“Dos Trensas/Two Braids”
by Keicha Kempsey
here is nothing to disguise the lies as efficiently as more lies. Her hair was dark, almost black, and thick, coarse. It took hours to comb though the waist length mane. By the time the chocolate-colored, old, weathered hands finished braiding it, bedtime was upon them. Two ponytails this time, tightly held at either side of her head by strips of colorful rags made to look like hair ribbons, fashioned from old worn clothing that even when new to her had been second-hand. Or more than likely, third or fourth-hand. Usefulness did not have an expiration date. The young girl could feel the tugging of the hair ribbons pinching. Her head was throbbing but she dared not complain. That old hard-leather chancleta would be off her grandmother’s callused foot and connecting with her flat backside with a swiftness that defied the old lady’s age.
“Alright, get up,” she was told, brusquely, in Spanish, of course. The hands that had held her close just seconds ago shoving her away. Quietly, she collected the brush and comb as well as the pomade that had travelled all the way from the home country, Dominican Republic. She gathered the hair that had been pulled out of her head in the process as well. The broken brown kinky curls a knotted ball in her skinny hand. She put everything back in its place and tossed her ripped out hair in the bathroom garbage.
She looked in the bathroom mirror, an old medicine cabinet that hung in front of the bathroom window, nailed to the frame, ensuring the window would never be opened. A blank gaze stared back at her. She was tall, gangly, homely looking. And now, thanks to the two extremely tight braided ponytails at either side of her oval head, her prominent forehead was resplendent. She wanted to undo them, wanted to rip the ridiculous ribbons from her head and flush them down the toilet. But she would not. She dared not. She did as she was told. Always had. So what if she was eleven years old and her grandmother still combed her hair. She was okay with it. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought or said.
A silent tear trekked down her caramel cheek and disappeared into her thin lips. She swiped angrily at her face, puffed out her chest and went to bed in the room she shared with her thirty year old virgin aunt. There were three beds in the room. One single bed, a captain’s bed in unfinished wood which belonged to her aunt. Then there were bunk beds. She slept in the top bed and the bottom was a catchall. Or, if someone came to visit, as long as they were female, it was a guest bed. She climbed up to her bed, said a silent prayer and slept.
* * *
“Why don’t you try turning your head a little to the left and tilting your head up?” The man behind the camera tried to find her “good side.” He had been at it for five minutes already, and she was becoming increasingly stiff, not comfortable, with his every suggestions. Everyone else in her class was waiting. They had already taken their class picture and their individual pictures. She glanced over at her teacher, her eyes searching, asking for help, for the pain to stop. Mrs. Diaz smiled at her, recognizing the pained look. It was the same one she gave in class when called upon to answer a question or read aloud. Mrs. Diaz walked over to the photographer and whispered in his ear. He frowned instantly, but nodded.
He turned to me once again and offered me a furtive smile. “One more?” I glanced at Mrs. Diaz. She nodded. I forced a smile on my lips, tilted my head slightly to the left and stuck my chin out defiantly, my two braided ponytails, with their colorful mismatched ties, hanging at either side of my head like heavy burdens.
 House slipper
Keicha Delacruz-Kempsey lives in New York with her husband and two young children. She teaches high school English and Spanish in a public school. She received her undergraduate degree from The City College of New York, a master’s degree in teaching from Empire State College and a second master’s degree in English Literature from SUNY New Paltz.