The sun peeked out of the June sky like a shy virgin. A perfect day to get my hair cut. I was tired of the spiky relaxed ends that made me have a rag doll look. I was more tired of having to wear straight weaves that gave me a sorry European look. The weaves would cascade down my brown oval face, the strands smearing my foundation and drawn eye brow. Sometimes it would stick to my sweaty back, smelling like burnt feathers. I had woken up that morning and walked to the mirror. I stared at the mirror as my blurry reflection slowly came into view. Staring back at me was a tall lanky girl with sharp facial features. My face had a wild look with the weave-on tangled at the ends. I saw an African girl who was desperately trying to look European. The eye shadow remnants of the day before worsened my now cocky look. No! I wasn’t African, I was an African girl with a Caucasian mind; A black girl in a white skin. I blinked my eyes as hot tears clawed down my cheeks. I have been a failure.
Yanked the weave on roughly.
I have wasted precious naira to BE-THEY-TI-FUL.
Slapped my head hard, more because of the itch the weave was giving me.
I pulled off the oversize shirt I wore. Pigments of coffee brown and peroxide brown gaped from the layers of the skin of my back.
Gripped my body, trying to shield it from my eyes.
I had subconsciously become ashamed of my own skin. I had wanted to be fair and white, the way the various bleaching creams had promised.
The oscillating fan at the Barber’s shop whirled in a fast motion, sweeping tufts of black Afro around the linoleum floor. The white ceiling shook from the sound impact from the loud speakers placed on the floor. P square’s ‘Shekini’ blared from the speaker’s grills. I sat on the worn out sofa that had nails shooting out with each sharp end pointed like an Asegai. My hands were clasped in front of me and my feet were methodically stamping to the beat.
‘’Fine Girl! Wetin you wan do?’’ the barber called out, black apron wrapped around his burly frame as he trimmed the edges of a customer’s hair with the jaggy clipper.
‘’Oga nyem ifad ided,’’ I replied
‘’Jesus ayem ifad ided,’’ he exclaimed with his eyes bulging out of shock. ‘’You don tell your boyfriend abi im no dey give you hair money.’’
‘’Oga I wan barb my hair. I no dey for that kind boyfriend interview,’’ I replied, getting uncomfortable with his question. I rose up as I spoke, my face flaming in anger.
‘’Haba! Customer siddon na, no be fight. Mek I finish with this my guy I go face you,’’ he pleaded with a fake smile plastered on his face.
The barber finished with the man who paid his fee and left. I sashayed to the black seat in front of the mirror and sank my butt into it.
The sharp lulling edge of the clipper ploughed the roots off my scalp. It was soothing and refreshing. The barber would turn my head gently to the angle he wanted then use a fly whisk to dust off disruptive hair particles off my head and neck. He would dip a brown foam that had seen many faces and pat it on my face; sweeping it in a slow motion until the talcum powder spread to all the corners of my face. This was what Samson died for, I thought, smiling in satisfaction when I stood up and paid him.
I would type on Google; how to grow hair in two weeks, ingredients for fast hair growth, remedies for short Afro; run my eyes over the text and regimen pictures whilst swiping randomly at the screen. Standing like a wet chicken before the mirror in my room, I dug my fingers into my hair and stretched the hair with my hands – Afro did not want to grow despite the desperate treatment I gave it. It had not reached a satisfactory length. I wanted to look like the big Afroed black women I saw on the internet. I needed a hair so long, a hair so thick that it would look like a black shrub bush on my head. I would not care how heavy it would be. Just some tufts, tufts of hair that defy gravity.
I would later complain to Eveh Ogban and she would say. ‘’Healthy hair is not in the length, Ekom your hair is just okay.’’ And I would stare at hers and wonder why I never get it right.
I have made a resolution to embrace my Africaness; in appearance and in ideology. I don’t care again if I am a shade lighter or darker. I want no more to depend on bleaching creams for my skin colour. I want no more to be ashamed of wearing my hair the way I want- nappy or kinky.
On 7th September, I am invited for a job interview. Frosty mien interviewees sit in the reception, dressed in monkey coloured European burlap, they say it’s called suit. My long Ankara gown is a gaut relief to the occasion, my Afro in spiky twist out. My name is called and I stride into the hall, where sitting by the table are stern looking interviewers, who could frighten hell out of Lucifer.
‘’Ekomobong Ekpenyong is my name.’’
‘’You know this is an interview and you’re not dressed corporately.’’
‘’Yes, I know this is an interview and I am dressed to feel good.’’
‘’And your hair?’’ He stares, looking hard at the wooly mane on my head.
‘’Oh! My hair.’’ I shake it about. ‘’Just tufts, just me, I am black and African. This one thing should identify me.’’
‘’Alright, let’s start…‘’
The September rains are getting chillier than ever. I want to catch the cold. I want to leave my messy bed. I go to Eka Eno’s restaurant- a regal wrapper wrapped around my slim frame and beaded sandals to match; sit by the entrance and gobble hungrily the plate of Ekpang Nkukwo with my fingers. Three ladies in stilettos and Denim shorts come into the restaurant, batting their Korean eyelashes like fish fins and wringing their clawed Peruvian nails like crocodile’s teeth. They watch me closely with obvious disbelief at my appearance. I enjoy the attention and nibble the food in slow bits, smiling at my performance. Two of them walk to me. ‘’Can we touch?’’ they ask, pointing at my hair.
‘’Your hair, I love it, how old is it.’’
‘’2 years, 2 months and 10 days.’’
‘’It’s beautiful and blends with your appearance.’’
As I leave the restaurant, I think about our fears as humans; I think about our hunger to be who we are. I am thinking now that if you give yourself a name and the world refuses to call you that, bear it anyway and gradually they will learn to call you back. Each day I groom myself to be a rebel, some controversy in the midst of seeming normalcy. I am the daughter of the soil and I will bask in the sun’s warmth. Dance in the rain and watch my Afro break barriers and create oasis. These tufts of hair on me will be my mane as I become a lion in the jungle.
Days later when I watch the South African Afro Hair protest being called a political statement, I touch my own and say. ‘’Not just a statement, not just an identity, not just a movement but the destruction of the illusions that I will never be beautiful wearing myself.’’
December 31st, 2017. I shall match into the next year, burning torches of passion and strength. I shall look back at the cradle of my Afro, holding myself and loving my person. And with my right hand lifted I shall say. ‘’Amandla, Ngawethu.’’ For these tufts of hair say ‘’Let them wear their hair, and I wear mine.’’
The rains fall like guitar chords, far into the depth of the earth as Brenda Fassie’s “My baby” plays from my Infinix Phone, lying atop a bag of garri.
Image courtesy the author