“Hello?” I tried to keep my voice neutral as the conversation around me died to a hush.
“Hey. So, are you done yet? I just drove by and I thought I could see your legs.”
“You probably could. I’m half in the sun. NEPA took the light and it was boiling inside.” I crossed my bare legs and pulled at the synthetic hair clinging to my sandals. It came away reluctantly. The woman behind me signalled one of her assistants to take the hair away from me and throw it in the bin. “How are you?”
“I’m missing you. When are you done, do you know?”
“No, I don’t. I’ll let you know when but anytime I think I’m almost finished, she sections the remaining hair into tinier bits.” I gathered some of the long, thin plaits in my hand and let them run through my fingers like silk.
“Has she told you how much it will cost?”
“Errrr….why? She’s been making my hair all my life so we know how we do.” The woman making my hair made a sign for ‘toilet’ and went away.
“Give her the phone.”
“Why? I don’t…”
“Just give her the phone.”
“She just gone to use the toilet, I think.”
“How convenient. Anyway, tell me when you’re done. I’ll come and get you.”
“Did you tell him that your hair will cost N5,000?” asked the woman as soon as sat down on the high stool behind me.
“No, why would I do that? It’s not what we discussed. Besides, I have your money here so there is no need to get anyone else involved.” She clicked her tongue.
“As you’re busy doing this thing you’re doing, like you’re very tough, you didn’t think that maybe I could do with the money? If he wants to pay N5,000 for a N2,300 hair-do, why shouldn’t I take his money?”
“Ehhhhh, you have sense. Will you join me in paying back the debt when it comes to that?” I asked. The other customers laughed and whistled amongst themselves. “Please finish my hair, biko. You people know how to put someone in trouble.”
The woman was still trying to get my finished hair into a ponytail when he arrived. I shivered as her fingers brushed over my sensitized scalp.
“That looks very nice.” He looked me all over. “It goes well with the…general package.”
“Thank you.” I wiped the hair oil on my forehead with a white handkerchief. It came away yellow. I turned it inside out and wiped again.
“How much is it?” He asked the woman. She opened her mouth to respond.
“Oh, I’ve already paid her.” I chipped in. The woman gave me an evil look.
“Right.” He paused with his hands in his pocket. “So how much was it then?”
“Don’t worry about…”
“…N3,000. But this stingy girl gave me just N2,500.” I rolled my eyes.
“That’s how much it should cost.” He looked from one of us to the other, his mouth tightening. I knew the look. He did not approve of this ‘undignified’ exchange.
“Look, however much it cost, add this to it.” He handed the woman a sheaf of notes. It looked to be about N3,000 or so more. The woman started dancing and he raised a hand to her. “It’s because you did such a good job. With this kind of hair, if you had asked for N10,000 I’d have paid it.” He walked me to the his, with the woman calling after him ‘Thank you, sir. Thank you, sir.’
We drove to my house in silence. After about an eternity of it, I asked. “What’s the matter? You seem quiet all of a sudden.”
“Don’t do that again.”
“Don’t do what?”
“You know what. Don’t do it again. It makes me look bad, like I cannot take care of my woman in public.”
“Ok, it’s my hair. I had already had the money for it. If I thought I needed extra or something, I might have asked you,” I said, not believing it for a second. The look he gave me showed he didn’t believe it either. “You should be happy I’m not spending your money instead of complaining. Other people would.”
“I’m not other people. I’m me and we’re in a relationship…!”
“But this is my hair. It takes all the pleasure out of it if you have to pay for it. It’s like…I dunno, if you paid for my underwear. Or something.” He smiled at the idea of it briefly, then the tightness was back around his mouth.
“I see your point. But it makes me look…unmanly. If I offer, you should let me. No…no…” he added, seeing my mouth open. “This conversation is over.”
“Oh com’on,” I laughed. I swatted him playfully to lighten the mood.
“Seriously. I’m not playing with you.”
He leaned back in the car and said nothing else the rest of the journey. He wasn’t smiling.