Between my Aunt Masi’s legs. I have been nagging her all week, all day and all night to “please, please plait my hair” . She finally is now. There’s something comforting about being trapped between her ample thighs and the sound her thin silver bangles make as she twists and turns my hair into submission with wool. I try to focus on that and on the conversation, her frequent hearty belly laughter which she seems to draw from the very core of her stomach. I enjoy the sound of her voice and the easy conversation which floats fluidly through her finger tips, I enjoy the punctuation marks she makes as she chews her gum. I can feel her breathing and in between twists I hear the inner movements of her belly. The sweet smell of her sweat hovers over my nose. The warm rays of sunshine pierce into each and every pore on my skin and hers. I feel hot. clammy, dizzy. I am tired of sitting in this position. My buttocks are growing cold, numb and my shoulders involuntarily reach up to my ears in an effort to shield them from a wave of terror. Everything is beginning to sound loud like blaring disco music, a collection of sounds gather around my ear lobes like buzzing bees to honey as she chats, laughs, and inflates her chewing gum with hot air , snapping the bubbles flat with her short razor-sharp teeth. I want it all to stop. I am regretting my decision now. I forget how sensitive my scalp is, and how roughly she seems to de-tangle my steel wool like hair. This is as close to a nightmare one can get in broad day light. She calls my hair “skirrrpot” a colloquial reference to the iron scrubs used to scour burnt food from pots. That is how tough my hair can be. I can feel the pull of each strand of hair as she separates it into parts and it feels as if she’s drawing blood from a rock hard skull, my neck sinks into my chest with each touch. This is a conundrum. I can’t even look at myself in the mirror – I don’t know how I will look, I don’t know how far she is. I am about to pee on myself. Now I truly wish I never asked. Why did I even think this would be a good idea for Masibeso to do my hair, I know how she is: tough, no toilet breaks, no going to look at the mirror. You have to sit down until she’s done with you. Then you have to cover your head until the next day. Oh my god, this is never going to end I tell myself swallowing hard to suppress an urgent pressing need to just stand up and run and never look back. “Are you finished?” I ask sheepishly wincing from the pain and bracing myself for a sharp retort made louder by my tight grip on her legs. “Haaiman poppy man, how will I finish when you keep running away? sit tight and don’t move” She says trapping me even deeper into her triangle with her heavy long legs“ Relax your shoulders and bend your head”. I try to imagine what my head looks like from her vantage point. “But it’s painful” I manage to say in a whimper. It’s a routine we are both familiar with by now. I know my aunt dislikes plaiting my hair because I am afraid of a hair comb and I cry at the mere suggestion of possible physical pain. Plaiting my hair is not a walk in the park. But if I see someone’s hair done I am relentless in my pestering. “Bona! ” She finally shouts at me “It’s the last time I do your hair, how many times have you been pestering me… o batlang mara Hhe?” She would say. I will start to cry. Because it hurts and I know I will want her to do my hair again despite the pain and the gnawing fear hat I had finally ruined any future possibility that she would do my hair again. She’s the best and the only one who can do hair in the family, in fact there’s a long waiting list. But I just don’t know how to stomach the pain. “Don’t worry, we’ll be finished just now” she says, her voice softening, her way of silencing my now loud cries. We both know how the story ends: I will be the happiest child in the world after my hair is done. Perhaps I will walk like I am stepping on sleeping snakes for a day or two but after that, the war waged with me between her thighs is always worth it. She too will be rewarded. I see the proud twinkle in her eye when she looks at me and says “See how beautiful you are, cecece! “. I think of my aunt now that I myself have grown up to be an aunt to an increasing list of nieces and nephews some of whom I am yet to meet. I may not be the best hair braider in the family but I do work with words. So it gives me great pleasure to introduce my niece, Buhle Zulu, who is our guest blogger in the second installment of a series of hair stories. This is her short hair piece:
HAIR IS HAIR by Buhle ZuLu
Historically hair represents different things for women across the African continent. For Ethiopians hair was worn as a crowning glory in elaborate, elegant styles when a woman was about to marry, much like the ubiquitous tiara. Kenyans traditionally wore their hair in protective styles using oils and clay to style it. Pride was the common denominator in all these hairdressing traditions; hair represented a source of pride for women.