I arrived at nine o’clock in the morning at the Rastafarian hair salon. The doors were closed and on the windows towels were hanging. A middle aged woman was sitting on a chair opposite the salon angrily shaking her head. I greet her and ask when the salon is going to be opened, she tells me she had an appointment for eight, I look at my watch and it is past nine. I stand next to her in silence. All of a sudden she shouts to a couple of women walking on the pavement, they come closer but she carries on shouting “Did you hear our church burnt down?”
The women tell her they thought it was a joke.
“No it isn’t. Lightning struck our church but the devil is a liar some men saved it”
The women all thank God and walk away.
A slender dark man with his hair tied up in a scarf slowly walks to the salon and opens it. We enter, he greets us, the woman and I barely greet back; a mini protest of our own; we sit down and wait for him to finish taking down the towels. The warm sunlight creeps in and illuminates the Rastafarian quotes written on the walls in different coloured permanent markers.
Another Rasta walks in, he is slender but taller and more handsome than the first. His long hair bound in a scarf stands atop his big head like the leaning tower of pisa.
He greets me jovially “I’ll be with you now sister” he tells me as he walks out of the shack. The woman I came in with starts complaining, the men is still folding towels and pays no attention to her. I look up and notice the sun rays poking themselves in the holes of the tin roof. I look at the mirror, big puffs of smoke are bellowing up behind me, soon it travels up my nose and I start feeling dizzy. The man stops folding towels and goes outside to join the blazing. More customers walk in and sit down. Two more Rastas walk in, their short dreadlocks are covered with crotchet beanies and the immediately start washing customers’ dreads starting with the angry woman. The handsome Rasta comes back inside but doesn’t head to me, instead he goes to his laptop and starts playing Rastafarian music, he stomps his feet as he comes closer to me and starts sectioning my hair.
“So you want dreadlocks”
“No not yet. I’m not ready for that kind of commitment- in fact I was thinking of cutting my hair before I came here” He seems shocked.
“Ah sister don’t cut your hair it is a gift from God. Don’t ever cut your hair it is the most prized asset of your body” I giggle.
“Okay but for now I want twists” and before saying this he instructs one of the short deadlocked guys to get the wool ready. While I’m waiting he styles all the woman who’s hair has been washed. He is the leader of the salon and the most wanted by customers, all of them wait patiently to have their hair locked with beeswax and styled. He styles the hair swiftly, sometimes not even looking, just blabbering with his workmates in a language I do not understand- it sounds like Venda but not entirely. The customers get off their seats looking satisfied giving him a couple of hundred rands while smiling away.
“It is good that man fears a woman. If he does not fear his woman nothing will go right in his household” he says this abruptly and asks us for our own opinions. The women oppose this view and say it should be the other way around. I am surprised at this; surely as women we should be happy to hear this from a man but they all quote the bible in opposition to his statement. I sit my head bowed in silence and disbelief.
Finally he comes to me.
“Should we wash your hair?” he asks. I shake my head- I had washed my hair the previous day. He sections my hair again, stops, takes out a brown cigarette, lights it up and puffs as he does my hair- the dizziness returns. Some customers walk out to get some fresh air- my eyes sting and my scalp hurts from all the twisting. My hair is soft and the knots keep coming out so he tightens his grip on them. The man in a crotchet beanie stands besides him like a meek mouse taking instructions from his master on what to do after each braid is done on my hair, he nods his head like a child and follows what he was told.
A young male customer walks in, he is light in complexion, has broad shoulders and a square jaw which complements his good looks. His hair is a mess and looks like Boabab tree. He greets the Rastas with his hands in the sign made famous by Jay-Z; the rock sign. They smash fists and he quickly gets his hair washed. The man stops doing my hair and goes to style the young man. The songs playing in the background are all about celebrating the herb and the love of a woman. I notice the men passing around a brass pipe after each puff they stomp their feet- the pipe seems to have come with the young man. Soon he is done and his dreads look much cleaner and neater. They smash fists again and he walks out. My neck is sore at this point, my knees are tired and I need to use the toilet but I didn’t see one coming in so I try my best to forget about my bladder.
The handsome man slaps his flat tummy and screams that he is hungry. He drinks a jug of water, pulls out another joint and carries on doing my hair.
I get tired of looking at my phone, I get tired of listening to the music and sitting down in one position. At one point I want to stand up and walk away with my hair half done just to get blood flowing in my body and food in my stomach. My ears pick up the colloquial word for gay/ fag, the men are talking about homosexuality but I can’t follow because I do not understand all that they are saying but my attention is averted from my own internal misery as I peak my attention into their conversation. I pick up random words and come to the conclusion that they do not like gays.
“Sister, a lady came in to do her hair here- is she your friend?” The question caught me by surprise. I suppose they must have seen me going through my gallery on my phone.
“Yes she is” I answer slightly irritated.
“That’s all she is?” He looks at me in the mirror. I keep quiet.
“She’s our friend too you know” I look at him unmoved. He goes to drink a big a glass of water and then goes to the laptop to change the music. I stretch my legs, arms, back and breathe in deeply. I bend forward and put my head in my thighs. He tugs at one of my braids and I sit up. He twists my hair faster and harder. The music stops and I am glad- I had heard too much of Jah, the herb and the love of women that Rastafarians need. Suddenly he turns around.
“Ah my sister where do you come from looking so beautiful?” he asks with my braid still in his hand, my head is bowed down and I am in pain. A WhatsApp message beeps on my phone “I’m right behind you” it says. I smile and the pain does not feel so bad. She helps the Rastas as she can see they are going slow because of the herb and hunger. I smile my eyes at her. She shyly looks away busying herself with the wool.
The sun up in the middle of the sky, the heat coming in waves, the beads of sweat racing down my spine- he turns the small wheel with his big thumb a steady flame flows up, this is the end, the burning of ends- I literally want to cry. Most black girls know how this moment feels: like those stick thin marathon runners when they run into the ribbon at the finish line and fall onto the ground shaking emotionally.
She steals a glance at me, I catch it and we both smile.
I open the car doors and shift the windows down to let the hot air out.
“We were just blazing the other day when they did my hair. They have the best stuff” she explains to me even though I had not asked.
“I believe you” I say as I start the car,
“Where must we eat?” I ask her, eyes fixed on the smooth winding road picking up speed.