Fireflies and Henna - a short story

Random memory. Late May 2000, 8pm.

My arms are wrapped around my friend Edys' waist, while perched on the back of his battered white Vespa we speed around the village. Cutting a path through the hot muggy air, spotted with cool refreshing pockets where the mountainside looms close, we suddenly see lights. Hundreds of tiny fireflies, glowing and twinkling like magic fairies have appeared all around us. We stop and dance around with them, laughing like children until the fireflies drift off on an invisible current of air.


We climb back onto the Vespa and are transported up the hill, past the bar, along the serpent-like road until we pull up outside my small studio-apartment. Inside, Edy opens a bottle of wine while I pull bowls and spoons out of cupboards. I boil a pan of water, take a sip of wine and read the first few instructions on the packet of henna hair dye. I open the packet and we inspect the contents.

positano night.jpg

“Looks like dried leaves and mud to me” said Edy. I ignore him and pour the contents into the boiled water. Edy wants to help so I let him mix it up. He is right, it does look very much like mud and leaves. It reminds me of the 'mud-soup' I used to make in the back garden when I was small.

“You are really going to put this stuff on your hair?” Edy asks me, amusement bubbling in his voice.

“No, you are going to do it for me, I can't see if I leave gaps or not. It's easier for someone else to do.” 

We leave the mixture to cool for a while, and drink the wine, contemplating the task ahead. Outside the open balcony door the town is aglow with lights and the sea glitters with a trail of silver moonlight.

“How am I going to get it onto your hair?”

I hadn't thought of that. The solution we come up with is messy but gets the job done. I turn my head upside down over the bowl and lower my hair into it. Edy, wearing plastic bag gloves sellotaped onto his wrists, scoops up handfuls of the mud mixture and rubs it into my hair until the bowl is empty. I tip my head the right way up again, splattering flecks of henna onto everything in the vicinity.

Edy roars with laughter. My hair is a mud-coated, dreadlocked lions mane that is threatening to topple onto my face. I should have tipped my head back over the bowl, not forwards. It is also shedding dried pieces of henna all over the place. Edy fashions me a hat out of an old plastic bag and more sellotape. We drink some wine.

“So how long has this got to stay on for?” asks Edy.

I finish reading the instructions on the pack.

“Oh,” I say, “it says here 5-6 hours.” It was 9.30 pm.

“ What! No!” exclaims Edy, “what are we going to do for 6 hours? You're can't go out with a plastic bag on your head...can you?”

“We could go for a walk in the mountain,”I suggested, “we might find more fireflies.”

We went for a walk up the mountain, we didn't find any fireflies, but we sat for a while, a long while, and admired the view of Positano by night from high above. We sat there long enough for that moment to be forever ingrained in my memory. Every time I pass by that area my mind goes, ‘plastic bag head, bored Edy, henna, fireflies’…

Every now and then Edy commented on my plastic bag headwear. A couple of hours passed and we decided to give up. Edy went home, relieved to have escaped and surely determined never to offer his assistance as a hairdresser again and I went back to my flat to thoroughly wash my caveman style hair.

Nicki Positano