Like an expectant mother rubs her swelling belly, I dug my fingers into the depths of my hair and smoothed my fingertips over the growing tiny coily curls.
I was curious about the surprisingly unfamiliar texture and fascinated by the density of my new hair. Every now and again, I would pluck a hair from the roots, stretch it out and delight at how it would extend to twice, sometimes three times its curly length – a seemingly odd ritual I’ve since discovered is not unique to me.
I planned to give my hair the best start. So, after spending some time researching the best styles to protect my hair during this transitional period, I headed to Peckham, an hour’s drive in London to find the best range of hair products.
To me, Peckham has always felt like a short haul drive to somewhere exotic. Somewhere where it’s not unusual to see an African woman in full traditional attire buying a TV in Argos. Somewhere where it’s not ludicrous to hear that song from back home being blasted through the windows of the local DVD pirating shop. I remain convinced the temperature is a couple of degrees higher!
As I walked through the streets of Peckham, I was enticed (occasionally assailed) by the smell of exotic foods from all over the world. From the unmistakable smell of salt fish, to the sweet aroma of overly ripe mangoes. I made a mental note to pick up a roadrunner chicken on my way home. After all, who doesn’t want to boil their chicken for an hour and a half before it’s ready!
I walked into the hair shop and was immediately overwhelmed by choice. There were only 5 aisles in the store but they were packed from floor to ceiling with all kinds of hairy delights. Whether you were in the market for hair extensions, hair food, perm rods or a durag, this shop had it all.
I ran my eyes over the rows of hair. I could be Beyonce, the wavy haired blond bombshell; Trina, the shy type in a cute dark bob or even Gerti, the sassy no nonsense minx in a mini afro. On this occasion, I going to be Auntie Lizzie, the not so plain Zimbo girl in wavy long braids (as recommended by my hairdresser).
After a respectable search to no avail, I decided to ask the sales assistant for help.
“Excuse me, please can you help me.” The tall Asian man looked over at me.
“I’m looking for a brand of hair extensions called Auntie Lizzie.” The man started walking over to me with a stern look on his face. He continued walking until he was standing so close, I could feel his breath on my face. His body language was confrontational. I felt intimidated.
He looked down at me with menacing eyes and for a second I thought he was going to throw me a punch. I looked back at him feigning confidence and added, “Do you stock this brand?” He glared at me for a few moments longer and in a split second, he had a personality transplant and broke into a more jovial and professional character.
“What is this Auntie Libby?” he asked.
Slightly taken aback by the bizarre personality transformation, I went on to cautiously explain that Auntie Lizzie was a brand of hair extensions for braiding.
To his credit, he put quite some vigour into the search for “Auntie Libby”. Through a dialogue of broken English, he asked me questions about “Auntie Libby” calling upon other sales assistants and offering me other (dearer) alternatives along the way. After about 10 minutes, he eventually called off the search party and concluded.
“The boss is not here, he knows everything. Me I don’t think so we have Auntie Libby. Our hair grow long you know, so we don’t have this problem and I not really understand what you looking for.” (he said in essence). He smiled politely.
I walked away with my head hanging slightly lower and like a dog eats his own vomit, I continued to wonder the aisles of the offending shop picking up basic supplies. I watched the male sales assistant interacting with other young women in the same aggressive style. Curiously, many of the younger women humoured this strange behaviour, squealing like silly schoolgirls. The flirting is something I had observed on many occasions in other similar stores. I had never understood it. After all, you don’t openly flirt with the sales assistant in Boots or Superdrug. Perhaps it was the prospect of the 5 – 10% discount. I guess everybody wants to look like Beyonce for a bargain.
I did eventually find my Auntie Lizzie hair in different store and also managed to pick up my roadrunner chicken before heading home victorious and humming to that song from back home.