“I hate Mondays,” Silas tells his cousin Anne. “In fact, Sunday nights, like today, depress me. A while back I would only drink on Fridays and Saturdays. But these days I cannot do without a drink on Sunday, to take my mind away from the looming week. In fact, these days I drink every evening.”
Silas and Anne are at a pub in the Nairobi CBD. Silas is a hairdresser, while Anne is an engineer. They grew up together in Kanyungu village in Lower Kabete, and went to Kanyungu Primary School. Anne garnered 399 marks in KCPE and was admitted at Precious Blood School, Kilungu. She later scored A plain in KSCE and got a scholarship to study Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. She did her masters at the same Institute before coming back to the country. She is now a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure and Urban Development. She is still mentioned with pride by teachers at Kanyungu primary school, many of whom are locals.
Silas managed 192 marks and could not go on with education. He did odd jobs at Wangige market to earn a living. About a year after finishing school, he fell in love with a girl called Ciru, who was running a small hair salon at Wangige. Silas spent every free minute he had at her salon, talking to her while she worked. One day she playfully challenged him to work on a man’s dreadlocks. Like every smitten man, he accepted the challenge. Ciru guided him through it, and to their surprise, he did a fine job. In fact, Silas found that he had enjoyed the experience. His love affair with hair had begun. Ciru is now his wife, and together they have three children.
But that was many years ago. Now he hates the idea of going to work. He misses those days when he was full of optimism and enthusiasm, working with his wife Ciru; those days when he attacked mornings with gusto. Now he is generally lethargic, and has even started drinking during weekdays, which was once his self-imposed taboo. On three Mondays in the last two months, he reported to work having passed through the local pub. He can feel his life slipping out of his control, and feels too helpless to stem the downward spiral.
It is not that he hates his job. No, he loves working with hair. He is a fine hairdresser and has carved a niche for himself in dreadlocks and braids. He has a loyal clientele of women who have come to trust his workmanship. He makes the locks and braids with love, stringing each strand with affectionate gentleness. He massages the heads with tenderness, giving his clients not only his expertise, but his soul. He pours his life into the heads of his clients. Many women, and a few men as well, insist on being handled by him alone. They come to SilvHair Parlor specifically to be attended by him. Many call him to book appointments a week in advance. He loves his job.
So the problem is not his job. The problem, the way he sees it, is his employer. Many years ago, when he was still working with Ciru, a lady had come to their salon one evening for retouch on her locks. She was coming for her sister’s ruracio at their parents’ home, she said, but been too busy during the day to visit her usual salon. Her cousins referred her to him. She was so impressed with his work that she mentioned him to her friend and regular hairdresser, Silviah, the proprietor of the posh SilvHair Parlor in Kilimani. Silviah hired him and gave him a salary of Kshs. 40, 000. He had floated to the moon, toured the universe before accepting the offer. 40,000! For a man who had just recently been pushing carts for a pittance?
But before long, Silviah started to seduce him. At first Silas played along with the flirting, thinking it was harmless chit-chat. After all, maybe this was the normal way of conducting conversation among the wealthy. What did a man from Kanyungu know about etiquette and social graces?
But he soon realized she was serious, and she expected more than idle conversation. Even a man from Kanyungu cannot fail to notice sexual advances from an aggressive woman. That is when he pulled back, and tried to stay strictly professional in his dealings with her. It was not for her lack of beauty. In spite of being twenty years older than he is, Silviah is still a stunning beauty. Her beautifully curved body is kept in shape by regular visits to the gym and a strict diet. She can afford outfits that tease her figure, and exotic perfumes that cast a spell on any male that comes within range of her personal realm.
But Silas regularly reminds himself that he married the woman he loves. That he and Ciru were perfectly happy without Silviah’s money, and would still be happy if Silviah fired him. So he declined Silviah advances.
As expected, she did not take it well. She was so angered that she could have fired him, save for the fact that he has a flock of loyal clientele. Silviah is a smart businesswoman, and she knows better than jeopardize her business out of spite. But she has a new sport: humiliating Silas.
