By Omilla Mungroo. The barber shop/hair salon I worked in at Sangre Grande almost two years in the 90s was situated in a back road away from the main hustle of the town itself. I was one of two new workers sent by our trainer while pursuing our hairdressing course. I guess she sent us because, as we were told, we were the best in the group.
Our trainer was taught by the owner of the barber shop and he had asked her for two extra hands from her class, so she sent us. It was supposed to be additional training for the two of us but we would be getting paid for whatever we did. “Fifty percent,” the barber said. He only worked on weekends though.
It was a very hot and humid Thursday morning when the woman walked into the salon. Business was very slow and no one had come into the shop for the day except two men earlier in the morning for haircuts.
This woman had graying hair which was pulled back from her face in a very neat ponytail. She walked with a slight limp in her right leg, and held an old blue handbag at half-mast on her left forearm, which rested easily against the old, washed out looking green dress she wore. After greeting us, she sat in one of the salon chairs without waiting for Antoinette’s instruction to do so.
“I want a nice hair style, milady! I have a funeral to attend to later but I want to look good eh.”
Antoinette, the most experienced among us, and the salon’s main hairdresser, set about asking the woman for details of what exactly she wanted, then proceeded to work on the woman’s hair. She was her usual chatty self, except she paused and gave us some questioning stares at times. The woman was giving her instructions to do something, and then kept changing her mind, and made Antoinette do something else.
The other trainee whispered to me, “Better she than me! I woulda send she out de shop in a flash!” We looked on, listening to their conversation which sounded forced from Antoinette’s side.
“So how much you does charge for ah relaxer?” The lady asked.
“Forty dollars,” replied Antoinette, as she was putting dye on the woman’s hair.
“Oh gorsh! So much just to straighten this little bit of hair on my head?” She was picking her nose while she made this statement, and we all tried desperately not to make a sound.
The woman’s hair was already dead straight and we looked at Antoinette’s face which showed not a trace of emotion. We thought she meant the roots of her hair, as most women of African descent came to the shop to get done, but even there were no roots that seemed to need straightening.
Antoinette dyed, washed, blow-dried, and styled the woman’s hair with a flat iron and curling iron, then completed the job with a light spray of sheen and hair-spray. It made the woman look so much different and much younger. It was a neat job, despite all the woman’s protest and directions.
She then got up, paid Antoinette and fixed her clothes, pulling the top part of her dress down, as if it was too tight across her breasts.
She stood in front of the mirror for a few minutes, turning left and then right. Then as Antoinette unplugged the hot irons and went about tidying up the work-station, I noticed the woman reaching into her handbag and taking out a comb and a hair clamp. She combed out her hair, and pulled all of it into a neat ponytail, securing it fast with the hair clamp. She then dusted her face and walked out of the salon without looking back.
Antoinette shook her full head of hair and laughed.
“Dis Trinidad sweet yes!”
August 2014 – Issue 11 www.sweettntmagazine.com
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