My beauty shop is in the worst part of Compton. When you step outside the front door you might think you’ve entered a third world country. There are addicts and dealers, transients and thieves. Block after block of small businesses have been forced to close because of the economy. But Nappies Beauty Salon has been going strong for more than twenty years. My aunt 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 holding a handful of tangled, disgusting red extensions six inches above Tabitha’s head. I have to come in extra early for her appointments because she says she likes to get started before I get distracted by the tedium of owning a small business. We’re the only two in the shop but I can think of about a million places I’d rather be. “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 to be 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.
“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,” Tabatha says taking out her cell phone.
“How long were you in the Bahamas?” I ask as I cut another knot out of her hair.
“We were there for five days. I think this one’s a keeper,” she says as an afterthought while she texts. Tabatha has had plenty of keepers over the years. The latest is a sixty 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 can’t believe you drugged that man.”
“Girl yeah, I had a ball after his old ass drifted off to lala land,” she says cracking up. “He is definitely a keeper.” She repeats looking up from her cell phone to meet my gaze in the mirror. “And speaking of a keeper where is new daddy?” She asks with a devilish grin. 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. 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 say as I remove the final track from her head and start the process of unraveling the circle of braids from her scalp. “Come on,” I say tapping her shoulder and motioning towards the shampoo bowl.
“Well what would you like me to call him?” She asks as she reclines against the bowl.
“I don’t know Tab,” I respond exasperated. “I guess you should just call him Mike. I’m feeling a little anxious because he asked me to come up and meet his mother this weekend.”
“Well what’s wrong with that? It’s a big deal for a man to introduce you to his mother.” It’s a huge deal which is why I feel as if I might puke every time I think about it.”
“I’ve been with the same man since I was 16. I don’t know how to do all of this dating stuff,” I say as I scrub sand from her scalp.