“Abeg oh, do better hair for me. Not the one that you will nod now and miss the point on my head.”
She looked at her friend as she spoke and they burst out laughing as if she had said something funny and I had really missed the point of it. I smiled at the picture of the pretty woman on her phone wearing long curly brazilian weavon. I have never understood when customers get angry because their hair does not look like the hair in the picture that they show me. They will bring a picture showing me either the side of the hair or the front of the hair and expect me to formulate a twin of the look. I always chuckle at their naivete. Like now. Look at this picture for example, this is a pretty woman with a slim, long face and big, round eyes. The chubby-faced, chinko looking woman on my chair now expects me to make her look like this woman? I am not a magician. What these customers don’t know is that what they like in those pictures is the entire look that their hair style gives the picture. But I am not a magician. I cannot even do make-up. If I could, trust me, I would. It makes me light up from deep inside when customers leave my chair looking beautiful and knowing it. It’s a pity, though, many of them, especially these ones that come with pictures, are always so carried away by the woman in the picture that they fail to see how beautiful the work I have done looks for them.
“So where is he taking you now?”
It was the friend. I had seen this so many times. The day before valentine’s day or even on the red day, like this one, we always had those last minute women that come in to change their hair because of their oga. Usually, they came with a friend. This friend, from the many conversations that I had heard, was usually ogaless and tapping her excitement about the day from her friend’s life.
“Do I know? He will sha show his hand very very well. I’m very sure.”
I pricked her scalp lightly with the sewing needle. She moved her head too much as she spoke and I needed her stay still without actually having to break into their conversation.
“Seriously, do you think today will be the day?” Her friend asked.
My customer rolls her eyes and I catch the end of it through the mirror. Her friend pokes her arm a little too violently such that her head moves and my needle scrapes her scalp. I did not plan that one. My customer flinches and hisses. She seems torn between snapping at me and letting out whatever she has been hiding to her friend. She chooses to do the other one.
“See jare, I’m tired of him already.”
Her friend does not look surprised at this news. She shakes her head and laughs a little bit, poking my customer’s arm again.
“This girl, ehn… So why did you now buy him a gift for val’s day ?”
“Because I’m nice like that.” She paused. “I think I will break up with him tomorrow.”
Her friend’s mouth opened without warning. It was not until I glanced at the mirror that I realized my mouth was open too. I usually avoid exchanging looks with the other girls when customers have interesting conversations. But I could not help myself. The tiny cockroach was washing an older woman’s hair in the sink. Her hair was wrapped up in the big scarf that she had started wearing right after Kelechi shaved off the rest of her hair after our little incident the other day. She had a loud laugh just sitting at the corner of her mouth, waiting to explode. I now wished that Saida was around. Her outburst of random commentary would have definitely made things a lot more interesting.
“So why are you now spending money to look good for him?”
“This girl, I have to keep up my reputation jare. As a fine girl concerned. Plus the oga gives and gives good mehn. No be only money he sabi spend.” They burst out laughing again and I giggle a little too loudly before catching myself. I giggled because I had a brief thought of my oga that I know gives and gives good.
After that moment, I allowed my mind to wander off and think of my own oga, leaving my hands to do what they do best.
She must have not noticed the needle pricks because she let me keep her 100 naira change without even blinking. It seemed that she was very happy about her hair, even though it barely looked like the picture she showed me. Before they left, her friend handed me her phone for me to punch my phone number in. I saw the tiny cockroach watch me from the side and gave her a quick look threatening her if she ever spoke about it to anyone. Madam did not like us collecting or giving out phone numbers to customers, personally. If a customer wanted a phone number, we had to give her Madam’s own. But we all did it. We all had our private customer lists and so we all knew that if one person spoke up, the rest of us would go down for it. But I feared that the tiny cockroach was not yet aware of this and might run her mouth without welcome. I had to talk to her.
“Aunty Tele, you dey comot early today?” the tiny cockroach asked when the sun had started to go down. We had spent the entire day holding down the shop. Madam and the others had at home wedding contract not too far away.
I nodded and continued to day dream about my own valentine. It was the first time in a few years since I had an oga to look forward to for valentine’s day. I knew that Madam would be out working late and so I could leave the shop early and still make it back home to my overprotective father that still thinks there is no problem in giving a 24 year old woman a time when she had to be back into the house. It was a few minutes before 5pm and my excitement was stepping up. Somehow, the conversation between those friends had got me even more excited than I had anticipated.
I picked up my bag and left the tiny cockroach with specific instructions on how to lock up the shop. She was not to leave any earlier than 7:30. I told her the bread woman would let me know if she did. I could have sworn that the look she gave me looked very much like she was questioning my threat seeing as she had seen me do two wrong things today – collect a customer’s phone number and leave the shop early. I was too excited to make any comments to her. I smiled at her and almost jumped out of the shop.
He had not text me back after we had planned to meet at his father’s shop when I leave the shop. His father had left town and so he would be alone at the shop. I wanted to cook something special and bring to him but there was no time and I did not want Madam to start asking all her questions if she found me cooking randomly at home. So I had bought something from Mr Biggs. I did not care if he had bought something as well. A part of me already knew, though, that he had something special waiting for me.
The shop looked locked. I knew I was early and expected to see him outside, working. I opened the door slowly. I knew there was NEPA, but the inside was dark, almost as if there was nobody in the shop. I should call his phone. Maybe he walked down the road. As I was about to turn back and go back outside, I heard a quiet sound. I stopped. I heard it again. There was definitely somebody in the shop. I decided to push the wooden door open completely, to allow the little light from outside enter into the shop.
I did not have to see her full face before knowing who it was that was under him on the floor, hiding between unfinished wood and wood carvings.
“Saida!” I screamed without meaning to.
They stopped but I ran out, making sure that the doors were left wide open. It was a busy time in a busy area. The shop was facing the road and so anybody who passed must have seen them, clearly, struggling to hide their dirty secret.
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