One of the surest signs that you’re getting old is when you go to a restaurant for dinner, and the first thing out of your mouth is, “Oh my God, why is it so dark in here? I can’t even read this menu!”
The other surest sign is when you go to Guardian to pick up some toothpaste and find yourself lingering in the hair-colour section trying to work out the difference between L’Oreal Superior Preference and Garnier Nutrisse Cream.
“Welcome to our world,” Amanda said the other day in the kitchen. “I’ve been colouring my hair since I was 19. I really have no idea what my natural hair colour is.”
Saffy frowned, her eyes rolling up towards the ceiling as she thought.
“But,” she began, “but, won’t it be the same colour as your pu…” Her voice was drowned out by the juice processor that I’d instantly switched on. Amanda and I walked out.
“It’s incredible how low class she is,” Amanda sighed as she strode with determined strides towards her bedroom, while I retreated to the bathroom to morosely inspect the two strands of grey fringe hair that had literally appeared overnight over my right eye-brow.
“How is this possible?” I muttered to myself, leaning closer to the mirror and wondering if I should pull them out. At the back of my head, my mother’s voice rose up through the years.
I remember a scene in my parents’ bathroom. I can’t have been more than seven at the time. My father is seated on a kitchen stool with a plastic sheet around him while Mother circles him with a short wet brush that she strokes on his glossy damp hair.
“Will you please stop fidgeting?” Mother scolds. “If any of this dye gets onto your forehead, it won’t be my fault, I promise you that!”
My father sighs the same sigh he does whenever he opens mail from the credit card company and his eyes roll down the documentary proof of his wife’s extravagant retail expeditions.
“What’s wrong with white hair?” he murmurs. “It’s natural!”
Mother snorts as she dabs more colour to his crown. “So is farting, but you don’t see me doing that in public, do you?”
“May-ling, that makes absolutely no sense at all,” Father begins.
“Crooked teeth are natural,” Mother goes on, blissfully unaware of the fact that there is another party to the conversation. “But it’s why we spend thousands of dollars at that no-good dentist brother of yours, so that when we open our mouths, people don’t drop their chopsticks in fright!”
“But once you start, you have to keep doing it forever!” Father says, his voice rising into a bleat. “Maybe I should just pluck out the white hairs for now!”
Mother sucks in her breath at this follicle heresy. “You cannot pluck! Are you mad? You pluck one and five more pop up!”
“But I don't want to spend the rest of my life getting my hair coloured!”
“Well, I certainly hope you don’t expect me to be doing it for the rest of your life!” my mother says sharply. “You can go to the hairdresser after this!”
From the way Father is blinking rapidly, you can tell an anxiety attack is just a conditioning rinse away.
As it turned out, my father has, for years, sported a lovely crown of soft black hair that, in certain lighting conditions, morphs into a becoming shade of brown. Mother says he is the envy of all their friends and the other men at the club. “They can’t believe he’s only 60!” she said triumphantly once.
I cocked my head. “How can he be 60,” I began, “if he was born in 19…Hello? Hello? I can’t believe it!” I told Saffy. “My mother just hung up on me!”
“I would have done the same too,” Saffy replied coolly. “You are just so pedantic! You’ve never met an exaggeration that you’ve not tried to correct!”
“That is so not true!” I said. “What about that time when…oh…I see,” I trailed off in the glare of Saffy’s triumphant look.
Right now, I’m still toying with the idea of colouring my hair. The practical part of me says it’s best to do it now when I only have two grey strands and that if I waited too long, it would be too obvious to suddenly show up at a party with a full head of black hair.
But there’s a part of me that resists because it can still remember the look on my father’s face all those years ago in his bathroom. It was a dawning realization that he was no longer young and, to my horror, I recognize that look now in my own reflection.