When you work in a place called Happiness hair and beauty salon, you usually expect to walk into your workshop every day, with all of your teeth on display. You expect your far from white teeth to greet the smiles on the faces of the people you work with. You also expect these smiles to last the entire day. And then repeat the whole thing the next day. Right? Ha! I laugh at you for your naivety. I laugh at you because it may have taken five years, but I can tell you now that Happiness hair and beauty salon is very very far from a happy place. Hilarious, maybe, but happy? Okay, come with me. Let me show you.
It was the first week in the year. Or maybe the second, I forget. Whichever it was, it was one of the few weeks when Madam did not come to the shop for a long stretch of days. Madam was the only one that could take off for days and still have a place in the shop to come back to. In my first year at Happiness, I remember when one woman (I never remembered her name. It was one of those foreign names that we all made to sound like a Yoruba name or something close to that) had to travel to her village; something about her mother or father or both. Madam had murmured her okay to the woman’s request. The woman would travel to her village for a few days and come back to Happiness. A very simple agreement, right? So imagine my surprise when on day three, Madam, after complaining to my father the night before, shuffled into the shop and announced that we were not to allow the woman back in the shop. Apparently, she was irresponsible for leaving her job for more than two days and so to Madam, it meant that the woman thought that she was too big for the work. What even surprised me more was that by the time I finished licking the oil that was dripping down my fingers from Mama Faaji’s yam and ata dindin, this Madam of a person had brought a new girl to replace the woman. Just like that! It did not take very long for me to learn that this would be a usual happening. Madam would silently allow one of the workers walk out,unassumingly, on their own, and in less than 24 hours, the number of workers in the shop would be back to the regular seven.
Anyway, on the first day in the week that Madam was away, I decided to take my time to get to the shop. This was a normal thing. We all did it. From the oldest to the youngest – in age and in seniority – we all did it. The only difference was how far each person pushed it. I strolled into Bankole close around almost 10 that morning, my mood was very bright and sunny. It looked exactly like the weather, only without the stain of the dusty air. Without Madam, nothing could go wrong in the day, right? As I approached the shop, I stopped, shocked at what I was seeing. Let me explain. Before you reach Happiness on Bankole close, there is usually a small cluster of okadas and kekes, standing there in their yellow, black and metallic colours. Right next to this cluster, there was a woman who sold bread in a small wooden stall. Her stall was so small that it was always surprising to see how wide the door opened. The door looked like it was made for a bigger space and so instead of cutting it down to fit the space of her stall’s entrance, she kept the door the way it was. What this meant was that every time her door was open and you were walking to Happiness, the door was in your way. You would never quite see the bright orange and green shop that was Happiness until you almost walked past it. On this day, however, the bread woman did not open her stall. Which was strange because there was bread piled up on the table that stood across the gutter. Once I passed the cluster of okadas and kekes, the next thing that hit my eyes, besides the dusty bright colours, was the small line of girls on their knees outside Happiness. I slowed down, trying to understand what was happening.
“You people will just be doing anyhow abi?!” It was Kelechi. Kelechi was the only guy that worked at Happiness. He was also the most senior of the seven. And the most annoying. As I joined the three kneeling girls, I heard Sadiya hiss.
“Are you waiting for special IV, ehn, Telema?” Kelechi asked me as I stood and folded my arms.
“Won’t you tell me why I should kneel down?” I replied, looking up at his long, lanky height. I always wondered how all of his height fit into the shop.
“Our oga talk say we no get respect for di work,” Sadiya spoke to me but her eyes faced Kelechi. She hissed again. This time, louder than the last time. Kelechi jumped forward as if he was going to slap Sadiya. Her mouth opened and she jumped up so quickly that it was like she was never on her knees. She shook her head violently, jumped across the gutter and standing on her toes pressed herself to Kelechi.
“SLAP ME!” She repeated violently, her head shaking from side to side and then round and round as she broke into an impressive combination of Hausa and Yoruba.
Kelechi closed his eyes and his voice became almost like silence. He looked like he was whispering Sadiya’s name. By this time, the other girls were now on their feet and the bread woman had appeared next to me, along with a few others I wasn’t sure where they came from.
It was hilarious, this thing that was happening in front of my eyes. Kelechi was trying to impose his seniority in Madam’s absence and he could not handle his junior screaming in his face.
“Sadiya, I will slap you!”
This was the soundtrack to the picture of a short Sadiya, standing on her toes, her face struggling to reach Kelechi’s face where it stood very very high above her.
And then it happened.
That was when I realized that a serious crowd had appeared around the shop. The somewhat quiet crowd shifted to an extremely loud mob. But see this, nobody crossed that gutter to touch or speak to the two actors that were providing us entertainment! Sadiya almost fell. She staggered backwards and immediately caught herself. She jumped on Kelechi, wrapped her legs around him and began to attack him with her fingers. Sadiya’s nails grew very quickly, no matter how many times Madam forced her to cut them. So they were very lethal weapons. I had been a victim, unfortunately. There was clapping and more shouting from the crowd. As Kelechi moved around like a blind man struggling to throw Sadiya off his body, I heard a woman ask nobody in particular next to me.
“No be salon be dis?”
I turned to her and replied, yes.
“Ah. I wan fix nails oh. Which kind place be dis?” She asked, about to turn around. I held her hand lightly. The way things were looking, there would be no money made today. And even if there were, the moment Madam hears about what happened, none of us would be getting paid for the day.
“Aunty, I work here,” I said to her. I smiled and made an attempt to collect her handbag. “I can take you inside the shop from the back and do your nails for you, aunty.”
She frowned and hesitated.
“Aunty, it will just be 1k today for you,” I added with a smile. I was underselling by a thousand naira. Before she could think about it again, I successfully took her bag off her arm and guided her away from the crowd, without being sighted, into Happiness through the back.
It was the first time I would be making money using Madam’s tools without her knowing about it. I would not be sharing this money with any of the seven. I thought about the thousand naira that was certainly going to be all mine by the time the hour was done and I let out a smile that would have been very loud if it had a voice. Now, all I needed was for the drama to keep going on for the next hour and knowing the people that work at Happiness, this drama was definitely going to last the entire day.
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