by Umari Ayim
At The Salon, Chika’s News And The Parking Lot.
– Read Episode 1 of the compelling story HERE.
– Read Episode 2 of the compelling story HERE.
– Read Episode 3 of the compelling story HERE
– Read Episode 4 of the compelling story HERE
– Read Episode 5 of the compelling story HERE
– Read Episode 6 of the compelling story HERE
– Read Episode 7 of the compelling story HERE
– Read Episode 8 of the compelling story HERE
– Read Episode 9 of the compelling story HERE
– Read Episode 10 of the compelling story HERE
– Read Episode 11 of the compelling story HERE
The salon is getting rowdy as the uniformed stylists scurry in between narrow spaces. I look at Sarah as she compliments my new hairstyle – side swept bangs with long wavy layers that curl past my shoulders until it stops halfway down my back.
“Thank you, and it was your idea.”
“Oh, you are very much welcome,” Sarah says with a laugh.
I smile and look down at the young woman massaging lotion into my feet. Her face is scrunched up in concentration as she applies pressure on the balls of my left foot with the heel of her right hand. When she sees me studying her, she gives me a shy smile.
“Guys,” Ajumai calls from the opposite styling chair where she has a nail technician attending to her nails. The four of us look at her brandish a small bottle of dark purple nail polish in the air. “Do you think this is good for me?”
“Looks vampish,” Bidemi says with a shake of her head. “You might want to try lighter colours.”
Ajumai purses her lips and says, “I like vampish.”
She hands over the bottle to the technician and settles back as the woman twists the cover of the bottle open and begins to apply the polish on her long nails.
Bidemi, Patricia and Chika begin a conversation, but they are too far for me to know what they are talking about. Sarah pulls out her blackberry from her bag and begins to text. I use the opportunity to look around the salon.
The wide open space with wood flooring, white painted walls, small reception area with wide semi circular desk, stainless steel sinks, track lightings above each styling station, high leather styling chairs with round flat steel bases running in a straight line before the mirrors built into the walls on each side of the room, flat screen televisions and white wall mounted hair dryers gives the salon a contemporary feel.
The stylists are well dressed with well applied make up to rival the customers streaming into the place with their chic fashion and expensive phones. I pay attention to one particular stylist with a dazzling white smile who is currently sweet talking a slim tall woman with her natural hair pulled back in a bun at the nape of her neck. They are close enough for me to hear their conversation in spite of the mix of several human voices and singing blaring from the speakers of the televisions.
“Last week, I was trying to tell you that I was going almost done with my other customer, but you got angry and let someone else work on your hair.”
The customer explains her time constraint during that particular encounter.
“But I called your phone before coming. I told you I had to meet a friend in Ikeja.”
The stylist switches to pidgin English. “But you for still wait small nah. I don almost finish the woman hair when you vex go meet Roseline.”
“I was running out of time, don’t you get it?”
“Okay, I understand,” the stylist says, pulling out a chair for the woman. As the woman sits down and begins to pull out bottles of shampoo, conditioner and hair oils, I hear the stylist tell herself in her mind,
Nonsense girl, na so so English she sabi speak. If you turn am upside down, one extra kobo no go drop.
The stylist stops talking to herself as the customer raises one of the bottles on the table before her.
“Do you think I should use my leave in condition or the normal conditioner that you wash off?”
The stylist picks the leave in conditioner as the preferred choice and goes back talking to herself.
All these people sef, common tip dem no sabi tip.
The stylist changes her mental voice to mimic the words of her customer. She lumps the words together and does a very shrill imitation.
I pick up the magazine on the empty chair beside me and immediately bury my quiet laughter in it. I lower it one minute later when Sarah uses her elbow to nudge the amusement out of me.
“What are you doing?”
I hold out the magazine towards her. “Reading.”
“It looked more like you were hiding behind it than reading.”
I look away with a guilty smile and thankfully, the pedicurist has finished at my legs and stands up with a cheerful smile. I smile carefully at her and check her mind for insults. Nothing. I smile wider and remind myself to give her a tip on my way out.
“You can pay to the cashier,” the pedicurist tells me, pointing towards the reception desk. I nod and then realize that it will be odd to give her tip to the cashier.
The stylist returns back with a respectful, “ma?”
I reach into my purse and pull out a single one thousand Naira note, fold it into half and hand it over to her. My second tip for the day. The first was the chatty hair stylist that fixed my hair.
The pedicurist smiles in embarrassment but still plucks the note out of my hand, thanking me profusely as she leaves.
“You like to give tips,” Sarah notes with a smile. “It is a good culture.” She looks around the salon before turning back to me. “Most people here tend to overlook that.”
“I think it brings out the best in people.”
“Exactly,” Sarah says with a nod. “The prevailing belief here is that these guys are doing their jobs and should wait for their salaries, but it is my belief that people can deviate from laid down rules of an establishment and do just what they like if they don’t like you.”
Just as I am nodding to Sarah’s words, Shadda appears beside me and says, “Just like going to a restaurant and snapping at a waiter. You will probably end up with spit in your soup.”
I smile and repeat Shadda’s words to Sarah.
“Ewww….now you make me want to hug every waiter I meet.”
