I like to think that I’m pretty good to animals. I’m vegetarian, although not vegan (one word: CHEESE) and although I would never dream of being preachy about it (OK guys, I’m being preachy. EVERYONE BECOME VEGETARIAN YOU FLESH EATING HEATHENS), I like to think I’m doing my bit for the environment, but I am no devout Jain, sweeping away the bugs in front of me to avoid causing harm to another sacred life. Oh no, there comes a point when an animal’s inalienable right to exist, happy and free from human interference, simply has to be overruled; when a line must be drawn in the sand and boundaries enforced.
And that time, my friends, comes when the fauna in question is LIVING ON MY HEAD.
I like to think I embody the Hindu principle of ahimsa in my daily life, or at least I, um, try to. Sort of, most of the time (don’t tell anybody about the prawn crackers. Surely they don’t contain real prawns though, right?) But when it comes to head lice, I ain’t no Gandhi.
Perhaps it’s the bitter experience of the Great Nit Epidemic of 2003, when my status as neither a teacher nor a parent, nor anyone who had any kind of contact with young children at that time, left me ill-prepared and in denial of the fact that yes, you can get nits at any time and at any age, even when you are twenty-three and not in possession of any young charges.
And so I was, dare I say it slightly better prepared when the proverbial itchy head returned with a vengeance sometime last week.
This time, I promised myself, this time I will be better. This time I will be prepared. This time I will not remain in denial until it gets to the point where an acquaintance can actually lean over and pick a louse big enough to go to work from the teeming mass of my riddled head, following a night spent in feverish nightmares of tearing vermin from my hair while I scratch incessantly. This time things will not get to that point. Something has to be done.
And so it was that I found myself in the local branch of Boots, five minutes before closing time, with every employee they had lined up at the tills, studying my face expectantly.
“Can I help you?” they trilled, clearly having caught a whiff of the sweet smell of hometime hanging in the air and anxious to get shot of me, the pesky customer who just has to inconveniently walk in five minutes before closing. I caught sight of the dreaded Special Shampoo displayed prominently on the shelf behind them and wondered if The Nit Treatment still smelt like the waste product of a chemical plant with a poor health and safety record. Why couldn’t it be on the regular shelf with the regular things, like nappies and toothpaste? Why did it have to be there, so that I had to ask for it, and would therefore henceforth be known as The Village Nit Head, the One With The Nits. Were people going to start crossing the road when they saw me as though I was some sort of leper, or one of those enthusiastic youngsters in the charity-branded macs who harass people for their bank details? Was I going to be branded with the word “Unclean” on my forehead and forced to wear a bell around my neck to warn people of my approaching parasite-riddled noggin? WHY DID I HAVE TO GO TO MY LOCAL BRANCH?
Willing the ground to open up and swallow me whole, I desperately looked towards another customer who had suddenly appeared behind me with armfuls of sanitary towels. Maybe they could serve her first? That looks like an urgent situation there.
Almost as I opened my mouth to make the suggestion I realised that she was in fact an employee and about to replenish the shelves.
“Um, I’m looking for something for…for…” (voice drops to a whisper) “Head lice.”
It could be worse I suppose. It could be pubic lice.* And at least I have a child with me, so I can blame him if necessary.
I haven’t told my mother, of course. After an hour spent combing my hair with one of those steel combs that look as though they’ve just been dug out of an archeological excavation site full of the plague-ravaged bodies of medieval peasants while Piglet tears the bathroom to pieces, I decide that this is one that I just need to ride out alone. I need to woman up, prove that I can do this. I am mother, hear me roar. And besides, I have a sneaking feeling that my mother will blame me for my own misfortune. Too much swishing the hair, which by the way is too long, despite being only shoulder length. You should have it all cut off like a sensible mother would. You brought it upon yourself, you with your teaching job and your tendency to take public transport. You probably put up a sign on the Louse version of AirBnB, inviting the little critters in, offering free bed and board and an all you can eat buffet of juicy blood. And look, now you’ve probably gone and infected Piglet too, and his cherubic little head of wispy golden angel hair is going to be full of parasites sucking his sweet little baby blood. How could you, you monstrous excuse for a parent!
Two washes it has been. Two washes of the Special Shampoo, which thank the Lord is no longer like dousing one’s hair with strychnine, but these days has more of a baby oil-like consistency that makes it undeniably more pleasant to apply, but a nightmare and a half to wash off, and you end up going into work with your hair pinned tightly back, not only to avoid inadvertently infecting half of Bristol, but so that you don’t look like you’ve suddenly forgotten how to actually shower and have people start avoiding you and holding their noses as you approach. Two washes, seven days apart, and hopefully the uninvited guests have slung their hook, had their final slice of my scratchy flesh, and departed for that great big head in the sky. It might not have rivalled the Louse Genocide of 2003 (and thank goodness for that) but it was epic, people, and I for one am glad it’s over.
Now I can go back to embodying my usual principle of ahimsa.
*IT ISN’T. Just to make that clear.