The long teeth click into place and Chris the hairdresser fires up the shaver.

“So we’re sure about this?” he asks and I watch him exchange a glance with Ma in the mirror just to check. He pumps the lever on the barber’s chair with his foot until my feet clear the floor.

“A number four it is,” he says and lifts the angry-bee shaver up to my neck.

I can’t remember having long hair. I only kind of remember because of the photographs. Like my old Borrowdale school portrait. I don’t know why Ma and Pa first cut it short, maybe because you don’t get a Crow’s Nest with short hair. Pa usually just places a bowl on top of my head to snip my hair into the perfect helmet. It suits me just fine. It’s bad enough being blond. At least my hair isn’t long too. Besides I like getting cross when people mistake me for a boy.

“Don’t they know girls can have short hair too?”

A number four is something else though and I know it. It’s all because of one of Ben’s CDs. He likes The Cranberries and the lead singer has a buzz cut. When I saw her, I knew I wanted one too.

There are clumps of hair all over the floor now and I can’t wait to touch my stubble. My head feels funny. Like I could feel the wind change or something.

When Ma goes to pay I look at myself in the mirror, brushing my fingers over my ears like I have hair to tuck behind them.

“You gonna have to get used to it,” says Chris peering over at me from the cash register, “There’s nothing left to tuck!”

I shove my hands in my pockets and wish he hadn’t noticed.

“I must say, you’re the first nine year old girl I’ve ever met who wanted a number four.

***

We drive down  to the Kwazulu Natal coast every April. It takes us three days to get from Harare to Bazely Beach and by the end of it Ben, Kate and I have sat every which-a-way possible on the flip down black leather seats of the blue truck. Ma and Pa put down a mattress at our feet so one of us can lie on the floor, while the other two sit up on the seats.

This year there are two kids in the house next-door for me to play with. We climb in the frangipanis and put coins on the sleepy railway tracks that run along the coast hoping and dreading that we’ll derail a train. At first I was just friends with the girl, but soon her older brother was sent to tag along.

We’re standing around now, digging our toes into the thick green grass. More two against one than a circle.

“No, I’m a girl,” I say.

“Not possible,” he says.

“But I am!”

“You’ve got a shaved head, you burp, you fart. You have to be a boy.”

“Well I’m not.”

“Prove it then.”

His little sister looks on quietly. I know what I have to do to prove it, but I refuse to stoop so low.

The next day my family makes a day trip to The Pavilion. It’s an enormous shopping mall in Durban. There’s nothing like it back home. It’s got endless levels of shiny floors and there’s even red carpeting and popcorn at the cinema complex.

I pull my parents into a jeweller’s and ask to get my ears pierced. They aren’t hard to convince. Maybe they think I need something girly too.

A woman with acrylic nails holds the piercing gun.

“Your son’s adorable,” she says as she slips my first lobe into the device and I look over at Ma and Pa. The gun crunches and I feel a sharp pinch. She swabs the new piercing with cotton wool and makes to pack the gun away.

“No, no,” says Pa, stepping forward, “We’d like the second one done as well, please.”

She stands there for a minute, her hands frozen in mid-action.

“Oh,” she replies, “I see.”

She takes out the gun again and loads a second gold stud into it.

“Yes, our daughter was very excited about getting her ears pierced,” he says.

“Of course! Your daughter!” says the woman.

She’s blushing, but somehow seems relieved. Maybe she couldn’t bear the thought of a boy with both ears pierced.

The car rolls down the rutted road to the beach cottage and I jump out to go find the neighbours. I puff out my chest and show them my golden studs.

“You see? I am a girl.”

gif animation illustration ear piercing gold stud sparkle


Text and animated illustration by Jo Jackson