Nails, hair, hips, pray

*Trigger warning: blades/sharp objects*

There was always something about nail polish that caught my attention. My nana (my mother’s mother) was a fabulous woman whose uniform was her drawn-on black eyebrows and her bold ruby lips. Occasionally she would dip into her assorted collection of nail polish. Whenever her sisters used to visit from the western realms they would stock her up with nail polish and vitamins. 

After her shower, Nana would get her polish out and a handful of cotton buds to catch any mistakes. I would watch in pure awe, this ritual of a glamorous woman, definitely not attainable to a little brown Sri Lankan boy. This little brown Sri Lankan boy would sweat beads even being in the same room as Nana indulging in her glamour, as I did not wish to give my father more hints that I am not like other boys. I had already heard my grand-aunties ‘advising’ my mother and nana that they are turning me into a sissy. 

My mother thought very highly of her aunt’s opinions, so I didn’t want to further add to their file of evidence. 

This particular memory only very recently came out of my cupboard of skeletons. I am finding that since I have allowed my soul to feel more than a very surface level of feeling, the most random instances trigger very particular memories. I can’t articulate which web of thought led to which memory but I hope you can relate. Essentially, I have a very loud mind and I am constantly in a state of being overwhelmed. 


On one particular very humid afternoon in nana’s house, which was perched down a very narrow squiggly lane populated with houses in a collage of pastel colours, I was in need of an afternoon nap. Nana’s room was the coolest (in terms of temperature) so I would often retreat there for a snooze between coordinating some very exhausting play sessions (I am the oldest grandchild). I tossed and turned in her bed but I could not bring myself to doze off. 

I looked up and nanas’ church attire was hanging up by the window, all pressed and paired together with her accessories for the next day. The afternoon sun glimmered through the lace and gave life to the sateen detail in her skirt, it was almost like a wedding dress hung up ready for the photographer to grab the moment before the nervous bride slips it on. 

I wondered, “What nail polish will she pair with it? Surely a deep maroon to contrast the pastel (yes, these were the thoughts of a seven-year-old).” I proceeded to sift through her collection and thought maybe I could save her the time and pick one for her. This was the excuse I had planned in mind if I were to be caught red-handed. 

Since I had come this far, I convinced myself that it was safe for me to try on one of the reds on my own nails. I had absolutely no clue as to how I was going to take the polish off. 

I painted my tiny nails away while I hummed tunes from The Sound of Music. I got off the bed and pranced around in the dark room only lit by what was now an orange hue across the floor. As a kid I developed this habit of transporting my mind and body to otherworldly scenarios where I was the main character in the movie, leading the charge of fellow citizens in song and dance. 

I was snapped out of my dreamscape and sunken back into reality when I noticed my parents had come back from a trip of errands. I scrambled to find a rag to remove the polish while beads of sweat rolled down my back and forehead. My wee gay heart was beating out of my ribs and my palms were no longer useful as I ran across nana’s room looking for nail polish removal devices (I had no idea that the solution was acetone).

The rest of the story is a bit blurry as the anxiety of my dad finding out I wore nail polish scared me to the depths of my being. I vaguely remember using a razor and a blunt knife to scrape it off desperately, after this did not work I grabbed nana’s Bible and proceeded to pray intensely while rocking in a fetal position. 

I prayed the polish away but deep in my heart, I knew I was praying the gay away.

I don’t recall much else, just that I fell asleep curled up in a ball. There are a few memories now with deep holes in them. Moments where I genuinely cannot remember how the story ends. But what I do remember is the deep anxiety and *gay* panic I felt before a pivotal moment.

Published by Shawn Wimalaratne


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