Twink Macaraig (The Philippine Star) - August 2, 2016 - 12:00am

My mother was completely gray by the time I was in 2nd Grade, but I would never have known it. It was her one vanity, keeping her bouffant a solid dark brown, courtesy of shade called 5a/24.  When it looked like the cosmetic company that made 5a/24 was closing down, my mother made sure that she would have ample reserves by making it her only pabilin for anyone she knew was going abroad. Considering that her preferred brand could be found in any corner drugstore (of course, drugstore. My famously frugal mother would never buy anything high-end for herself) and because practically everyone from the province of Capiz wanted to do something nice for her, Mama accumulated two decades-worth of stock. This she stretched for another 10 years by ignoring expiration dates and package recommendations for optimum water dilution. For emergency touch-ups, there was carbon paper.

I am nowhere near as fussy as my mother about hair color. I pretty much let the  TV5 guy, who does my hair and makeup, notify me that it’s been over a month since he last did my roots (code for there’s some gimmick that needs funding) and I pay him a small sum for a 45-minute session of Pa Kuwento and Pa Kulay in the makeup room.

But then one morning, even my presbyopic vision couldn’t help but notice the silver scattered liberally among the darks.  It occurred to me then that it had been over two months since Cesar last nagged me. For the first time, it was I who proposed a p*k-p*k session, to which Cezar cheerfully replied, “Ok Madame!” But the next day came and Cezar had prepared none of the implements — the clips, the cape, the purple goop. I reminded him that we would do it the next day instead. Cezar chirped, “Ok Madame!”

 But the next day passed, and the next. He offered no apology. Didn’t seem the least bit perturbed that he’d forgotten, and therefore had passed up an easy income opportunity. Had Cezar forsaken clubbing? Had Cezar come into some wealth? That he continued to work as a makeup artist in a non-showbiz environment and wear the style of varsity jackets worn by rap artists and characters in Archie comics told me he hadn’t. Why then was he breaking our time-honored ritual? Why was he defying “Madame”? 

When Cezar entered the makeup room, I shut the door behind him. Where before we would make eye contact via each other’s reflection in the wall-to-wall mirror, we looked at each other head-on — another first for us.   I saw fear in his saucer-sized pupils. In me, he probably saw the remnants of yesterday’s eyeliner. The gloves came off. 

Summoning all the Tagalog I could muster, I declared imperiously, “ Pues! Magtapatan tayo. Bakit ayaw mo akong kulayan? Aminin mo, Cezar! Di kita tatantanan!”

Cezar answered, “Madame, hindi puede sa ’yo magpakulay. Hindi! Bawal sa ’yo yan, Madame! As God is my witness!” He added, probably more for melodramatic effect than suitability to the situation, “Trabaho lang po ito. Walang personalan!”

Bakit bawal sa akin, Cezar? Alin ang bawal?

Di puede sa ’yo ang kemikals, Madame! Kelangan organic.” At this point, he went full-on Ate Guy; all moist-eyed deep-voiced quiet indignation. “Alam kong saging lang ang turing mo sa akin, Madame. Pero may puso ang saging.”

I imagined this was my cue to throw wine in his face, but there was none at hand. Besides, doing so would have cast me as the kontrabida in this confrontation when it was Cezar who was being ridiculous. Why-the-hell was he accusing me of treating him like a banana? Was saging gayspeak for a hopelessly silly person? (I found out only later that he was quoting a Lito Lapid movie).  I thought to try to explain to him that there IS such a thing as organic chemistry, but three years of reading news bulletins in Pilipino hadn’t sufficiently equipped me for the task.

“Cezar,” I finally say, “kung maipakita ko na pe-puwede naman pala ang kemikal sa mga may cancer, kukulayan mo ba nang tuluyan ang aking buhok?”

Cesar whispers hoarsely, “Keribels.

Sige, Cezar, sa lalong madaling panahon, bubuwagin ko ang katotohanan,” I promised.

I took the problem to the ICanServe E-group. I asked, “Should I be concerned about hair dyes?”  Here’s a sampling of the responses:

Hi Sis, I use herbal-based hair color, less ammonia, parabens, SLS, MSG (?!) It’s available at Healthy Options. Love, M.

Hi Sis, Ever since I was diagnosed in 2004, had six chemos and 28 radiations, I still had my hair dyed. I still dye my hair and have it highlighted, too. My take — if you look good, you feel good. Cheers, M.A.

Hi Twink, Dye/color your hair as usual. The FDA makes sure hair colorants are safe for human use. But I do have several reasons for just letting my hair turn grey. I don’t care how people look, and corollarilly, I don’t care what people may think about how I look. My husband didn’t marry me for my looks (although he’s recently deceased). Be well, C.

I consulted my walking buddy, Moi, a pesco-vegetarian and student of natural healing who’s developing her third eye (with which, I suspect, to spot more conspiracy theories). Moi believes that a cure for cancer has been developed, but suppressed by Big Pharma. She also calls the FDA the most corrupt government agency in the US. But, while Moi is familiar with Healthy Option’s ostensibly healthy option, she also says its instructions for use are impossibly tedious (“you’ll grow even more grey hair trying to figure them out”). Hence, she herself sticks to the nice and easy.   

So, the results of my cursory survey (even on the Net) leaned heavily in favor of a live-and-let-dye philosophy toward hair color for cancer patients. But I’ve decided against setting Cezar straight about that. 

I’ve come to realize that, by refusing to cover my roots, Cezar had gone out on a limb. He was acting against his self-interest. Such acts of caring you expect from friends, family, people with whom you shared an implicit understanding that they can expect the same from you. Not from someone whose role in your life was purely utilitarian. Someone that you’d pegged as ridiculous or silly.  Thus, when faced with a disproportionately altruistic gesture, it’s an eye-opener. Pati saging may puso. Ongapala.   

My daily goal now is to be a random casual acquaintance’s banana, even as I’m devising a way to give Cezar props for looking out for me. I’m thinking along the lines of giving him an organic hair dye (along with a jaunty wink) but I’m not sure that we can figure out how to apply it.

 In the meantime, my greys are lengthening, accumulating. And I find myself missing my mother, intensely. She, who could find common ground with seamstresses, farmers, artists and foreign dignitaries alike. Who held the entire municipality of Mambusao in her thrall so that we, her children, and our children, during the occasional hometown reunion, still feel the goodwill she left behind. I miss Mama, who  passed away before I could appreciate the precious lessons she had to impart:  on compassion, kindness, humanity, and, all the creative uses of carbon paper.

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For feedback email t.mac2303@gmail.com.

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