Inside the cabinet, the spots where the medication bottles sat for months, untouched and full to the brim were now vacant. Edith threw them out once she noticed that they were of no use to her. She hadn’t taken any in months and more than ever she felt good about herself. Even though her mother’s nagging had led her to refill her prescribed medication, she did not need them.
It was a Saturday, and just like every Saturday, she did not know what to do with all the free time. But as she stepped out of her room, and walked along the corridor, the puzzled look Theresa gave her, led her to be seated in a grimy and hot Salon.
On the peeling walls of the small shop were images of men and women of different races, wearing hairstyles, ranging from weaves, braids, cornrows and to the good old wavy dreadlocks. If the images implied that those photographed had at some point been at the shop to get their hair done, then it was pretty deceitful. There was a remarkable picture of Alicia keys wearing a Ghana-weave and smiling.
Immediately Edith walked into the Salon, she was offered a seat by one of the two women manning the shop. She noticed the other woman giving her a look that carried the same message as Theresa’s gaze. That stare that made her want to answer the glaring question they had in their eyes. There was a wide mirror right in front of where she sat. And as much as she tried, she could not see anything wrong with her appearance. She wasn’t bald yet. Her hair had been damaged by years of applying tons of relaxers. But after she chopped it off with a big pair of scissors, it was only short and ugly.
“Wetin you wan do for this your hair?” a very fair woman asked her in pidgin.
Edith passed a frustrated sigh. Even though she had been thinking about it on her way to the salon she had no idea yet. When her eyes turned instantly to the likes of Alicia keys’ Ghana weave on the wall, she smiled and began imagining how it would look on her. The hairdresser was quick to notice this and sabotage her dream.
“No even look that side o, your hair no go reach,” she reproached.
Edith’s hair, according to the impatient woman, was too short for anything good.
“Can you give me Anita Baker’s hair cut?” she asked.
The fair woman frowned before she asked if Edith had not seen the signpost that read Salon and not a barber’s shop. Edith made no comment. Or hadn’t she learned how to read yet? The woman queried. Then she passed a comment about the number of people going crazy in the country, and how they were running out of sane customers.
This was Edith’s signal to leave, how could the lady be so rude? Was she not the one paying for the service? But for some perverse reason, the provoked girl remained glued to her seat.
The other hairdresser in the room, who had been quietly watching them, walked up to Edith. Her colleague made room for her to take over–glad to be relieved of Edith’s bad hair, chopped off in alarming disproportions. Without a word, the Hairdresser began combing the hair. Then afterward, she pinched it, holding it delicately to determine its length. Sudden alertness shone in her eyes as she looked accusingly at Edith from the mirror.
“Why did you cut your hair?” she blurted out.
“It got damaged by several years of applying tons of relaxer,” Edith lied. She couldn’t remember all the details of it, but when she woke up to find patches of her hair lying on the floor, she assumed she must have been fed up with it.
“So this isn’t an announcement of impending suicide then?”
Edith didn’t need to turn because she could see the dark woman from the mirror. But she did. The woman was brown, to be precise, the color of honey. She wore a neat afro patted gently to the side and on her lips; bright red lipstick.
“No, not at all,” Edith fussed.
“Good. Now, next time you want to cut your hair you go to a barber’s shop. What do you think of a million braids?”
A million braids as the name suggested were thin, tiny braids. They might not be a million in number and no one ever tried to count them but they sure looked like they were. The whole process of making it, depending on how thick one’s hair was could easily last four hours.
“A million braids? I didn’t bargain for that,” Edith said.
The woman started to walk away from her.
“How much do you charge for it?” Edith called in defeat.
“How much do you have? I want you to become my customer.”
“This had to be one of their trick questions,” Edith thought.
“If you can’t even tell me the price, you must think I can’t afford it?”
“No, that’s not it. What color of attachment do you want?”
“Let’s decide on the price first.”
“Later, what color of attachment?”
Edith looked at her and decided that two could play whatever game she was playing.
“What about brown or black?”
“What’s wrong with blue? It’s my hair o.”
“Brown will suit you. And black is always a safe color.”
