“…A quizzical squint, with a hint of that smile that pain professionals constantly wear. The barely suppressed smile of bullies, dentists, doctors and others who secretly enjoy the pain they cause…”
Me. In this very blog. Read it.
An episode from my youth, when I had hair.
So I did it and then I very quickly undid it. What a painful and unnecessary experience.
I arrived at the salon situated above the Clicks Store on West Street (in Durban). All the hair stylists, who are dressed in an all black uniform, are lazing about and there’s only one client at the wash basins. The cornrow specialist had to be called from some storeroom, more likely the dungeon where she lurks between victims, and she motioned me to take a seat.
The contrast between a traditionally white salon and a place like this is astounding. Those salons are almost laboratory-like with their sharp lines and haughty atmosphere. The place I was at did not even have an attendant receptionist or even a telephone for that matter. Just a lonely cash register and the constant smell of artificially sweetened chemicals.
If I had known the pain I was to suffer I would have walked right then, but I sat in ignorant bliss until I was called over to the wash basins to receive a R40 hair wash. Yes, I repeat, a R40 hair wash! A pleasant starter to the pain that followed as she began ripping out tufts of hair as she was massaging my hair. Pleasure interspersed with wanton pain. With no rhyme or reason they’d be a sudden jerk followed by sharp intake of breath from me. I know my hair is a beast to tame, but this was just plain abuse. I should have known from the way she looked at my hair. A quizzical squint, with a hint of that smile that pain professionals constantly wear. The barely suppressed smile of bullies, dentists, doctors and others who secretly enjoy the pain they cause.
After the hair wash we move back to the seat and I relaxed in the thought that the worst must have passed. How wrong was I. With a hair dryer and an afro-comb she proceeds to hluthula (comb forcefully) my hair. My curls fought back but to no avail. Again and again in a ripping motion she roughly dealt with stubborn kinks. The defeated strands flew out painfully in sad, unloved curls. At least this time there’s some rhythm to the pain so I tensed myself for each stroke like a schoolboy anticipating the whip. At times it felt like she was stabbing my scalp on purpose. As if to test the strength of my skull. Slowly a respectable Afro emerged and we proceeded to the braiding.
Part three of the pain trilogy is the worst. The skin on my forehead and neck felt like the membrane of a drum. If hair could scream that salon would be a Munch masterpiece. The tautness of the hair is compounded by the tightness of the skin. Tears were far too close for comfort. I imagined breaking out in front of a salon full of women and used that as fuel to keep the eyes dry. This entire time me and my torturer have exchanged, at best, five words. Perhaps she didn’t want to form an emotional connection with her victim. It’s best to not put a name to a random head and remember that the head has feelings. Around me other clients are engaged in gossip and soapie talk with their stylists. At this point there were about three or four other clients. All of them plump middle-aged women obviously comfortable in this environment and having a surreptitious laugh at this shocked little boy. Unfortunately I selected the smaller and more numerous option in cornrow configuration, so my ordeal was quite stretched out.
At the end of it instead of relief my head stayed taut. So taut that my range of motion was limited. Like a robot I had to turn my entire body to turn my head. I just could not believe someone would knowingly put themselves through this to look ‘good’. I was a curious experimenter and I had no knowledge, but I learnt my lesson.
So there I was afterwards in the Adams bookstore next door, unnaturally swiveling my body and feeling slightly faint. The funniest part was when I asked my torturer when the tightness will loosen up and she had a devilish chuckle. The bookstore was an ordeal in itself. One doesn’t appreciate the flexibility of the neck until it’s gone.
Then I went to McD’s and had something to eat before I passed out on a public street. I wish I could say that was where the pain ended, but undoing the mess was no cakewalk either…