The moult

Knowing every single one of us had to go through it didn’t make it any more pleasant when it actually happened. I’d seen it a handful of times already, usually to a senior student, and you could always tell when it was happening, despite any effort on their part to hide it. There was no dispute, getting the moult sucked

The first signs of trouble would appear when a speckly teen, all gangly-limbed and budding with potential, would go from standing up tall with a defiant attitude to slinking around with their head down, avoiding eye contact. They’d become irritable, moody and slam doors for no apparent reason. Like a lit fuse, they’d spark and threaten any authority figure they could find. Prodding, poking and pushing the invisible boundaries and the unwritten rules that we’re all supposed to follow, until, without warning they’d explode into a raging tyrant and declare in a loud, angry voice no-one is the boss of me! 

Parents are collateral damage in this teenage transition, often bearing the brunt of swinging temperaments and then left to pick up the pieces. Mums and Dads at their wits’ end, talk in hushed voices in the lounge, afraid to be heard over the deafening modern music coming from their child’s bedroom. They’d glance over their shoulders before quietly asking each other, were we that bad when we moulted? Surely not! This would then roll into a misguided attempt to relate to their adolescent, and smooth the transition in some way. Bewildered and trepidatious themselves, parents would inch into the teen’s bedroom, sit down on the brink of the rumpled dirty bedspread and try to talk about what was going on. To their offspring’s absolute horror, they would start to describe their own moulting experiences, using all the old-age clichés about how it was ‘normal’ to feel different and that their body was changing. This would routinely result in the teen groaning, rolling their eyes and putting their fingers in their ears, pleading to please change the subject!  

There were a few tricks people would try to conceal the moult, but these were usually pretty easy to spot. Johnny Wilkons had used a strategically placed cap, pulled down low over his head so the only hair you’d see would be sticking out by his big ears like tufts of fur. As soon as he was on school property though, some nit-picky teacher would spot him and tell him to remove it, citing the school dress code with a certain glee. Johnny would sneer before reluctantly ripping the hat from his head, revealing those tell-tale streaks of red, yellow and brown that peppered his usual jet black hair. A few weeks later, those streaks were replaced with bald patches, giving good ol’ Johnny’s head a chequered football look. 

Angela Bryan had tried a different tactic when the moult hit her last April. It was more effective than Johnny’s cap, but only from a distance. The rumour had spread pretty quickly through the school corridors, passed hotly from student to student in a never ending chain of whispers. You see, someone had spotted Angela at the pharmacy on the weekend. They said she’d been in the cosmetics aisle looking shifty and checking to see no one was looking before stuffing a couple boxes of L’Oreal hair cream into her basket. No amount of hair dye would save her though – even if the colour she’d chosen was pretty close to her natural brown. Why? Well Angela had forgotten a little trick, vaseline along the hairline to keep it from staining her skin. All along her forehead, dotting her ears and the sides of her neck were dark splotches of dye. The wonky brown lines framed her usually pretty face, making her look gawky and cartoonish. The jig was up, we all knew she was transitioning from kid to adult now, and a dye job (even a good one) would only save you until it all fell out anyway. 

Some kids don’t mess around with any tactics or schemes. They don’t wait for the shifting of colours, receding hairlines and patchwork pattern baldness, oh no. These kids are a ‘grab the bull by the horns’ kind of troop and go all in as soon as a single strand of hair starts to turn. In an act of defiance, they simply grab their Dad’s electric hair clippers and shave their whole head in one go. Number one buzz-cut if you please!  

So when I spotted the little ginger strand sprouting from my temple in the mirror this morning, I sucked a breath in between my teeth. Immediately, I rummaged frantically through the top drawer in the bathroom and grabbed my mascara. Pinching the hair with my thumb and index finger, I ran the mascara brush back and forth along it until the strand was the colour of soot. I exhaled, relaxing a little. Turning my head slowly from side to side, I ran my eyes over every inch of my head, looking for any other signs of my impending transition. I came up clean. Tomorrow I might not be so lucky. 

Looking at my reflection again, I wondered how long it would take for my moult to kick into high gear. It was ok, I told myself, I had planned for this. I had several new hats stashed away in the top of my closet and Sophie Turner said she had some leftover hair cream I could use if I needed it. It would be fine. 

Screwing the cap slowly back onto the mascara, I opened the drawer and placed the tube inside, carefully positioning it right next to the sleek black handle of the electric hair clippers. Y’know, just in case.

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