We called him Passion because Johnny loved his job. After every fortnight, deMaitha, Chess, Kibz and I would walk from Parklands Campus to Ngara to shave. It was a ritual we practiced. Just like the kikois and whiskey festival we held every month – because Blankets and Wine was too expensive for us (also, we did not have the appropriate imported accents, but that is beside the point here). Passion’s shop was situated in a very dark corner of Ngara. Somewhere in between a seedy bar that always reeked of cheap beer and unwashed bras and an MPESA shop whose attendant always denied us change. We would line up, all four of us, each waiting for our turn. Passion had another barber, but then he knew he would never touch our heads. It had to be Passion, because it is only him who knew how each of us wanted his hair done.
deMaitha has curly hair and is very particular about the trim, and wears a shy moustache that he has been growing ever since Bamzigi was relevant. Chess’ hairline is going through a recession, so the barber has to scrap his scalp to hide the fact that he is growing taller than his hair. But since he serves a God that gives and takes, the Lord compensated by giving him a bush on the chin that girls like to touch. Kibz never does anything with the hair on his head, he just does that thing where he trims a very thin trail of hair from his hair that joins his chin. From afar, you would think he is wearing black earphones that disappear into his mouth.
Personally, I like my hair faded. Meaning, there is a lot of hair at the top and then the density fades off on the sides. Much like Chess’ hairline, but in a more organized and man-made fashion. This is how I have always shaved my hair. And Passion was just what the doctor ordered. There was a time in first year when my girlfriends told to me that I was attractive and should be a model, and so I put chemicals and fried my hair like chicken, such that my hair shone. Such are the things that girls do to you. When a chick says you are hot, and then another one agrees, it starts getting into your head – never mind the fact that they only want to borrow your Criminal Law notes. Sharon, Linda and Brenda. The council of witches. I think of them now and wonder where they kept their flying broomsticks.
Anyway, a few Monday mornings ago, after watching Game of Thrones, Jaber reminded me that she wanted to go to the salon. For the longest time, she has wanted red hair. But then she has been postponing it because she is Adventist and you know how those folks are. Everything but breathing is an abomination unto the Lord.
“Do it,” I said, “Get red hair and then I will get white hair, and then we will be walking around like Game of Thrones – a song of ice and fire.”
It was one of those things you say without thinking and then later on come back to bite you in the ass sooner or later. This one chose sooner. A week did not pass. This past Monday I was reminded of the promise I made. And like every normal boyfriend, I denied ever uttering such things.
“Just say you are scared,” she said.
“Of what? White hair? Nothing.”
“Yes, you are scared. You cannot do it.”
“Oh, I can do it.”
“I dare you then. Prove you are not a scared little mouse.”
So here is the thing, I do not back down from dares. I am a man, dammit! And when you question my manhood, we have a problem. I said, “You know what, I will do it,” then I remembered I am broke and so I added, “you are paying for it.” I was hoping that she would back down when she heard this, but it seems like she had decided to really put her skin in the game.
Look, I am used to spending 20 minutes at the barbershop on a day when there is an extra neck rub. That is 17 minutes more than Passion used to take shaving me back in the day. And when I go to cut my hair, I spend KES. 200. Those are the dynamics. In and out. When I went to this salon to get my hair dyed, I spent 6 hours. Six bloody hours and the amount left behind for this shit was KES. 2000.
Now let me tell you how you spend KES. 2000 and 6 hours in a salon.
You meet this chap called Mike. He used to be a footballer. Position 7 for Bandari FC. Somewhere along the way, he got injured. A bad tackle from an opponent made sure he would never use his right knee for soccer. While recovering in his uncle’s house, he spent time with his auntie who used to own a hairdressing spot and so he’d hang out with her, because what the hell. You know? Of course you don’t know, but bear with me here. So that is how Mike got into hairdressing.
Because you are going to here for a while, he tells you stories of how painful it was when he got hurt, but what hurt him most was not having to quit football, but having to deal with a father who could not stand the idea of his son being a hairdresser. You would think that a person who has known pain would not inflict it, right? Wrong! Mike will smear some chemicals on your head that will burn your scalp until your hair turns yellow. How appropriate that your hair is turning yellow, the colour of the sun’s flames, just as it burns with the fury of the biggest star in this universe.
This is when you know that being a man is not easy. Mike will set your head on fire and you just have to sit there and take it. Take it like a man. A man can feel pain, but should not express it. And if he does, it must not be in the form of tears. So your eyes water, you blink repeatedly to keep them back, your eyes turn red. There is salt in your eyes. But you are a man. I am a man. I will not cry. I am not a scared little mouse. You tell yourself that over and over again until you start to believe it.
Mike tells a lady to wash your hair with cold water. When the soap disappears and you look at yourself in the mirror, your hair is yellow. That is when it hits you. You had taken this dare head on without considering one thing. Your mother. If she ever sees you like this, she will not even take you to a salon to dye it back to black. Neither will she take you to a barber to cut it all off. She will most likely take you to a shoe shiner to brush your head with Kiwi until it shines brighter than shoes. It is either that or she kills you.
You start writing your obituary in your head, and just then, Mike comes back to check on it.
“Why is it not white? I said white. Not yellow.”
“Relax. This is just step one. We had to bleach off the black colour before now putting white.”