I laugh at the expression on Sarah’s face and then turn to see Shadda walking to where Ajumai is painting her nails. Shadda’s dress is a casual colour block maxi dress. Her hair is twisted in tiny cornrows with the tips swinging down the small of her back. She places her hands beside Ajumai’s own and comes off with the same purple varnish the technician has finished applying to Ajumai’s nails. Marching back to me, she shows me her nails and asks me what I think.
Sarah looks up from her phone at Ajumai. “Even gothic sef.”
Shadda makes a face and marches off to find another colour to imitate.
Patricia and Chika soon finish with their own nails and jump on Ajumai’s case.
“Hey, we have things to do.”
“I have to go home and prepare lunch before my husband comes back.”
“How many fingers do you have? Fourteen?” Patricia asks with a mock frown. Chika finds her words amusing and laughs.
Ajumai ignores the teasing and makes sure to dry her nails before standing up from her chair. We pay what we owe to the cashier with bald head covered with gold tinted strands of new hair. Ajumai stares openly at the tattoo of a heart on the woman’s left breast until Chika kicks her.
Outside the salon, I join Ajumai and Sarah in Chika’s car while Patricia and Bidemi drive off in Bidemi’s white Honda CRV. We are all heading back to Chika’s house where Ajumai, Bidemi, and Sarah have their cars. There will be a short prayer session at Chika’s place and after that, Chika has an important news to share.
“You are pregnant!”
Chika has tears in her eyes when she nods and says, “Yes, in my fourth week as a matter of fact.”
The next few minutes is full of talk of babies, delivery room experience and motherhood in general. Chika stops to look at Ajumai.
“I am sure you will be sharing your own testimony very soon.”
Ajumai gives a shrug. “I am not sitting down and bothering my head about it.” She pauses to smile at all of us. “When it happens, it happens.”
As the women share words of encouragement with Ajumai, I noticce a slight drop in temperature and goose bumps break out on my skin.
“Is anyone else feeling cold?”
My friends look at me and shake their heads. Chika explains that her air conditioner is at the lowest.
“Anyone care for snacks?”
At the volley of nods, Chika stands up from her chair and walks to the kitchen. It is a good fifteen minutes later when she returns back with a plump young woman holding a tray of small chops. The woman is wearing loose fitting black pants and a yellow sleeveless tank top. Her hair is braided and held down by a yellow string of rubber band. The innocence on her face is almost endearing but as she draws closer to me, the chill becomes almost unbearable. The woman drops the tray on the coffee table and greets everyone in the room in a small shy voice.
“My cousin’s daughter, Paulette,” Chika says, introducing the woman with a hand on her shoulders.
“She is pretty,” Patricia tells Chika, flashing a friendly smile at Paulette who lowers her eyes to the floor.
“And young too,” Ajumai quips with an observant nod.
“Oh, she is just eighteen,” Chika tells us, stepping away from Paulette who immediately sets to the task of serving the small round saucers of spring rolls, meat balls, peppered gizzards and fried flour puffs.
I shift uncomfortably in my seat, now sure that Paulette had some dark powers. I wait for her to pass me the saucer in her hand and as she does, I make sure my fingers make contact with her own. Our eyes meet briefly and I see the smile disappear from her eyes in that split second.
“Thank you,” I tell Paulette, taking the saucer from her hand and moving my hand discreetly under the saucer. My radar fails to pick up any contamination and I smile once again at her but there is a silent challenge in my smile and the coldness in her eyes means she can sense my powers.
I silently summon Shadda and she appears beside Chika.
Why is she here?
“She is on a mission,” Shadda says, beginning to stroke Chika’s hair. I watch as Chika gives a tired yawn minutes later.
I chew on a meat ball and ask Shadda,
How come Chika’s guide let her in?
“She was let in by Chika. Guides have no power over decisions taken by mortals.”
Who will protect her now?
“Her guide…” Shadda looks up from stroking Chika’s hair. “With your help of course.”
I sigh and shake my head. Sarah looks at me in concern.
I smile and say, “Nothing.”
“You just did….” Sarah stops and breathes heavily through her mouth.
I laugh and shake my head. “I did not open my mouth.”
“Maybe,” Sarah says with a smile. “But you still sighed.”
I assure Sarah that I am fine and she goes back to listening to Bidemi talk about her children. I am happy to be left alone to continue my conversation with Shadda.
So how can I help Chika?
“I will show you in three days.”’
Shadda looks above Chika’s head, her eyes fixed on something I cannot see. I have a feeling that she is communicating with Chika’s guide.
I want to see her guide.
Shadda turns to me and smiles. “Ask God. I don’t have such powers.”
Fine. I will ask one of these days.
Shadda tells me that Paulette plans to stay the entire length of Chika’s pregnancy.
“But she must leave in a week.”
Chika announces that she is feeling sleepy. Patricia tells her it is the pregnancy but I know Shadda’s stroking is behind it. We hug each other goodbye and I look in the direction of Chika’s kitchen. If only Chika knows that her relative is not an ordinary teenager.
Richard is in the bedroom with Toju when I return back home.
