The smell of hair grease. The harsh texture of the synthetic hair, also known as “horse hair.” The soft black leather seats with a small tear on each of them. The 32″ Samsung television playing the same Nollywood movie. And my mother, sitting behind one of the black leather chairs. Her right fingers holding the strands of synthetic hair, ready to braid the customers hair. Her fingers gripping tightly onto the customers kinky textured dark brown hair. The customer’s soft hiss can be heard. She is wincing in pain, as my mother begins to braid her hair and the synthetic hair together. Her fingers move swiftly until she reaches the end of the synthetic hair.
When I was younger, I loved braiding hair. I did my best to learn how to braid at the age of eleven. I would use the dolls with soft textured hair to practice. I never gave up. There was this passion, that til this day I never knew why I had it. I would practice everyday after school. I would walk to the shop from my middle school, and the excitement rushed through my body, making me walk fast. My mother let me braid the ends of the individuals (single braids). Just as fast as I can walk, I was a fast braider. And, showed off a lot. The customers would tell my mom how fast I was. I tried convincing my mom to let me braid more but she never let me. Others would tell my mom to not let me braid, and let me focus on school. As if, my love for braiding could ever exceed my love for school.
I grew up with the shop. The first shop I was in was where I learned my love for braiding. My love for Nollywood movies. My love for reading and writing. My love for the closeness I had with my mom. But it was also in the first shop, my brother and I fought, I would lose and start crying. I was a wimp. It was in the first shop my little brother would come in with a bruised face after being hit by the bullies in school. It was in the first shop I had my 10th birthday party, with a piñata full of sweets. It was in the first shop, I had my first bag of hot cheetos and fell in love. The first shop.
The second shop wasn’t so bad. But it was in the second shop where my love for braiding started to fade. My mother finally let me braid the full head. Customers started to want me to braid their hair because of how fast I was. I never talked to the customers unless they talked to me. I always had my headphones in listening to the music. I was a tight braider, gripped onto my customers hair to make the braids last longer. Vendors would come by selling African clothes and scarves. There were other vendors who sold Macy’s perfumes for a cheaper price. Then there were the hair vendors called John, Victor, and Michael. My mother would introduce me as her daughter to everyone. I would come into the second shop with my head down. I would sit in the back, either reading a book or watching something on my tablet. It was in the second shop where my relationship with my mother didn’t go so well. It was in the second shop where I considered braiding hair as a job, and my friends would laugh at me. They would tell me that braiding hair wasn’t a real job.
My love for braiding decreased, and I began to dislike it. I disliked how tired I was after braiding someone’s hair. But I pitied my mother even more. As my mother aged, the shop aged as well. Her fingers were no longer as swift as before. People are no longer coming to the professional African braiders. They are now going to YouTube to learn how to do their hair. And, I don’t blame them.
Don’t get me wrong, I still braid today. I continue to do it to help my mom. I also wouldn’t say that the passion isn’t there. It still is. But as I’m getting older, braiding is just something I do. Not something I love to do. But just something I do. However, I will never forget where braiding has gotten me. Those two shops are everything. And these memories that I have will never go away even after my love for braiding is completely gone.
Written by Diaka Thiam.
Thank you for reading! 🙂