Your grandmothers trimmed your hair, their scissors making trails on your scalp. Your paternal grandmother had her hair trimmed with the same scissors. Your grandmother’s hair was always tucked under a headscarf, maybe because she was a good Christian woman, the first in her family. Your grandmother called her white hair tsimbutse. Your grandmother at your father’s graduation wore a headscarf but her hair peeped out unconcealed, black. One time your grandmother combed her hair, oiled it with coconut oil, and went to the barasa to explain why she sold your grandfather’s cow without his permission. Her hair was stunning.
The person who plaited your hair pulled it so tight, giving you pimples on your temples that you could not help scratching. They have turned into open sores and everyone stares at you as if you are a dirty dirty little girl. You are kipara ngoto maji ya moto after the nurse shaves your head with a razor blade and tells you to apply stinky ointment.
You have your mother’s big hair, you own one of her mother’s old headscarves.
You have a phobia for hot combs from when you were little, and they hot combed your hair, and your earlobe was burning, and the oil was melting, and you could smell the hot comb cooking your hair. You are having your hair straightened because it has grown some since that day your father took you to the roadside barber, and told him to cut your tangled hair. You have never not cried at the salon. You were crying at the barber shop even though the cutting itself did not hurt.
You want to have long hair because only girls with long hair are told their hair is nice. Miriam Makeba has a backup singer with short hair and big big earrings, and she is gorgeous. If you wear big big earrings people will say your hair is nice like that short-hair woman who sings Jekele Maweni with Miriam Makeba.
They told your father that blow-drying will soften your hair, but you are crying at the salon. The blow dryer whirs like a blender churning food to pulpy mash. Your head is pulpy soft and sore but your hair shines, it is long, and holds nicely in a ponytail.
The blow dryer comb pops off–flying across the salon–while the frowning hairdresser is working your hair. You are accustomed to faces with clenched jaws only relaxing when massaging oil onto your sore scalp. This hairdresser’s comb is melting because she’s using too much heat on your head. She says it’s just right for your type of hair. ‘Wah, nywele yako ni ngumu!’ is a compliment.
You think Red Nails Beauty Parlour is perfect for you. A gentle hairdresser works your hair, and for the first time ‘wash n blow dry’ doesn’t mean sitting under clouds of smoke. She ties your hair with a complimentary ribbon. Former Wonderful Hairdresser at Red Nails Beauty Parlour says you must now pay extra; your hair takes more shampoo, conditioner, and electricity. You need a special formulation treatment for your type of hair. You ask if the people whose hair is not too thick get discounts. You pay extra–afraid to start again with new faces with clenched jaws turning your hair into something you can manage.
You buy your own perming chemicals so hairdressers won’t tell you your hair depleted their supplies. In school you earn extra merits for tidy hair. You endure scalp burns so you can comb your hair and style it with rollers. Someone says you got a good blow dry, you reply ‘It’s a perm’. What she means to say is that your hair isn’t cooked enough. You drop your hairdresser’s number after he says you can’t stop perming your hair. Natural hair isn’t for you, it’s more expensive, you won’t manage.
Your mother’s hair is only ever in that very tidy afro or in a headwrap. You tried a headwrap and you felt as if the blood was not flowing in your head, you just wanted your hair to breathe.
Your cousin’s convinced you to wear a wig that will make you look more mature, more professional, and then people will take you seriously. You can’t go around with those lines, not at your age, she says. You like the shape of your head with nothing extra on it. You’ve found a hair-dresser who listens to you. You wash and comb your hair. It isn’t your mother’s bouffant but it’s enough, and everyone who knows your mother says you have her hair.