As far as she can recall, she has been a nail biter. But she does not remember people commenting on it in a mean way; neither her parents seemed to pay attention to it. She was playing the piano as an after-school hobby, and having short nails was important and common in her music school. Many girls she knew from the music school had short, bitten nails – some much worse-looking than hers.
But she always dreamt of having long nails! She knew and very much liked a flower called nogotok. “Little nail” was its nickname in Russian (Calendula officinalis in Latin). It is an orange or bright yellow flower whose petals resemble the shape of a nail – thus the nickname. Her family would sometimes dry the flower as a herbal medicine for making tea because of its assumed antibiotic qualities.
If you looked at the flower carefully, you would find petals of different sizes – from very narrow and short to long and wide ones – so as if made for all the different fingers of one’s hand.
Thus, occasionally, in summers, she was in the first years of primary, when the flower would be in full bloom, she would pick it and start separating petals, deciding which ones fit or don’t fit her finger and nail shape. She would then carefully “glue” the most-fitting ones onto her nails by moistening each fitting petal with saliva and gently pressing it against the nail. The most demanding part of the exercise was to use her left-hand to fit petals on the right hand, so the labour required time and skill. The joy of long, bright nails was a short one – the petals would soon fall off when the saliva dried out. She moved her hands very carefully, slowly, making sure that she is not touching anything that would remove the petals from her fingers. It was a balancing act of trying to behave naturally and at the same time, making sure that her fingers would not engage in any ‘dangerous’ move.
One time, she decided to use a different technique to make the desired nails last longer. She carefully picked the flower, selected the right-sized petals and then meticulously glued each petal onto the nail with paper glue. She now expected the nails to last longer and to endure possible interventions from the outside. She felt that she and her nails were now ready for the next step – a risky ride on the bus where people would see the nails, but also, where her nails would be at a greater risk of damage. Then she took the bus to the hospital where her mom worked and where she would often go on some afternoons during the summer school break before she would be shipped to the grandparents for the rest of the summer. She made sure to stand on the bus holding the handrail in a way that would both expose the nails that to her looked most real and hide the ones that were shrinking and drying under the influence of paper glue.