All of a sudden Edith thought of Madam Rose and her girls. Their place was much bigger, and they had air conditioning. They were snobbish folks, and Madam Rose was a pimp but at least they let her decide on her hair color.
“Brown is fine.”
“You are easy,” the hairdresser teased, “If you want something and I can’t give it to you. You should get angry and go, or at least protest. I am sure people walk over you all the time.” The woman said, smug with her observations.
“You don’t know me,” Edith breathed out defensively.
Edith watched the lady cut three packs of brown attachment to a shoulder-length she combed a portion of her hair and began braiding. Much to the annoyance of the hairdresser, it didn’t take long for Edith to doze off.
A group of girls entered the lobby. On the walls were littered with posters showcasing various mental health programs the school was organizing. Unlike the others who were in a hurry. The girls spoke to each other casually, dragging their feet and laughing boisterously. The tallest among them Henrietta was wearing a mini skirt that revealed her long shapely legs. She beckoned on the others and they gathered around her. Then she brought out a smartphone from her large purse and they all smiled looking into it. Several clicks and the photos were taken. Then all of them filed in one direction, into an empty room save for furniture and electrical appliances.
“Edith was missing from our party last night,” Henrietta said coolly, she didn’t want to sound affected by it.
Linda, the youngest among them had turned a year older and in celebration, they threw her a birthday party.
“I swear to God, I saw her this morning and I almost screamed,” Theresa confessed as they all took seats.
“Why?” probed Linda curiously.
“She looked terrifying…I don’t want to speak about it, she is our friend.”
“She was our friend,” Henrietta corrected.
“She still is. She is just going through something,” Theresa said.
“No, she isn’t my friend, Henrietta said rising from where she sat. She tells funny lies. Not one, not two but a countless number of them. That’s not how a friend acts! Then she runs off by herself. Only God knows what she is doing right now.”
“I presume she went to the Salon,” Theresa said.
“Thank God! Finally, she is going to fix that awful hair, Linda said laughing, you know she said happy birthday to me, but I felt bad for her because she went on to tell me about how her Uncle passed away on that day. He was schizophrenic. Listening to her was so depressing.”
“Did you ask her to come to your party then?”
“Yes. It’s likely that she forgot about it.”
“Too busy giving herself a haircut!” Henrietta said laughing.
They joined her in laughter. They had known Edith since their first year in college, and her sudden strange behavior made them both confused and angry.
“Listen, I know what she is going to say when we ask her. She will probably say that she had extra classes with Mr. Ramah so she wasn’t able to come to the party. I would never forget the look on that man’s face when we caught them in his office. He was totally flustered! I had to hold my breath to keep still. But Edith didn’t care; she was unfazed, even though we had just caught her with our lecturer!” Henrietta said with wild eyes.
“That girl knows how to work an element of surprise. Today, you think you know who she is, and you swear she would never hurt a fly. Tomorrow you hear she burnt down the entire school. And you are like Who? No, it couldn’t be Edith.” Theresa said rolling her eyes, disapprovingly.
“Chameleon syndrome, that’s what it’s called,” Henrietta said.
There was a buzz on her phone, and Henrietta frowned at the caller ID before she answered. The phone call to her was a disturbance, so her responses were brief to the point of being curt.
“Yes, I am doing alright.”
“She might have gone to the Salon.”
“You can’t reach her…I have no idea then…Bye.”
And that was the end of it.
“What did he want?” Linda asked.
“He wants to know where she is. He called Madame Rose’s shop but they haven’t seen her all day. He doesn’t know where else she could be. I wonder why he thinks I would know.”
“She was closest to you, remember.”
“Mere months ago, but it feels like years.”
Edith woke up. She watched the clock diligently, wishing the woman would hurry. She was going to have dinner with Elvin in an hour, but half her hair was still undone. Resignedly, she stretched in her chair, eying the lady next to her. Edith listened as the woman complained to the hairdresser about not knowing what to do with her hair. She had so much of it. So she complained for minutes about having too much of long, lustrous, thick, black hair. Edith thought how true it was that no matter how much you gave, some people would never be grateful. She watched people come in and go out of the salon. There was a woman with a terrible body odor with a crying baby tied to her back. She was begging for alms and no one paid her any attention. Even Edith was too intimidated by the unity of shun to interfere. There was another younger girl who wanted her nail polish to match her wristwatch. And when it didn’t she had made a big fuss. Just in time a man wearing a black shirt, black cap, and orange fanny pack walked in. He had a showcase of wristwatches he was selling. The young girl, risking the chance of ruining her freshly polished nails picked up a silver wristwatch and placed it on her wrists admiringly. After looking at it for some time she accused him of selling fake watches. The man stood there, wiping his sweat trying in vain to defend the quality of his timepieces. She wasn’t convinced, so he packed up and left.
