This is what you say to me every ten minutes as I sit and you stand behind me, twisting and weaving and tying and working hair magic. You also say, Straight your head, and while I am not sure what that means, I sit up, and you work on. Till the next Well Done.
Our relationship is smooth as the skin of a baby rat. I can see in the mirror the mighty work of your hands, and I am oh so loving it. Until the talks begin, those talks that pour out like a drink offering. Sometimes it starts out light.
You say, Aunty, this your hair don due. I sigh, like I have resigned my hair to the Lord’s hands to do with it as he pleases. I say, Na so I see am o. You say, I get this cream wey you fit put wey no go dey make am due quick quick. Then you take a break from my hair and dig your hand into a drawer. It returns clutching a plastic container of assorted colours. This mousse, you say, na just five hundred naira. E go make your hair soft, full, strong kakaraka. E no go make am break, and e no go dey due every time.
I say thank you, I feign interest, scrunch up my nose and give it an intense look. Then I give it back and continue tapping away on my phone. You resume your magic, but I feel the heat from words in your throat, threatening to fall. Ten seconds pass, and then they do. Aunty, you no go buy? I will check it well after I finish with the hair, I say, and lay the matter to rest.
We are quiet again. Until this woman comes, who is your customer and ‘cousin-sister.’ The talks begin, the gossip, more like. You laugh out loud at something she says and I feel it echo in my bones so bad I wince. You say, Sorry, Aunty, and you would replace Well Done with Sorry for the next one hour. I would pick a few things from your gossip: Mama Bomboy has moved to her new place with her husband. Agnes’ husband still beats her; she has lost her third pregnancy. I would hear you curse in your dialect; my ear for language is chaotic, but I know a curse when I hear one.
The woman stands and says she is leaving. You say goodbye. Then you return wholeheartedly to my hair, and ask me to straight my head, and resume the Well Dones, and tell me about the woman who just left, about how she has been looking for a child for six ‘yehs.’ That popular man of God, you say, The one wey im church dey Rumuobiakani, big church laidis….
I say I don’t know him.
You describe him some more. E get show for RSTV, e dey wear eyeglass, e get one big banner wey e wear army cloth for inside….
I say I don’t know him.
There is frustration in your eyes.
What happened to him? I ask.
She dey attend im church.
They don do deliverance many times, but nothing.
You go on for another five minutes, and I am torn between concentrating on my chat with my friend on Whatsapp and listening to what you are telling me, your high-pitched voice seeping right into my eardrums. Eventually, I give up.
Has she considered adopting? I ask.
Your cousin, or is it sister?
My cousin-sister? No o. God no go gree bad thing. Arm robber shide. No. God go give am im own pikin.
My hair is done. I turn left and right in front of the mirror, inspecting.
You sure sey this thing no go loose, Madam? I ask, touching a part of the hair.
Ah, no o, Aunty, lailai. Na laidat e go be till you ready to lose am, you say.
Okay. I pay. You collect the money, beaming. Thank you o, Aunty.
I am about to leave.
Aunty, you call out, you no go buy the mousse again?
I go buy am next time madam.
Your countenance falls, but you mask it with a toothy smile. Okay. Bye-bye.
The next morning, I wake up to find a part of the hair already loosening. I remember it as the part you made when you were talking to your ‘cousin-sister.’
Can I really blame you? You are with one customer for maybe four hours, listening, taking in the entire baggage of her life. That’s already too much burden for one person, but you’re strong. The next customer comes and does same. You do this for fifteen hours every day, and when you finally find that one person who can listen, like me, you become gabby Gabriella. I dare not blame you, dear hairdresser/listener/therapist. Rather, I applaud your strength.
I have decided; I’m coming with my stories next time.
This post was first published on Brittle Paper in 2018: https://brittlepaper.com/2018/02/letter-hairdresser-ife-olujuyigbe-nonfiction/
Ife Olujuyigbe’s “Hairdresser” first appeared as “Letter to My Hairdresser” in Work Naija: The Book of Vocations, an anthology of writing and visual art that explores the idea of work. Edited by Otosirieze Obi-Young and introduced by Rotimi Babatunde, it is the second anthology in the Art Naija Series.
DOWNLOAD: Work Naija: The Book of Vocations