She especially enjoys making fun of his low-level of education insinuating that he has below average intelligence. She makes it clear that he is only where he is because of her philanthropy; otherwise he would still be “plaiting house helps in Wangige, earning five thousand every month.”
“She yells at me like a schoolboy. Even in front of customers,” Silas tells Anne.
“Why don’t you just leave?” Anne asks.
“And go where? Ciru’s Salon cannot cater for our family expenses. And nobody else is going to hire me. I am a Std 8 drop out remember? This city is crawling with stylists with swanky diplomas from posh beauty colleges. Silviah is right. I am only where I am because of her generosity, even if that generosity is laced with emotional poison,”
“That woman is manipulating you Silo. You are where you are because you are a really good stylist. That is why women line up for you. Remember, Silviah did not introduce you to clients. A client introduced you to Silviah. Trust me, those women don’t care for diplomas. They care for the services you offer. Silviah knows that, that is why she attacks your esteem to stop you from leaving. Come to think of it; it is a brilliant strategy. She gets to keep you as a hairdresser, but make you miserable daily for rejecting her,”
“Okay. Say I decide to leave. Where would I go? Drop applications in other salons? And write what exactly in the cv? I can’t even write properly,”
“You are a pro, Silo. Trust me you wouldn’t need a CV. Most of these other salon owners know about you, and I am sure they are drooling over you. Who wouldn’t want a stylist with a loyal clientele on their camp? They just can’t approach you because they are afraid of Silviah. That woman has a reputation for being mean. But if you resign, they will come,”
“So you are suggesting I resign and wait for job offers? What if they don’t come?”
“I actually have a better idea. Quit and open your own salon. Or rather, join Ciru but move the shop to a location that is more accessible to a majority of your current clients. You and Ciru will make a fine team. I can guarantee you that at least half of those women will follow you. With time Ciru will build her own client list. By the way, did you say they even call you to book appointments? Silviah allowed you to give them your contacts?”
“When I joined her parlor, all staff members had these cute business cards, so I got my own. She withdrew them when my clients started becoming too attached, but it was too late. They already had my contacts, which they shared amongst themselves. But those women cannot leave Silviah. They are her class, while I am an uneducated, unintelligent man from Kanyungu. They pride themselves in being clients of the finest parlor in town.”
“Listen Silo, you need to work on your esteem. Low self-esteem is a self-imposed prison that you need to break free from. Remind yourself regularly that you are a star stylist until you believe it, because it is true. Many women go to salons to get their hair done, not just for Instagram pictures. They will follow you. But give them a decent shop too. Something better than Ciru’s kiosk in Wangige. Can you afford to do that?”
“Yes, Ciru and I have some savings, and I can take a loan in my SACCO. But you Anne, you drink too much as well. Why do you drink so much? I mean, your career is flying high, you have more degrees than Fahrenheit could have imagined and you have a very handsome boyfriend. What exactly is your problem?”
“If only you knew Silo,”
“Sam is very possessive, and it is choking me. He is always stalking me. I get slut-shamed every time I talk to a man, any man. He even beats me sometimes. I am fed up with his insults and violence,”
Anne pauses and wipes a tear.
“And you can’t dump him because…” Silas probes.
“You don’t understand Silo. Sam is a good man sometimes. Plus, he is the only man who has ever loved me. Every other man either wants my money, or sex,”
“So the one who beats and demeans you is the one who loves you? Let me guess, he is the one who tells you that he is the only one who can love you,” Silas says with a smile.
Anne smiles as well.
“What are you driving at?”
“It seems like your self-imposed prison cell is smaller than mine. Look, Anne. We should not allow these people to turn us into alcoholics. Let me propose a deal. Tomorrow, you dump your silly boyfriend, and I quit my job,”
“Deal. Let us meet here tomorrow to exchange notes.”
“Not here. We can’t be pursuing freedom and continue drinking daily like prisoners. Let us meet at Java. I will come with Ciru. Even God Himself knows that my heavy drinking has been stressing her,”
“Java it is. To freedom!” Anne crows.
“I am glad I met you today Anne. To freedom!”
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/photoshop-space-universe-sky-2845779/