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 likes to get started before I get distracted by what she refers to as 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 from the weave.
“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 how 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 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. All of this dating stuff is foreign to me,” I say as I scrub sand from her scalp.
“Just take it slow. There’s no rush because if he loves you as much as I think he does he’ll wait until you’re ready.” Every once in a while she has nuggets of thoughtfulness. I rinse the shampoo from her hair and repeat the process three times before combing through her thick course mane. I part her hair into four sections and apply a large amount of conditioner then lead her to the hairdryer. I sit down at my station while the conditioner goes to work on her hair and check my phone for messages. There’s one from Mike which brings a smile to my face. ‘What are you wearing?’ the message says. I get a little flustered as I touch the screen to reply.
Taking a glance in Tabitha’s direction to insure that she doesn’t see me blushing, I quickly type, ‘I’d like to be wearing you.’ He responds in seconds but before I have a chance to read the message my phone rings with a call from Leila.
“Keisha!” she shouts into the phone.
“What is it girl?” I say shaking my head because she calls me about every thirty minutes asking questions about pregnancy. She’s nearly five months now and according to her Tucker is driving her insane. She says that he’s hidden all of her heels and he’s hired an assistant to follow her around so that she doesn’t have to lift or bend. Some women would love that kind of attention but Leila prides herself on being independent.
“I’m at the airport and I’ll be there in a few minutes.” She’s out of breath and cranky. It’s going to be a long day.
“Leila, why are you coming here, don’t you have work?”
She pauses and all I hear is airport noises and heavy breathing. “I was kind of asked to take a leave of absence until after the baby’s born.” She says sheepishly. I shake my head again because I know she must have done something terrible to be laid off from her family’s company. She presses on, “My supervisor just kept harping about every little thing. Well yesterday I sort of lost it.”
“What did you do?” I question.
“She had it coming.”
“Leila,” I say calmly.
“She wouldn’t leave me alone. I asked her to leave me alone!”
“Leila what did you do?” I shout losing my patience.
She pauses for a few beats. “I threw a stapler at her head,” she says clearing her throat. “I want to say it was my hormones,” she adds somberly. “But I loved watching Fatima run like a scared bird.” I pinch the bridge of my nose and squeeze my eyes shut tightly. I’m trying my best not to laugh because she’s been such an emotional wreck lately that she’d probably burst into tears. “She threatened to sue the company if I came anywhere near her.” She exhales with a high pitched sigh. “So I took a leave of absence. I’ve been volunteering with Joan and flying to Trinidad to see grandma, Nickie, Riley and Gen as often as possible.”
“So why are you at the airport?”
“Because I need to get away from my husband,” she says with increased annoyance.
“Okay baby just calm down. Do you need me to come and pick you up?”
“No my assistant is with me.” She groans, “I don’t know why in the hell I need an assistant when I don’t even have a job. I’ll be there in a few minutes,” she says and hangs up. I send Tucker a text message to let him know Leila’s with me. I put my phone away then take a few deep cleansing breaths to prepare myself for her arrival.
Leila get’s to the shop just as I finish braiding Tabitha’s hair. She’s so petite and cute despite the scowl she’s wearing. She rushes into the salon on six inch heels and makes a beeline for the bathroom without saying a word. A few seconds later a young woman enters looking frazzled.
“Where is she?” the woman says franticly scanning the room. Her hair is pulled into a ponytail and lose hairs are falling into her eyes. She looks about the same age as Leila only a bit on the frumpy side.
“She’s in the bathroom. Have a seat,” I say as I stitch a weave cap over Tabitha’s braids.
“Do you think I should wait back there? I mean she might need something.”
I shake my head no without looking at her. Leila must be giving this girl the blues. She’s biting the nail on her index finger and rapidly tapping her foot on the floor. “What’s your name?” I ask.
“My name, my name, um,” she says hopping to her feet when Leila walks out of the bathroom. “Do you need anything Mrs. Bradley?”
“Brittney please sit down,” Leila says lowering herself into a salon chair and pulling her heel off to rub her foot.
“If the shoes hurt your feet why are you wearing them?”
“It’s a matter of principle,” she says kicking off her other shoe. I raise an eyebrow then go back to attaching the cap.
“Mrs. Bradley you should drink water so that your feet don’t swell,” Brittany says.
“Do you see what I mean?” Leila says motioning to Brittany. “He can’t follow me so he paid her to do it. He’s got her so nervous that she jumps around like a crazy person all day.” Tabitha starts to laugh. “It’s not funny,” Leila says bursting into tears. I slap Tabitha’s arm and walk over to Leila and pull her up from the seat.
“Oh baby I promise it’ll get easier as you get further into the second trimester.”
“I’m not even sure why I’m crying,” she says with a hiccup.
“I don’t know either. Tucker has always been protective of you. That’s part of what you love about him.” I smooth her hair into place. “He’s not trying to take away your independence. Taking care of you is how he shows you that he loves you.” She sniffles and wipes her eyes.
“How’d you get so smart?” she says smiling up at me.
“I’ve learned from making a shit load of mistakes. Now you need to try and enjoy your pregnancy. He wants to wait on you hand and foot so let him because once the baby comes it won’t be about you anymore.” She nods her agreement and sits back in the chair. I still can’t believe she’s only five months pregnant. Her belly looks like she’s at the end of her third trimester.
“So how far along are you?” Tabitha asks tentatively.
“I just had an ultrasound yesterday. I’m four and a half months but the baby is very large. The doctor says that at the rate it’s growing it could be twelve pounds by the time I deliver. My vagina will never be the same after pushing out a baby that big.”