It felt wonderful going back to shop after the school year as it gave me the opportunity to revel in my failure without constant reminders. At least, I could act like nothing had happened here.
They stopped talking as soon as they caught a glimpse of my stature. This was how I guessed I had been a subject of discussion amongst my fellow apprentices. Unruffled, I said my greetings. “E kaaro o.”
This got me many responses at once. A clipped ‘morning’ from one. Another demanded to know how well the session had been. In addition, I got to know that a customer had come to ask of me minutes ago.
Already, I had an idea of who that was because I’d told her of my resumption back here in Church yesterday. We called her Alabere because it was the name of her store. I also knew what she had come for, but I was uncomfortable with her arrangements as it always caused tension between my boss and I. If there was that one thing I was good at, it was making hair. With all modesty, I was almost as good as my boss, and the knowledge of this unsettled her.
Sometimes, customers would specifically request that I made their hair, or that I come for home service. Alabere particularly told my boss to her face one time that my boss’ ‘hands’ itched her head. Different strokes for different folks, I’d shrugged off her comment that day…until she started inviting me.
“What did you tell her?” I inquired of them.
“That you are not around,” one replied curtly, giving a ‘what-were-you-expecting?’ look.
I dueled her with a matching glare.
Although I was one of the youngest in age, I was the most senior apprentice. It should be noted that I was part-time though. With my boss, seniority in service superseded age. This was the reason I was able to boldly ask why they had not mopped yet.
“There is no soap,” I was duly informed. It was unexpected and I made a point of knowing the cause.
Silence greeted me.
Clicking my tongue, I warned, “Go and look for the soap wherever you’ve kept it and do what you need to do before my Oga comes o.” I drew my right ear for emphasis.
Of course, murmurs and accusations followed. Nonetheless, I descended into one of the seats reserved for the customers. It dipped a bit and gave me a full view of the mirror. Not so surprisingly, I found the girl who had been giving me attitude throw me deathly looks.
Boy, if looks could kill.
Actually, she didn’t know I would catch her in the act, so she startled, and left the space for the outdoors. Sooner or later, one of us would bow. We’ve had a long history.
“Can I see you for a minute?” Shukura wanted to know, interrupting my thoughts. Her Yoruba was fluid. “I have some things to tell you.
I twisted in my seat to give her my full attention. “Okay?”
She glanced around nervously. Something was bothering her. “No, not here.”
This was how I followed her outside, getting suspicious looks from the other girls. Whatever Shukura had to say, it had better be worth it.
Clearing of the throat and the folding and unfolding of the hem of her shoulder-length hijab followed. At all costs, she avoided eye contact.
“This morning, I hear them say bad bad things of you.” Shukura was still looking at the ground. She also spoke broken English because her primary school education had been cut short. Despite being a ‘dullard’ though, my language skills were not affected.
My brows shot up automatically. “What bad things?”
“They say you’re sleeping with area boys.”
It wasn’t the first time I would be accused of such. “Anything else?” I was getting impatient.
“That”—her lashes lifted and she paused to look at me—“that you repeat class.”
I stiffened and felt hotness rise in me.
“Anything else?” I surprised both of us, but truth be told, I wanted to know how they’d known and who knew.
Caught off guard, she got confused, like she expected me to curse at those who had started the rumors of my repetition— not rumors, truth, but no, I knew people like that. Tell them anything at all, and you will hear the well-edited and improvised version from the other party.
“No,” she clapped her hands together, scrutinizing me, “that’s all I wanted to said.” She had a problem with tenses.
“Thank you”—I almost added: for your unsolicited information—“you can now go.”
I really would have preferred being in oblivion.
Unready to go back into the shop, I lingered outside. How would I be able to lift my head high having failed academically? It would always drop my shoulders each time I raised my hand to point at the braid that was not well done. I would always worry about who already knew and who didn’t, but since I indirectly told Shukura off, I could not exactly be sure.
“Rika!” I didn’t know how long it was before someone called from the shop, “we have a customer.” Still, in turmoil, I picked myself up and attended to the woman. By now, the shop smelt of Sunlight detergent. Good for them.
She only wanted to do washing and setting. Luckily for her, there was light to power up our drier as there was no more fuel in the generator. One more customer came after her before our Oga settled down for the day’s work.
Throughout my first day back, I was in my shell. There was no more reprieve for me. I should have known you couldn’t box failure in just one part of your life. Like malignant cancer, it spreads and metastasizes, following you all the way.
Everything I now did became programmed. I hardly even spoke to anyone. The closing hour came with such a relief, and I was the first person to check out. After our boss, definitely.