Toju looks up from his father and squeals when he sees me, releasing a string of excited noises. I walk to the bed and pick him up before turning back to Richard with,
“Hello, sorry I came back late.”
Richard leans back on the pillows, his right hand slung back to support his head.
“I like your hairstyle.”
“Had a nice time?”
“Why sort of?”
I think about Chika’s relative and decide against sharing what I know with Richard.
“It was just okay.”
I play with Toju for some minutes and hand him back to Richard.
“I need to use the shower.”
Richard nods and goes back to playing with Toju. Shower is really quick and I spend even less time checking my reflection in the mirror without releasing her. I almost bump into Richard and Toju when I leave the bathroom.
“The nanny wants him for his evening bath.”
I change into a pair of blue denim pants with a pink baby doll top in the dressing room and head for the nursery where I wait for Toju’s bath to end so I can feed him.
Feeding done, Toju goes back to the nanny and I go in search of Richard. I find him behind his desk in his study. He dumps the papers in his hands and meets me on the sofa. We discuss his company for some minutes and Richard tells me of a plan to list the company with the stock exchange.
“After that, I am going to open a branch office in Port Harcourt.”
We move on to personal matters and Richard tells me about a disagreement with his father over business plans. He does not go into details but I can tell from his voice and his mind that the confrontation did not end on an amicable note. I remember his mother’s story and wonder if Richard’s resentment against his father has its roots in the past.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Richard contemplates this for a few seconds. “No.”
He makes up for his refusal by trying to get me out of my top. I turn him down happily.
“Tit for tat,” he says with a low chuckle, and kisses me lightly on the lips. “Let’s watch a movie.”
I am surprised by the projection screen he pulls from the doorway arch in front of the sofa. I accuse him of making his study too comfortable and he laughs, and picks an action movie.
“James Bond?” I ask, making a bored face.
Richard tells me the movie is the latest of the James Bond series and quite interesting. We lay back on the sofa and spend two hours watching the movie.
“I am still not impressed,” I tell Richard at the end of the movie, turning to bury my face in his neck.
“You spent time watching me more than you watched the movie,” Richard points out, reminding me of the staring I had been doing while the movie went on.
I laugh and ask Richard how he managed to catch me staring at his profile when he was concentrating on the movie.
“The corner of my eyes.”
We share a laugh and then Richard raises himself on his elbow to stare down at me.
“Let’s go for a drive around Lekki.”
I groan and tell Richard that the sofa is good enough for me but he heaves himself off the sofa, pulling me with him.
Without changing from the gray round neck T shirt he is wearing with black denim pants, Richard leads me downstairs to his car.
“Are you sure I don’t need to wear something more suitable?”
Richard reminds me again that it is just a drive with no particular destination in mind. The estate is relatively calm as we drive out of it, but the roads outside the estate are filled with cars. Richard turns his car towards the toll gates and joins the race.
In Victoria Island, Richard twists through several streets after we leave Ozumba Mbadiwe. Soon the streets begin to look familiar.
“Are we going to the office?”
Richard smiles at me, a gleam in his eyes. I search his mind and come back without any information about his plans. We drive into the imposing complex after Richard acknowledges the greetings of the security guards who recognize him. The underground parking lot has a few empty cars and Richard finds a spot at the far end of the lot where we are alone and turns off the ignition.
Without a word, Richard leaves the car and opens the right door to the backseat. I twist in my seat, my seat belt cutting into my chest and ask Richard what he is doing. A roguish smile on his face, Richard invites me to join him at the backseat. I unsnap my seat belt and cross over to the back seat by twisting past the gear box.
Now Richard’s mind is clear to me. I smile and shake my head at his thoughts.
“What are you thinking of?” Richard asks, pulling me to him so that I am straddling him.
“What are you thinking of?” I ask, throwing his question back at him.
Richard reaches for the hem of my top and says, “let me show you.”
The space between the back seat and the front seats is narrow but Richard manipulates it so that we have plenty of space to move around. The windows are completely fogged when I collapse against Richard’s chest.
“Toju will be having a sister soon if we keep doing this every chance we get,” Richard says, running his hand down my back.
“He will have you to thank for that.”
Richard laughs heartily and winks at me. ” I don’t remember distracting you with nice lingerie.”
We are back in the front seats and I am checking myself in the mirror of the visor when someone taps on Richard’s window. The fog has completely cleared for me to see who it is. Tokunbo.
“Hi,” Richard says, rolling down his window and looking at her in surprise. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Tokunbo flashes her teeth at me and tries to appear friendly.
Turning to Richard, she tells him about having extra work at her desk that needed to be cleared.
“I just finished now.”
Her eyes are full of questions and so is her mind. She wants to know what we are doing at the office and if we saw her driving in.
Richard tells her that we are just on our way out and she steps away from the car with a promise to see us at work next week. On the drive home, I can’t shake off the feeling that Tokunbo is up to something.
To be continued…
Umari Ayim is the author of ‘Twilight at Terracotta Indigo’ and ‘Inside my Head’ both winners of the 2011 ANA NDDC Flora Nwapa prize and 2012 Poetry prize respectively.
Umari blogs at www.umariayim.com and tweets from @umariayim