Short story: Split ends

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

By Zanele Chisholm

Island soda bottle caps catch the tail ends of my hair. Single-stranded knots slipping through the wide-tooth comb. Each ridge creates a split, tugging up ropes of cotton-sheathed hair until hitting the root. Stubborn and unburdened by slabs of shea butter and aloe, it loosens. Lumps of crip-walking crimps piling into the sky above me. 

Falling always seemed to be a trait of beauty I could never possess. 

Carved out of the burning bush fable,

 a cavewoman. 

My split ends hanging like the branches of a willow tree. 

Laboured into brown skin. My daughter birthed in vertical. Ukomelela. Resilience. A steady bloom from Blackness. 

The rear-view mirror feels unreliable as I signal right before turning into Sally’s Beauty Supply parking lot. 

  • Wide-tooth comb
  • Leave-in conditioner
  • Jamaican black castor oil

I wanted to come here with Uko before she left. She’s always been better at these kinds of things.


“Ewe, mama. But you’ve got to learn to take care of yourself!”. Her laugh was brilliant and comfortable against her tongue, taking up all of her lips as she parted my hair. 

“I feed you. Your fullness feeds me.” My tongue struggled to push out the syllables burning in this strange language. I had never gotten used to it the way Uko said I would. Endings and beginnings slipping out of place as I worked to make meaning of things I didn’t always want to understand.

I parked in the third row from the front, in a spot closest to the road. Unbuckling my seat belt I looked once in the mirror and then again waiting for it to tell me where to go next.

Come on, mama! Quit staring at your reflection, it ain’t gon change.” Ukomelela was standing outside the front seat car door, attitude perched on her waist as she waited on me.

“You sure it looks alright?” My hands patted the top of my hair as if to soothe it. 

“Ewe, mama. I promise. Now come on, we’re going to be late.” She opened my car door, pulling me into the cold. 

My arm reached into the backseat for my purse. 

The car is still full of things she needs to pick up. 

“Miscellaneous. I’ll get them next time, mama.” 

Miss-cell-lane-eee-us? Pride can be found in the ways a mother no longer understands her daughter. 

The store lights flicker in the darkness with a certainty that they will always carry brightness that way. I once shone with that same certainty. When I became a mother, I promised to give everything beautiful I found in this life to my daughter. I became a collector of love and things, learning the ways of gathering through my mother. Reaping and Resilience, an immigrant mother’s heirloom. 

 I opened the car door on my own this time. 

  • Wide-tooth comb
  • Leave-in conditioner
  • Jamaican black castor oil

My mother told me that she felt a part of herself die the day I left home. And it was true that stitches sewn into my skin by women who belonged to the beginnings of life would be undone in the age after motherhood.

I still remember the first time my daughter called out my name. Saphila. Still alive. Out from the shadows, it seemed to have been hiding for years. 

Zanele Chisholm is a 20-something, English student living in Toronto. As an artist, Zanele writes to weave the intersections of her identity as a queer Black woman into storytelling that captures her experiences living in a historically resistant and resilient body with movement. She also writes to create exciting, complex, and encouraging depictions of what the future can look like for marginalized folks.

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