She put up with it, year after year.
In spring, they pointed, laughed at the first few sporadic hairs, bright green in the watery sunlight. That passed quickly, and soon her scalp was covered in short fuzz. Still green, but better than being bald at eleven years old. As the season lengthened, strangers whispered on buses, pointing at the odd girl with green curls.
Summer was better. The colour deepened, a less vibrant, living shade. There were whispers still, but fewer, far fewer. It could have been dyed, making her no worse than unconventional. The biggest problem was length. It grew fast, resisting attempts to cut it back, and reached almost to her ankles by September.
Autumn, of all the seasons, was her favourite. Her hair changed to normal colours, colours that matched other people’s heads. By turns, she was red and brown and blonde, but always within the usual limits. The relief from stares and comments was wonderful – she didn’t even mind how curly and unmanageable it got.
Winter was awful. People knew, somehow, that there was something wrong with her. No one ever assumed that she was ill, worthy of sympathy. She was an outcast, something people sneered at passing by, something children followed home jeering. People were cruel – they edged away from her on buses, crossed the street when they saw the barren dome of her head.
She stopped attending school in winter. School was where bullies hunted, where teachers turned a blind eye. Putting on her uniform gave her panic attacks. Her parents thought it kinder to let her stay at home, her bald head bent over books on botany. The pictures of growing plants soothed her, made her confident her hair would return.
At Christmas, encouraged by her mother, she went to see the lights being turned on. It was a mistake. She ran home, tears freezing on her cheeks, pelted by the village children’s snowballs.
Her hair came late that spring. Long into February, her scalp was bare. No green shoots, no short fuzz. Only at the beginning of March did anything begin to grow.
But when it grew, it grew fast. Thick green locks that twined and twisted around her, inches longer every morning. And on these stems sprouted curved black thorns, cutting the air around her when she turned her head.
There were some whispers, quickly cut off, when she returned to school. A few, slow on the uptake, tried to continue the teasing, the antagonising of past years. Lines of blood beading irritating hands taught them to stay clear. Her hair was brambles, cutting and catching, threatening to snarl and tangle anything that came close.
Waist-long and still growing, a wall against the world. She was left alone.
Brambles don’t die in winter. They wither, grow brittle, but keep a thread of life. Through that winter, she had hair. Dry, brown, dangerous hair. No one mocked, no one threw anything. She did not cry.
In spring, once, her hair was the fresh green of new growth. In summer, the deep green of long days in the sun. Autumn brought scarlet and gold, an ever-changing tapestry of colour. But now, spring or summer, there are always thorns.