Editor's note: In the mid-1900s, barbers visited rural Mexican villages to purchase long braids that could be used to make wigs. When such a barber comes to Erandi's town, it leads to a family dilemma.
"Erandi," Mama said, "what do you want for your birthday?"
Erandi wanted the doll, but she knew she couldn't have both the doll and a dress. She pointed to a yellow dress, the same color as the doll's.
"Maybe next year we can buy you a doll," Mama said as she paid for the dress.
After they left the shop, Mama turned to Erandi and said, "Now we will go to the barber shop."
Erandi caught her breath. My hair! So that is how Mama is going to get the money for a new net. She is going to sell my braids. Erandi shivered at the thought of the barber cutting off her braids. But she didn't say anything to Mama.
They reached Miquel's Barber Shop and went inside.
The line of women moved slowly, and Erandi's heart pounded as she and Mama reached the front.
"Next person!" the barber called out.
Gazing at the enormous scissors in his hand, Erandi felt her knees tremble. But before she could move, Mama walked to the chair and sat down.
I should have known Mama would never sell my hair, Erandi thought as she watched the barber wrap a white apron around her mama's shoulders and measure her hair.
"Your hair is not long enough," she heard the barber say.
Her mama's face reddened with embarrassment. Without a word, she got out of the chair and took Erandi's hand. As they turned to leave, the barber noticed Erandi's braids. "Wait," he called out. "We will buy your daughter's hair."
Mama whirled around. "My daughter's hair is not for sale," she said proudly. Then she felt the pull of Erandi's hand and looked down.
"Si, Mama, we will sell my braids," Erandi whispered.
"No, mi hija," Mama said. "You don't have to sell your hair."
But Erandi let go of her hand and walked toward the chair. The women stared as she climbed up onto the seat.
The barber measured her braids and picked up his scissors. Erandi closed her eyes. Her hands turned cold when she felt the metal scissors rub against her face and neck and she heard the sharp snip snip.
The barber moved to the second braid and Erandi's eyes filled with tears. But she dared not cry. Instead she asked the barber, "Senor, will my hair grow back?"
"Of course! It will grow just as long and pretty as before," he told her.
Erandi kept her eyes shut until the barber had finished. Then she opened them slowly and looked in the mirror. Her hair reached just below the bottom of her ears.
Out on the street, the air was cold on the back of her neck. How strange it felt without her hair. Mama walked beside her, not saying a word. Only the hollow clapping of her huarches broke the silence of the cobblestone streets.
Finally, Erandi peeked at her mama's face and saw she was crying. "Forgive me, Erandi, I shouldn't have let you sell your hair," Mama sobbed, wiping her face with an old handkerchief.
"Your hair was the longest and most beautiful of all," her mama said.
Erandi paused for a moment, then asked shyly, "Mama, did they pay you enough to buy a new net?"
"!Si Mi Hija! They paid us more than I expected. We can buy a new net and the doll you wanted," she gave Erandi a big smile, and Erandi never felt happier.
Then Mama took Erandi's hand in hers, and as the last rays of the sun lit up the rooftops, they turned and went back to the square to buy Erandi's doll.
From ERANDI'S BRAIDS by Antonio Hernandez Madrigal. Text Copyright c 1999 by Antonio Hernandez Madrigal. Illustrations c 1999 by Tomie dePaolo. Reprinted by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers.