t understand why people want to touch my hair.
I don’t want to touch your hair.
I don’t want to touch your bald head.
I don’t want to touch your beard. Or your leg hair. Or the toes on your feet.
A few weeks ago, a woman I didn’t know looked at me longingly.
“I want to touch your hair,” she said.
“I can tell,” I said.
She thought I might say, “Go ahead.” I didn’t.
“I really want to touch your hair,” she continued. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
My hair must have beckoned her. The dark twisted strands moved like snakes. Some strands of black. I’ve recently added a little blue. Blue snakes on my head. Blue wires. Black hair. Blue spirit. She wanted to touch all of me. Afro, dreadlocks, twists, braided, high-top fade.
I smiled at her. I could have said, “Don’t touch my hair,” But I didn’t. I only smiled.
I wish she had stopped for a moment to think of how I felt as she stared at me. Like a meal. Like she wanted to consume me. It didn’t feel good.
“It’s a compliment,” a friend said.
Being reminded that some people view me as different is not a compliment. A compliment is someone saying, “Nice hair.”
Instead it is, “I want to touch you.”
“I want to inspect you.”
“I want to know if you are real.”
I live. I breathe. I feel.
I appreciate curiosity. I don’t mind it at all. But I don’t like when someone looks at me like I’m an object. I’m not an alien. I’m not an animal.
Should I touch your belly? Should I ask you about your scars and trace the wrinkles of your face?
Black hair grows from my head. Nappy hair. Kinky hair. Hair that defies gravity. I defy gravity.
But I don’t want you to touch my hair.
My hair belongs to my husband, my mother, my children, and cats. I love when cats touch my hair. I am a willow tree. I am Spanish moss.
I’m learning to let my hair grow wild. I am letting my strands turn gray. The gray hair listens to no one. They are old and wise. They gray can’t be controlled.
Don’t touch my hair. Do stare at me. I know that the best compliment is eyes meeting eyes. Look at my eyes.
Don’t worry about my hair.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. The Zero Mile column appears on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.