Behind the scenes

It had already been predestined that on my 30th birthday (the eve of my party), I would spend 5 hours sitting in a chair, getting my hair braided, occasionally, switching bum cheeks to thaw the numbness. Although I would have preferred to watch something mind-numbing on E4, I would end up being “bullied” by my equally bored hairdresser to switch the channel to BET or the Nollywood movie channel. All these things were certain for me… and in fact, for some of the guests attending my party the next day.
I had however afforded myself a small degree of control by asking Bintu, my hairdresser to do my hair at my house. It had been years since I had had my hair braided at any hairdresser’s house. I had been burnt too many times to count.
Everything would start reasonably well. However, as soon as it felt like we were nearing the half way mark, she would ask to be excused for 5 minutes while she made a “quick” meal for a small collection of irritable and mildly restless children. Half an hour later, she would return, closely trailed by perhaps one of the aforementioned restless children. Said child would linger around demanding the attention of his mother, my hairdresser.
Eventually, he would find his way into my handbag and in one swift move, expertly retrieve the chocolate bar I had packed as a snack. The mother would lazily tell her cheeky little monkey not to touch auntie’s bag. The twinkle in his eye would tell me that he was in the habit of finding similar delights in handbags belonging to other “aunties”. Like me, the other aunties would eventually surrender the tasty treat in exchange for a little peace and quiet.
On this particular “trip to the hairdresser”, I had decided to use my time in the chair to do all the last minute preparations for my party. I made lists, called guests and was having a rather efficient time. However, Bintu was in a particularly chatty mood… well, more than usual.
She was having another crisis in her life and wanted to explain all the details to me… I passively listened to her tell about some trouble with her husband back home as though I was listening to a radio show, catching enough details to sigh and gasp at the right moments. After pausing for the appropriate amount of time, my mind would wander back to the party.
“Do I have enough food?” “I must remember to text Kuda” I thought, as I added to my growing list.
I tuned back in to hear her voice rise further still, now bordering on hysterical. Hers was a pain that had been slowly stewed and garnished with a generous dose of resentment.
“Well, that’s not very good”, I added, not quite sure if that had been the most relevant response to whatever she had just said.
This carried on for a few minutes. However, like white noise demands attention, so her anguish had become so loud, I could no longer hear myself think. I tensed up.
“Bintu, can I pray for you?”, I finally asked.
The noise stopped. For the first time in about half an hour, she was quiet.
“Yes please”, she answered in a small voice. 
I invited her to sit next to me and held her hands. “Dear Heavenly Father…”
Over the next 10 mins, I prayed the best prayer I knew, asking God to give her His peace, which surpasses all understanding. I felt her pain in my own heart, which caused me to weep with her.
When I finished, my Muslim hairdresser and I said Amen and opened our eyes, both moist and teary. She looked at me and smiled weakly “thank you,” she said. I smiled back.
The peace settled with us for the rest of the afternoon while we chatted about life, birthdays, God and men.
5 hours later, I emerged looking like a cup full of super hot stuff. I dropped Bintu off in town and went to give her her £50 payment. “Make it £45”, she said smiling. “It’s my birthday present to you”.
I smiled, touched by her sweet gesture. “Thank you Bintu”.
That’s the thing about black hairdressing – we all wish we could peel off our hair, drop it off and pick it up later when it’s all done and pretty. In our rush, it’s easy to miss some of society’s most beautiful moments of sisterhood, with the incredible humans who make our hair happen.
We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
Gwendolyn Brooks

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