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   2nd Prize-Fiction      

Aponi Kafele

Aponi Kafele is a 13-year-old queer writer, singer, artist, and music enthusiast. She is an avid believer in Black girls’ intrinsic magic, beauty, and dignity. From her home in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, NYC, she writes short stories, poems, and essays on the topics of both queer and Black experiences, fantasy, beauty, and whatever else she pleases. She dreams of living a life surrounded by art and getting her mother the butler she wants.

Good Hair by Aponi Kafele

My neck cramps and the ironing board is stiff against my cheek. As soon as this pressing heat is over, I will stun and dazzle all the aunties and cousins at the family reunion tonight. I have been burning and burning since birth. I am the cutting of dead ends that always stretch too many inches; tender-headed as always, I initiate an amateur straightening job while Mama is away. The steam the iron has sighed into the air smells half like coconut from the pressing oil I snatched from Mama's cabinet and half like castor oils and buttery shampoos. The makings of hours of rubbing and massaging soapy suds in the shower and braiding my hair in the foggy bathroom mirror blossom into sweet-smelling smoke that stings my eyes. 


I press my cheek further into the ironing board; my small fist grips the iron, and I ignore the cramp in my neck. I've parted my hair as accurately as a blind man could; I reach back behind my head to tug at a section of detangled frizz. Popping it free from the butterfly clip and laying it down on the ironing board like you might position a head for the guillotine. I press down the iron and oppress my curls with heat and steam and pressure. I am coal, and every Wednesday between my mother's legs, I become aspirations of a diamond. Chasing the shine and silky smooth of the hair of light-skinned supermodels that laugh at me from the magazines from Ms. Rodriguez’s hair salon. Commercials say I'm like a geode that must be cracked open and splintered to reveal any gem. Only when I have struggled in a way that has broken me apart into more manageable pieces am I beautiful.


I pull the iron off my hair and set it upright. After rising up, I crack every bone in my dark body, toes, thick fingers, long neck, knees smothered with cocoa butter, like a machine that should have stayed dead, springing back to life again. I run my hands through my new hair; it feels smooth and soft to the touch. It catches the sun leaking from the windows. I ruffled my hair in excitement before looking down at thin strands, like a silk garment unraveling at the seams that had flaked off of my head, clinging to my hand. The strands falling with feathery grace to the carpet below, my cheeks heat up, and I run to the bathroom. 


Breaking open the door, I pick up the stepstool from the wall, go up on my tiptoes, and stare into the vanity mirror.  I obsess over the thinness at the base of my scalp, hands dancing centimeters away from my head and face, shaking and gesturing as if I am trying to cast a spell. But the little boys and girls who ride broomsticks and hide in strangers' wardrobes in my fantasy books don't look like me. They have no potion that will stifle the tears welling up in my wide almond eyes, that will stop thin strands of hair from falling to the bathroom floor like the first snow. It's then I know what they say is true, not the whispers of the neighbor whose house Mama skips when giving out pumpkin pies to the neighborhood for Christmas. But the meaning of the hands that grab for my curls, the snickers Mama is racked with when I'm late to school and haven't had the time to "fix" my crown, wild, reaching up like sunflowers facing the sky. 

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