The hairdresser steadied Edith’s head and asked her what she was looking at.
Several minutes later, Edith saw something or someone that made her mouth got so dry that she could feel a dull ache at the back of her throat. He was a small, dirty man in black torn shorts and dirt-stained singlet. His hair was a hue of brown that could only have come about by rolling around in rubbish and a thorough lack of hygiene. He was standing in the middle of the Salon and he displayed broken teeth as he murmured. The women at the shop tore their eyes away from him if they even saw him. They did not act as they did with the woman with the body odor and child, where silence fell upon the room as she spoke. This time they acted like he was not there. Edith blinked twice, hoping it wasn’t an apparition formed by her tired imagination. The hairdresser cutting, combing, drawing and twisting her hair, scolded her to sit properly and to stop with all the shaking and turning. But Edith could not peel her eyes away from the man, his eyes were covered with a white film and she wondered if he could see light. He was staring at her, so there was a possibility he could see her. It was a strange meeting, their staring like that into each other’s eyes. She excused herself from the grasp of the woman pulling her hair and walked out of the salon, the man followed her outside, where are you going to, the hairdresser yelled, but Edith did not reply. The man kept following her as she walked to a kiosk and bought sachet water and a bottle of Coca-Cola drink. She offered him the water. She wanted something sweet to wet her parched throat.
“Do I know you?” she asked, scolding herself for engaging in a conversation with a stranger, but she was sure she had seen him somewhere before.
He muttered something and Edith with a part of her covered in brown attachment and the other undone, moved closer so she could hear him.
“You want this?” she asked, surely she must be hearing things.
When he nodded she handed him her half-empty bottle.
“What is your name?” she asked, her interest growing.
“I don’t have one,” he answered.
Edith laughed. “Everyone does. Except you are a mad man and you have forgotten yours.”
“You are right. I could pass for a mad man. But really, is there anything wrong with being a little mad. Besides, you know what they say, don’t you? Only madmen understand themselves.”
“Who are you? Have we met before?”
“Curious Edith,” He answered, scratching his lice-infested hair. “You made me.”
Edith laughed. Her voice sounded surreal. In fact, the entire conversation did. Yet she was sure it was happening.
The hairdresser who had been waiting in the shop for her customer to return so she could complete her hair grew impatient. Her colleague, the woman who had accused Edith of not knowing how to read laughed. She was glad she wasn’t the one doing the strange girl’s hair. After some time the hairdresser came out searching for her customer. When she spotted Edith with her half plaited hair, hands poking the air, and a mouth consumed in a fit of laughter, the woman stifled a scream. The young girl was having a conversation by herself. Was her customer really insane? Who could she be talking to?
About the Author
Umeukeje Gibret Ifedi is a Nigerian writer based in Ghana. She is enthusiastic and passionate about her writing. A lover of craft, she has been writing stories since she was eight years old. She chooses to write stories of African origin as her inspiration to do this comes from her everyday life while commuting within West Africa. She is in her final year at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, where she studies pharmacy.
Umeukeje Gibret Ifedi was born and raised in Port Harcourt Nigeria. She was raised in the quiet streets of Ada George and is the first sibling among six. When she is not reading a book or writing one, you can find her either listening to music or watching old films. Her secret obsessions are health, nutrition, exercise, and skincare. She is the recipient of Pagya 2018 Workshop on How to unleash your Creative Mind in Writing. Some of her novellas have been featured on e-reading platforms like Okadabooks and Bambooks. Her fiction has been featured on platforms such as Random Thoughts and Kalahari Review. She also has a blog, https://gibretifedi.blogspot.com/?m=1 where she shares her stories.