Snip snip snip. The monotonous sound of greasy, rusted scissors was driving her mind into a frenzy. This noise had been hammering away at her brain all day now. Scratch that. It had been this way since she started working in this dingy salon in Karachi five years ago. Five years of her life, she thought, had been spent in this suffocating room, surrounded by mirrors so faded they had stolen her reflection and blurred it. Five years. As she tried to focus on the work at hand, the faulty CD player sitting in a corner woke up with a start to blast the air with an obnoxious story of lost love. She tried to shut out the nauseating cacophony in her mind. Overhead, the rotating fans seemed more exhausted than her. She craved for a hint of cool air, but even the air conditioner, fitted into a wall with green paint chipping at odd intervals, was decidedly spraying warm water.
Snip snip snip. She looked down at the customer. The owner of the brassy blond hair being trimmed was chewing gum hypnotically as she flipped through pages of a foreign magazine. Perhaps this silly woman was dreaming of a love life, oblivious of the fact that romance was a luxury in this country, she thought. Here even the holding of hands between lovers was considered sacrilege. It didn’t matter if they had signed a mutual contract of lifelong commitment or not. Romance was something that could be read about, but hardly experienced.
She gazed at the face of this woman as she trimmed the uneven edges of her hair. She wondered how this woman spent her day. Did she toil all day in a small room reeking of hairspray, choking on freshly cut hair flying around? Did she get dizzy from the stench of wax? A smell so pungent, it could rob you of your senses and sanity. Did she walk into a job at ten every morning and leave at ten at night? Drained of the strength and the will to do anything besides curling up in bed; thoughts of a wasted life plaguing her all the while she lay awake.
Did she have to worry about a mother who was dependent on her measly salary or a father who wallowed all day in complacency? Did she have to ward off the sexual advances of a disgusting brother? Or cover her jeans and torn black t-shirt with a cloak? The stifling burqa, which hid her clothes, but did not protect her dignity. The cloak that did not save her from being pinched on the bus home; did not prevent tears from streaming down a face too weathered for a twenty-two year-old. Did she?
Probably not. Because this woman, now enjoying an article on dieting tips, did not have the weight of poverty bearing down upon shoulders barely old enough to hold their own. She did not belong to a family that refused to provide her with even an ounce of security.
Her thoughts once again turned to her parents. She realized she couldn’t blame them for who they were. Scrimping for money had reduced them to a point where they had given up trying to make themselves useful. They had become dependent completely on her. But this dependency hadn’t led to gratefulness. It had just paved the way for bitterness and more demands. She felt that one day she would be bereft of all drive, drained of all ambition. This is where she was headed. She could sense it, because life had refused to become better. It just kept getting worse.
Her father, a thin man with sallow, expressionless eyes and a mouth perpetually molded between a snicker and a frown, sat all day, planning schemes he wasn’t smart enough to execute while cursing all his blood relations, whomever he could remember, for his present destitution. His anger, rightfully upon himself, was never directed there. It manifested itself in his laziness and the outbursts, which became more frequent when told that an extra pack of cigarettes for him was a luxury they couldn’t afford or that food would be scant that week. Anger was all he possessed, and the delusion that one day he would become successful.
Her mother, a bitter woman, unlike her father, was ambitious, but never for herself. She wanted to wring out the ambitions of others and make them her own. She prided herself on being a master manipulator and spent all day either wallowing in self pity, or comparing each and every child in the neighborhood to her own failed offspring. It was a vicious cycle, one that could become as hypnotic as convincing. To her, her son was a failure but one who could at least pride himself on being born the right sex. After all, the world had always reminded her that a man is superior to a woman.
Snip snip snip. Once again, the movement of her fingers brought her back to the present. The blurry image of the woman in the mirror was frowning. The deep lines furrowing on her forehead were a sign of hell about to break loose. And even before she had put down the scissors, the screams began. The hair wasn’t cut right. The length was always too short. The treatment was always too harsh, the hairdresser always too distracted. The woman got up in a huff; picking up her brightly colored bag, with strange letters interspersed on its rugged skin, and walked to the manager.
She knew the routine by heart. The manager apologized, the woman made elaborate gestures of anger and disgust. It was always the same. In this place, it was never a haircut; it was a matter entrenched in emotions. The reactions of unsatisfied customers could easily be mistaken for scenes from a bad production of a theatrical tragedy.
She put the scissors down. No point in putting up a defense. It would lead to arguments that could never be won, and deductions from a salary, in which each penny was too precious, were unavoidable. She had learned that ego was a luxury of the distant past.
She began sweeping the hair off the floor, wishing she could sweep her numbness as easily into the garbage as well. She wiped the table and cleaned the utensils. The yelling subdued in her head, muffled by thoughts of doom.
Finally, the manager was upon her. The yelling now grew closer in proximity, but remained equally inaudible. She heard the taunts of losing her job, of being thrown onto the streets. They made no sense to her and she was used to them anyway. She kept about her business and once the yelling was over, she walked into the cleaning closet and shut the door behind her. She sat down, staring onto the chipping door, in the darkness, deaf to the rumbling of the blow dryer and the laughter of gossiping girls outside.
She wondered why she thought so long and hard about nothing. Why she sat there, among the stench of bleach and detergent, pondering over a life that had no such depth. She cursed her mind for creating thoughts, for giving her the power to think. Nothing positive had ever come from these musings. Nothing.
After all, what could be expected of a life that was average? She had nothing to be proud of. Things might have been different, she thought, if she had been pretty or intelligent. But she was not, and her existence didn’t mean anything to anyone. She had nothing to look forward to. Some might have said she was ungrateful, but she felt she could not muster gratitude when her mind refused to think beyond despair.
She wished her mind would shut down now, that her thoughts would stop hammering away at her brain with their torturous blows. The pain in her head was unbearable. She felt a cold sensation graze her fingers as the brown door began to blur. It moved gently first to the left then to the right, then left again, and right. She tried to steady herself, but it seemed impossible to focus. Something was crawling at her wrist.
As her head jerked to the left, her bloodshot, watery eyes could not make sense of the crimson tattoo, which had just appeared on her body. A bubbling red burst of liquid was frothing near her wrist, escaping the confines of her body through a narrow slash and desperately pooling by her side. As the monotonous sound in her head slowly faded away, the fingers of her right hand loosened. A pair of rusty scissors hit the cement floor with a clunk.
She looked at the stained instrument. The source of her income, the validation of her existence, lay beside her marked with her blood. These scissors were the reason she had been able to go home and avoid looks of intense disappointment from her father. The reason her mother had managed to limit her insults to just words. The reason her brother’s perverse intentions had chosen to vacate her mattress, finding her money more attractive than her body.
Today, the scissors were the reason it all came to an end. The reason she got away.