I haven’t shaved my hair in over three months. The one growing on my head and the one you’re probably thinking about too. I am looking to shave the one on my head because it has become difficult to maintain. I have typical African hair which hardens as it grows and makes it impossible for a comb to penetrate. I probably shouldn’t be using the words ‘harden’ and ‘penetrate’ in the same paragraph where someone might still be thinking about a different set of hair.
I have to wet it—forgive me, I’m all out of words. I used most of them in my book. I have to wet it with water to comb it which takes too much time. The alternative is biting on something hard and shedding tears while on the quest to make the person in the mirror look somewhat decent. As you can imagine none of the options are pleasant which leaves the third one. Shaving.
I need to find a new barbershop. Partly why I haven’t shaved. If you have read Proverbs 31 Woman you can probably guess why I need another barbershop. If you haven’t, thing’s got…how do Kenyans put it…ahm, tricky. But that’s a story for another day. Today we need to find a barbershop. Preferably where heads are washed and massaged by men. Or we can completely do away with the massage. What we truly need is a man cave.
As it happens there is a barbershop I have been eyeing that goes by that very name. Castro’s Man Cave to be particular. Match made in heaven, right?
I find myself on their Instagram profile on a Tuesday. I click the link provided and it takes me to a dashboard that has a service, staff, and appointment section. I scroll through the service section, skip the bespoke haircut going for KES 1,000 and select the gentleman’s haircut instead, which is an even hair trim with hot towel treatment going for KES 500. It’s always a good idea to keep your investments low, especially at the beginning of things, that way there is little room for disappointments.
I get to the staff section. I select, “No Preference” and proceed to the appointment section. I haven’t been to a barbershop that needs an appointment. Will I go in looking like a caveman and come out looking like Rapunzel? Entanglements are the last thing we need right now. I give them the benefit of the doubt and make an appointment for Wednesday 2:00 pm. I fill in my details and make the booking.
Wednesday comes knocking. I walk into their CBD branch on the 5th floor of Queens Way House at 1:00 pm. The decor is made of dark colors with a minimalist approach. Warm ambient lighting filters throughout the shop. I meet a pleasant woman behind the reception desk. She has her hair in a ponytail and she’s dressed in a white t-shirt and black denim jacket, in contrast to her face which is yellow. With features that say she hails from House of Mumbi, they further say that she could not be a day older than twenty-five.
“Hi, I have an appointment,” I say leaning on her desk.
She taps a few keys on her laptop before looking up at me. “Kevin?” she asks in a soft soothing voice.
She goes back to tapping her keyboard and looks up again with a face that says I’m early.
“I know I’m an hour early, I can wait,” I say. Nelson Demille’s Plum Island is sitting in my Kindle, I had planned to kill time with it before I meet my new barber. Those are some of the perks of being a mildly known writer, sometimes you have nothing but time on your hands.
“Have a seat,” she says while pointing towards plush-looking dark brown sofas.
I walk towards them and sit down. They hug me like a cloud and I wonder if I will read Nelson Demille or take a nap. My sofa’s back home feel as if they are made of stone when compared to these. Sometimes I bite on the armrest while combing my African hair.
Before I can nod off, her soft voice calls. “Come this way Kevin,” she says from her reception desk. I follow her voice as if in a trance. There are three to four empty adjustable black barber seats with mirrors in front of them. Behind them are similar seats with the same setting. She points to the chair closest to her and goes back to her desk. I can now see her full figure: she’s slender and not any taller than 5’6. She’s in black denim trousers and black shoes—the common vans with a white stripe across them.
“Baraza,” she calls the person who I suspect will be in charge of my head if things go well—fingers crossed.
Baraza is a tall, dark, thin man. His name suggests that he is Luyha or he could be Kisii. I don’t pay nearly enough attention to my gender to know where they hail from. You can tell he has good hygiene. His head is clean-cut, he’s got on stylish clothes and black velvet loafers with a golden bow. He is wearing the loafers without socks so that I can see parts of his feet. Places his body lotion never gets to. Now I will never unsee all that white.
“How do you want to be shaven?” he asks. A man who gets down to brass tacks—great.
“Even shave,” I respond while removing my glasses and placing them on the adjacent stand.
“We could do a fade,” he says expansively.
