It has been years… years since I’ve been in a beauty salon… let alone a black salon. The smells of hot grease and curling irons drown me in an ache, a longing for home and pink barrettes, shiny black patent leather shoes and baby blue taffeta dresses. Sade and Aretha Franklin sounds so thick that they wrap around you pulling you into a world between the worlds this portal in to African and American.
And here I sit a fresh 24 feeling all of 14 when he wraps that drape over me and tilts me back in my seat and runs the hot water through my hair. The woman to my left speaks of last Sunday’s sermon and the woman to my right moans about her children. And he scratches and scratches and scratches my head until memories wash up coming clean in mint, lavender rinses.
“Is the water too hot?” he asks but it is barely heard for I can hear my mothers voice sharp in my ears telling me she’ll be back in a few and to be good.
“Yes” I say but not to him.
He makes the water cool.
I remember now the awkwardness of sitting there… tilted back stomach exposed hands left at your side not feeling quite covered, trying to sit like a lady instead of bracing your legs wide apart. I curl my feet to the right, clasp my hands across my belly and curs silently for not wearing my longer skirt. He leaves me there… letting some herbal formula work its way into my scalp…
I still feel 14 “isn’t that the truth sista?” I hear from my left. I turn in the direction of the voice and nod uncomfortably and manage a smile I hope was not bewildered… The woman smiles in satisfaction and rambles on to her friend ignoring the little brown girl that is tugging at the hem of her exposed black slip edged with an inch or so of lace. And I realize that I am not 14 anymore. That I am a woman. I smile at the little girl… I remember being her. I remember my mother’s slip the long conversations about what I do not know. Wanting her to see me.
He comes and rinses me clean.
up goes the chair, his fingers twisting my wet hair. And we speak of home, of the south, of politics, of religion, of past, and hope and ambitions. He gently rings out pain as he twists and binds in hope as he locs. This is ordinary for him but today he twists me in and locs “Jane” out. three hours go by I’m worried, my legs ache. He consoles me tells me my hair will loc nicely and quickly and grow so fast I will hate it.
I remember to breathe.
He seals the bees wax with heat. He spins the chair hands me a mirror and I try not to cry.
Oh my sweet Goddess what have I done.
Where has it gone, my mane, my crown, my glory gone.
Only twisted slender curling dark strands snake around my head. “6 weeks until they locs and thicken and 3 months hard up keep after that you will be fine don’t worry.” He smiles and me. No matter how much I tell myself to smile back I feel the falling of a frown. And I stare into the mirror directly at myself. My round face with ample chin, full heavy lips and large large eyes and I don’t believe it is me.
The eyes turn sad.
I manage a smile, pay, leave, go home and stare,
stare into the mirror with a comb in one hand and towel in the other ready to wash it out…
slowly I see what I have done and the woman that I have become and the lesson I have
yet to learn .
I am the field run through, up turned scattered with seeds barren and brown…
my hair, my body, my soul, my being laid farrow far too long.
I am the field run through up turned tilled scattered with seed, and hope, and dreams and determination.
And just like my hair my being will grow.
Just like my hair wild and free and fat and black and nappy and me.
And so I begin again.
For I have never in my life ever looked so not like “Jane”.
We my hair and I unruly once more
like an unbroken wild animal thing
wild beautiful unbroken thing
back in Africa
all the way back in Africa.