My beauty shop is in the worst part of Compton. There are addicts and dealers, transients and thieves. The blare of sirens and thunderously loud speakers booming are an engraved part of the city. Block after block of small businesses have been forced to close at the will of the economy. But Nappies Beauty Salon has been going strong for more than twenty years. My father’s sister, Clara was the original owner. I bought the shop from her. My dad and soon to be ex-husband Doug gutted the place and put in new flooring, faux marble counters and new shampoo bowls. When I’m here, I’m a counselor, a teacher and a best friend. Being a mother of five can sometimes be thankless and draining but my salon energizes me.
However, at this very moment I’m feeling anything but energized holding a handful of tangled, disgusting red extensions six inches above Tabitha’s head. We’re the only two in the shop but I can think of about a million places I’d rather be. I have to come in extra early for her appointments because she likes to get started before I get distracted by what she refers to as the ‘tedium of owning a small business’. “Girl, be gentle with this hair. Do you know how many Koreans had to die for me to look this good?” Tabitha and I have been best friends since high school, but I have always found her exhausting. I roll my eyes heavenward, which is something I do a lot when talking to Tabitha.
“First of all, they don’t kill people to get the hair for weaves. And secondly this is Indian hair.”
“Well that’s probably why the shit tangled so quickly.” I try for the hundredth time to remember why I’m friends with this woman. If I’m judged by the company I keep, then I should stay far away from Tabitha because everything about her is questionable. But I don’t suppose I’m in a position to judge.
“No bitch, it’s tangled because you were flopping your behind around in the ocean like the little fuckin mermaid. You didn’t comb this mess at all did you?” I ask as I cut right through a big ball of sand filled knots. If she thinks the extensions can be salvaged, she’ll try and get me to reuse them. I’d rather just start from scratch because with all the wear and tear her hair goes through the weave tracks need to be new if they’re ever going to have a fighting chance.
“Nope, I put on a hat and came straight here from the airport,” Tabatha says matter-of-factly as she takes out her cell phone.
“How long were you in the Bahamas?” I ask as I cut another knot from the weave.
“We were there for five days. I think this one’s a keeper,” she adds as an afterthought while she texts. Tabatha has had plenty of ‘keepers’ over the years. They are always old, always well off and usually a bit senile. The latest is a sixty-five year old divorced father of three. She’s got that man spending his pension on expensive trips and paying her bills. “I slipped an Ambien in his drink at night so that I could go out after he fell asleep.”
I shake my head. I’m completely horrified by the things she says and does. “I can’t believe you drugged that man.”
“Girl yeah, I had a ball after his old ass drifted off to la-la land.” She slaps her knee cracking up at her own joke. “He is definitely a keeper,” she repeats looking up to meet my gaze in the mirror. “And speaking of a keeper,” she looks me up and down with a playful smile, “how is new daddy?” She’s referring to Mike who has become a permanent staple in my life. Doug and I have joint custody of the kids while we go through the divorce, so I have them every other weekend. But whenever they’re with their dad, Mike is right next to me. Even though we’ve been inseparable, he has never met any of my kids. I want to keep that part of my life separate from our relationship, for now anyway. Nevertheless, Tabitha insists that he and I are destined to be together.
“I told you to stop calling him that.” I remove the final track and make quick work of unraveling the circle of braids from her scalp. Once the braids are undone I tap her shoulder and motion towards the shampoo bowl. She’s temporarily distracted by a text message and I savor the silence.
“Well what would you like me to call him?” She continues as she reclines against the bowl.