“Shit!” You say as he sets your hair ablaze again as if to raze all the dirty language from your mind. You are surprised you haven’t suffered brain damage by now, or drifted off into a coma. It is a miracle. You begin to feel like a true Targaryen. The Unburnt King of the Andals, the Rhoynar of the First Men, King of Meereen, Khal of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Father of Dragons.
But then guess what? Your hair still does not turn white. You go and check the progress of Jaber and you can see hers has turned red. But yours has not turned white.
“Why?” you ask the clearly bamboozled Mike.
“Yako imekataa kushika rangi,” he says.
“What do you mean imekataa kushika rangi. It is a dye. It is supposed to turn colours.”
“Pumzika halafu we try again after a few minutes.”
You have waited this long anyway, gone through hell (literally). All of that cannot be for nothing. So let’s do it, you imagine. But this time, your manhood flies out of the window. You cry. Tears flow. You even start singing Pretty Hurts by Beyonce. You want your mommy.
But still, your hair is stuck on yellow. Racist dye has refused to turn your hair white. Mike is vividly at his wits end.
To hell with it! Let it stay yellow. You admit defeat, even though you know that you will not be able to do the Song of Ice and Fire anymore. For that, your hair had to turn white and hers, red. But yours is yellow, like a fever. If it all there is a song there, then it would sound like a broken record. You look like a Lingala musician, those who sing at Simmers every evening; those with lightened skin who sing with high-pitched Kisii voices and who, for some reason, never get tired (or even a sore throat).
I can live with yellow hair, I imagined. It is not what I wanted, but it is not ati that bad. (Oh, shut up, Owaahh). I posted a photo on Facebook, and my goodness, if you think I had not had enough fire, my friends decided to roast me a good one. Well done, not even medium rare. Owaahh said my hair looks like it wants to have a conversation. Winnie Adhiambo, very close friend from campo, said I look like Duracell. Nasra Nandha, another comrade, said ‘At least your hair matches your pants for today’. My sister, one I shared Karua’s womb with, said I look like a Sudanese on hunger strike. Then Gufy, the poet from Fatuma’s Voice, did this mixtape cover:
Even though I laughed some of the comments off, some annoyed me. Jaber could see through the bullshit smiles. She asked if I was feeling bad about changing my hair, and I said no. And I was not lying when I said no, because I was okay with my friends pulling my leg. What I was not okay with was a bunch of the other comments.
(If for some reason I sound angry or irrepressible at this point henceforth, then perhaps part of the reason is because I am.)
“Are you going through something?” – No, but if I could go through something, it would be the pleasure of ramming a cactus up your nose.
“This is midlife crisis” – I am 25 for fucks sake. 40 is fifteen years away and I am never that punctual for anything.
“Aaaaai. Why don’t you even try brown? Would look better.” – Why don’t you mind your own business?
“Yellow? Of all colours? You look like a cheap woman” – If you measure your manhood by the colour of your hair, or the value of a woman by the colour of her hair, then you were a waste of God’s precious time.
“It is not about daring. It is the fame, boy. The writing. The money.” – oh, this really had me pulling my hair. Clearly, it was not well meaning. The bugger calls me ‘boy’ in that disgusting tone that toubabs called slaves. What fame? Famous people are on Wikipedia, and are quoted in memes. Being famous on social media is like being rich in Monopoly (Shoba’s words). It’s all smokes and mirrors. ‘The Money’? What money? Eurobond? It is so annoying when people talk about money when you do not have it. Even if I had money to waste on flimsy extravagance such as clowning my hair, how much of it did you help me earn, that you now feel entitled to having a say on its expenditure? And I still do not understand what my writing has got to do with changing the colour of my hair.
I wonder how women do it. How they keep up with this. How do you live with people constantly making remarks about your hair? When everyone has an opinion of how you should live your life. Ati now I do not have a professional look and that nobody will take me seriously. Others saying how they no longer find my appearance appealing, as if I even cared. It is incredible how you do something as simple as change your hair, and then everyone with an online degree in Psychology has a diagnosis about how something terribly wrong is going on in your life, or how you are being swayed by Western influences, ati sijui that you should be proud your natural state.
What a load of old bollocks! It’s just hair, fam, not a movie plot.
So I called the one man I know whose hairstyles have always been wild. Mutua Matheka. You should see him now. His locks are held together into two pyres, as if in readiness for a historic ivory burning. You cannot miss him in a room. He said, “Most of the people who will talk smack about your hair are people who wish they could do the same with theirs, but cannot. Perhaps they do not have the courage to try something new, or they are inhibited by office codes of dressing.”
Nancy Cherotich called me to dare me to give her my Curve TV, now that I am such a dare devil. No, Chero. That is not how it works. This is how a dare works: You say I cannot do something. I say I can. You insist that I cannot, then I go ahead and prove you wrong. Now, for simple things like colouring my hair, I will take the dare by the horns. But if you say, “Magunga, you cannot give me your Curve TV,” or “Magunga, you cannot hold onto a helicopter like a Bungoma ninja,” or “I dare you to sponsor my rent, I bet you can’t” then I will say, “Yeah. I can’t. I am a scared little mouse.” And that will be the end of it.
Chimamanda was right. Hair is indeed political. The best thing that came out of this is the fact that at least for few hours on a Monday afternoon, we were not exposed to the routine tribal shitfest of sijui CORD v Jubilee on the interwebs. I offered myself as tribute. Next week, let somebody sacrifice him/herself.
Meanwhile, I leave for Rwanda tomorrow. Work stuff. I really hope Customs won’t cause a scene because my head looks different on my passport.