Madam had been back for many weeks now and of course, we had all served our punishment for the major incidence that happened the last time. I say major because, you know, every day brought its own incidence. If Saida wasn’t firing her long tongue at Kelechi, then Iyabo and Mary were picking fights with each other silently. Me? I am not as trouble free as I would like you to think. You see, unlike Saida and some of the other girls at Happiness, I don’t have a quick tongue. It is very hard for me to say the things that I feel in the way that I feel them. This is why even Madam has never had a reason to call me rude. But don’t get it twisted, I am not quiet. A quiet person is quiet in both words and actions. What I cannot do with my mouth, I find other ways to do with my actions.
“Aunty Telema! Abeg you have customer oh,” it was the tiny cockroach.
Remember her? She is the new girl that had the guts to open her mouth and shout that day that I almost burnt down the shop. It was still morning and the harmattan was still very present. I had put my orange polo that Madam made all of us wear as uniform to dry at the back of the shop. This is where I was when the tiny cockroach called out to me.
Happiness was built in a funny way. The shop, itself, was a small cramped space. It was a joke between me and the carpenter’s son at the entrance to Bankole close that our shop was a square wardrobe. Have you ever seen a square wardrobe? The funny thing, though, is that there is a lot of empty land behind the shop. Part of this land is shared with a half-finished building. This building has been half-finished since Madam became a part of my life and I started going to Happiness. We had never even seen any area boy on that property. The way the land was cut, it is very possible that nobody knows that the half-finished building and the land exists. If Madam was as wise as she thought she was, Happiness could be expanded further inside and have more business.
Anyway, why am I telling you this?
Because we had enough land at the backyard, we were able to cut off a portion for our make-shift kitchen and have the clothes line further away from the back door of the shop. So at the time when the tiny cockroach called out to me, I was significantly far away from the shop. My mother, rest her soul, raised me well. Madam, after her, beat some lessons on respect for elders into me. This is why till this day, I cannot stomach rudeness from anybody younger than me. I had told the tiny cockroach this enough times in the few months that she had worked at the shop. She had not learnt.
I looked up and towards her, my hand holding on to the almost dry orange polo. I ignored her and continued to busy myself with gauging the dampness of the polo.
“Aunty Telema! Come now! Ah!”
I froze. It was an involuntary stopping of my body. My head was slightly bowed and my free hand curled inwards and formed a fist. I nodded slowly and started to walk back to the shop, her loud screeching voice was still ringing in my ears. Terema. That was what it sounded like when she pronounced my name. She also called Kelechi, Kerechi. I had found it funny the first few times, but now it was annoying.
I really did have a customer. Apart from Saida and the other Hausa girl who were finishing up the front of a customer’s box braids, everyone else was free. Normally, if I walked in to this sight at the shop – a waiting customer and idle shop girls – my irritation will find a way to release itself. However, as I walked in, the customer absent-mindedly took off her scarf as she pulled out bottles of products from her bag.
Her hair was like mine – natural.
It had been over a year since we started getting more and more customers with nachi hair, as we called it at Happiness. Because I was the only one with this type of hair, it was generally agreed that I would handle all the customers with nachi hair. They were all so disturbed by the thought of working in hair that looked like mine that they either forgot or ignored that we charged more money for customers with nachi hair. More money from customer, more commission for me from Madam. If they did not know this, I was not going to tell them about it.
I intentionally pushed past the tiny cockroach and immediately put on my smile for the customer. She was pretty. Young, too. Possibly only a few years older than me. She was not one of the regulars and I wondered if she was new to the neighbourhood.
“Aunty, you’re fine,” I said to her as I took out her chunky twists. She smiled at me through the mirror. She told me her hair was freshly washed and conditioned so I brought out the detangle brush from my apron pocket and brushed out her hair. It had been a while since I last worked with nachi hair and I realized that I had missed it so much. Her hair felt softer than most of the customers that I remembered. It was thick, though, and the more I brushed, the thicker it became. I continued to brush and brush, allowing myself to get carried away by how calm it made me feel.
“Ewo!” It came as a shriek from behind me. My body shook back to the moment and I turned sharply to find the tiny cockroach standing with her hands over her mouth. I rolled my eyes at her and turned back to collect the packs of extension from my customer.
“IB, please come and help me remove the attachment,” I spoke into my customer’s hair. I heard the annoying shuffle of the tiny cockroach’s feet before I heard her voice. Her voice had actually come before the shuffle.
“Na which kind hair be dis one na,” her voice said. One of the girls tried and failed to suppress a laugh that came out sounding like she was chocking.
I ignored the tiny cockroach. She took her place next to me after saying the mandatory “well sitting” to my customer and said to me in a whisper, “the hair ugly oh. How you wan take do am?”
“Which hair?” I asked her, my voice louder than I planned for it to be.
She motioned her nose towards the top of my customer’s head and frowned to show her distaste before she mouthed, “E wan resemble dada”. Lesemburr, she said. It must have been a combination of what she said, the face she said it with, and the accent she said it with but I was officially angry at her. For what she had done before and for what she had done now.
My customer looked up from her back and directly at me through the mirror. “What did she say?” Her eyebrows were raised and did not look pleased.
“Nothing,” I smiled and began to add twist the small section I cut off at the back of her head.
“Please can you not touch my hair,” my customer spoke again. I continued to twist the hair, knowing that she was not talking to me. The shop went silent and the tiny cockroach stood there, with the extensions in her hands, looking confused.
“I’m serious,” her voice grew louder. “I don’t want you around my hair, please.”
The tiny cockroach sighed loudly and all but flung the extension on the table before shuffling back to where the others were, mumbling under her breath. I bent towards my customer and apologized. She laughed when I promised to punish the tiny cockroach.
It took five hours but when I was done, I felt very proud, yet again, of what I had created. My customer looked even prettier than when I first saw her. I felt very close to her now, even though we barely said anything to each other in the last five hours. As she left the shop, they all did their usual act of appreciating her hair and of course, her money. It was always funny to me, this act, because it was very unlikely that the customer would dash the rest of them money if they did not do the work.
I was cleaning out my chair and space when the tiny cockroach spoke again, “aunty Telema, dem say your hair resemble that kind hair. Na true?”
To the rest of them, I must have looked possessed, because none of them, not even Kelechi, made any effort to stop what happened next. I threw down the off-white towel I was holding and in a few steps, grabbed the tiny cockroach, pinned her down to my chair and turned on Kelechi’s clipper. It happened so quickly. She jumped out of the chair but before she could make it out of the shop, I caught her hair with the clipper and made two clumsy shavings. One was at the front and the other was at the side. Her scalp was out in the open at those two spots and the first instinct I had when I realised what I had done was to burst out laughing, with the vibrating clipper in my hand.
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