She appeared about a week ago, pushing a cart carrying all worldly possessions. She wears a traditional Indian sari of pink and purple every day. She is big and bold and has skin the color of the inside of an almond. Her brown curly hair is meticulously curled or twisted. This is the new homeless woman on my street.
I live on a street where the homeless fade in and out during the day and usually disappear at night. I guess this is probably the case in all areas where homeless day shelters exist.
The first time I saw this mysterious woman I was driving to work. As I passed the familiar surroundings, one thing stood out. A woman of great stature emerging from behind an abandoned lot wearing a vibrant pink and purple sari. I slowed down wondering where she’d come from, whether she’d slept in the bushes behind the area that was once a gas station and how long she’d been homeless. Since then I’ve seen her everyday. As I sat at a stop light another day, I got a good look at the mysterious woman. This is a woman someone knows, I thought to myself. She is someone’s aunt, sister, maybe even someone’s mother. Her skin is flawless.
My most recent look at the woman came yesterday as I headed home and there she was at a nearby bus stop, talking to a police officer, her cart beside her. It was not until then that I noticed the two strand twists she was sporting. I went to the grocery store and then to get an ice cream cone and she and the policeman were still there talking at the bus stop. And I began to wonder what was happening. Had someone called the police to report her as trespassing? Had she stolen a piece of bread from the local 7 Eleven? I wanted to know. The policeman knows this woman’s story and I do not.
The other issue is that hair and that outfit. It is obvious that despite this stranger’s circumstances, her hair is still her crown and glory. I wonder if she keeps some type of product in her cart. If she’ll ever be able to go into a Target and purchase it again. Then there is the purple and pink ensemble. Of all the things to be thrown out on the street in, who could ever hope for something so regal.
The reality is that this woman is homeless. Black. Natural. She walks this road with much dignity. If I ever got a chance, I’d ask her something, though right now, I’m not sure what. All of it would be against anything my mother would ever advise me to do, but I’m a firm believer that one woman’s story is another woman’s wake-up call, aha moment, “come to Jesus” moment.
The other reality is that it is the small things, like being able to style hair, that humanizes us. When those small things are stripped of people, as they often are of homeless people, others who still have such luxuries begin to see us as less human. It’s not right, but it’s true. While some may say, “Why are you concerned with homeless women’s hair?, my answer is the same reason I’m concerned with any woman’s hair. And that is because it is not just about the way you look, it is about how you feel about the way you look. Homeless or living in a mansion, low self-esteem works to suppress ambition and dreaming. It will bring any woman down. As Jill Scott once said, “Way down low, with no heels on.” No heels is fine, but feeling lowly due to lack of knowledge of your own self-worth should be unacceptable. So yes, I think that just as we seek to feed and shelter homeless women, we must also seek to bring forth and show them their beauty. Under those hand-me-downs is a beautiful body and no one deserves having to walk around with matted hair.
So maybe I’ll make it a point that Hair Say will bring hair products to the masses at shelters. Little girls in shelters with their mothers still need scalp greasing and hair detangled.