I stare into the distance contemplating if I want to be that guy. You know the type who pays too much attention to his looks. Always in mirrors wondering if his fade needs retouching. From the corner of my eye, I can see the receptionist on her laptop. Her expression and her ponytail say I don’t need to be that guy. Looking decent is enough. Besides, what matters most is what’s on the inside. The core of the person, the soul, the spirit.
“It will look official; you could go to meetings with it,” Baraza says after sensing our fear; mine and the receptionist’s ponytail.
“How much will it cost?”
“A thousand bob,” he says flatly.
I nod my head and give him the green light and silently hope my books keep selling. Otherwise, it’s back to biting sofa arms for me and shedding tears while I comb my African hair.
Baraza spritzes some water on my head and starts combing my hair. After he is done he reaches for his phone to take a photo of me. I suppose he wants to do a before and after.
“No pictures,” I wet the blanket, or kill the buzz; whatever is in vogue with the cool crowd.
“Okay, I will delete it,” he says and for a moment I want to tell him to keep it. As a memento: under his pillow, as a screensaver, whatever he likes. Because, and I am sure the receptionist’s ponytail would also agree. Most people in this city never take no for an answer. They always want to discuss it and barrage you with extensive explanations on why your ‘no’ should be a ‘yes’. This Baraza guy is effortlessly earning points and he’s earning them fast.
The machine starts buzzing and my African hair starts falling on the floor. Wait a minute. There is a place on my forehead where my hair dips and the last thing I need is for Baraza to push my hairline back. We are already hitting it off. I want things to stay that way.
“My hair dips at the front, don’t push it back,” I say.
“I have noticed,” he says and continues.
Most of my hair is on the floor and he is now fading my scalp and outlining the borders of it. The boys call it ‘kupigwa cut’. He reclines the chair and trims my goatee. After he is done, he puts the chair back to its original position and starts applying some jet-black liquid to my head. It’s cold and inkish. I get images of old men with white hair who try to look younger by dying their heads and I make a mental note to wash it off immediately when I get home.
“You look so good,” the receptionist says after he’s done. She probably says that to all the men who come here; but I will take flattery wherever I can get it.
“Thank you,” I say.
“You should keep that look, it suits you,” she adds, as Baraza directs me back to the sofas that hug me like a cloud for the ink to dry. I pick my glasses and walk towards them, almost breaking my face with a wide smile. Before I can decide whether to take a nap or read Demille’s Plum Island the soft voice is calling my name again.
“Do you drink alcohol? We offer complimentary whiskey on Wednesdays.”
“I’ll take a shot,” I say.
She brings a bottle of Jameson along with another bottle; could be lemon water or Sprite. I’m too distracted to know what exactly it is. “Will you chase it with something?” she asks while holding up the other bottle. “I will have it neat,” I say. She pours me a finger and disappears to her station. I could get used to this. I think while I take one sip after another.
Baraza calls me before I finish my drink. It’s time for my head to be washed. I take a long swig of the remaining dregs of my whiskey and walk towards the washing station. I haven’t had alcohol in a while; I am one glass of water away from being a teetotaler. I cross my fingers and pray I don’t trip and drown in the washing basin.
‘And the way we were hitting it off,’ I can already see Baraza and the receptionist telling the police.
I find Baraza waiting for me with the hems of his shirt folded. This is a welcome surprise, I think. There is no scenario of Proverbs 31 Woman reoccurring. This means wives and girlfriends everywhere can rest easy knowing that their men are safe in this cave.
Baraza washes my head and lotions it. I wear my glasses and look in the mirror. I don’t know what to make of the cut. I go to the pleasant receptionist and pay. “Thank you for visiting us Kevin,” she chirps. I’m not sure if I say, “Karibu.” Or the whiskey in my bloodstream says. “Thank you for visiting me too.”
I get home in the evening. I am terrified to go to bed. What if the fade is rubbed off by my pillow? Do I need to sleep with a hairnet? I wish Baraza gave me a manual for this new hairstyle. All these difficult questions exhaust me to the point of slumber. I wake up the next morning and look in the mirror. The fade is still there and I sort of like it—some things just need for you to sleep on them. I look at myself and think. ‘Hey, handsome, can I buy you coffee?’ The vision in the mirror smiles cheekily and says, ‘We shall plan.’ ‘Ah, hata you don’t look that good.’ I smile back happy to have found a new barber.
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