An innocent search for a salon earned me the nickname Bolt.
My boyfriend, let’s call him Mr A, had moved to a new estate somewhere in Eastlands and I was visiting with hair that looked like a bird’s nest. I decided to look for a local salon to fix it.
I had no idea where to begin looking for a salon as I was new to the area as well.
Anyway, just outside the estate gate were some container stalls and apartment (I mean flats) extensions with various shops selling different wares — from groceries to clothes — and, of course, ‘hairdressing parlours’ aka salons za mtaa.
I walked the whole stretch of container stalls trying to get a glimpse of the state of the salons there and gauging how clean they were and how friendly the hairdressers were; because nothing ticks me off like a dirty salon or an unpleasant attendant when I’m trying to relax and treat myself.
WALKED THE WHOLE STRETCH
I walked the whole stretch and then walked back towards the estate gate questioning myself when I noticed the stream of water just in front of some stalls, flowing in a small trench adjacent to them. Stones and blocks of wood were placed strategically to act as small bridges over the water.
I reached the estate gate and I had all but given up, deciding I would venture out again another time. The estate guard, perhaps sensing my frustration, asked what the matter was. I could not ignore his concerned look and soft tone.
“Natafuta salon (I am looking for a salon),” I said.
“Ah, hio tu! Enda ile ya pink and green, kwa mama Mary. Hio ndio poa. (Ah. Just that! Go to the pink and green one, it’s mama Mary’s salon. It’s the best),” he said, pointing to a stall a few metres away.
I was reluctant but his smile was reassuring. So off I went to Mama Mary’s Salon.
I stood outside a few seconds, staring at the many shoes neatly arranged at the entrance and the clean PVC carpet-covered floor, then peered in at the crowded stall. One of the staffers rushed to the entrance to welcome me.
She ushered me in as I asked how much it would cost for hair treatment and a blow dry.
Hearing what it would cost me -- almost half of what it would ordinarily cost at my regular place -- I quickly removed my shoes and entered before I could start thinking too much about how cheap it was and start doubting their services.
One of the attendants looked at my feet in horror, then jumped up and declared: “Tuko pia na pedicure (we also offer pedicures).”
She then held my hands, and, looking at my fingers like a mechanic scrutinising a car engine, she added: “Pia manicure (And manicures).”
I was so embarrassed, feeling like I had talons as the attendant, Esther, could not even look me in the eye as she talked. Were my nails that horrible?
Softly, I asked how much and she responded “Sh1,000 bei ya customer mpya (Sh1,000 for our new customer)”. I agreed and wearily looked around the small salon for a foot bath, and sighed with relief when I saw one.
I sat down on a chair as Maureen removed my head scarf and began undoing the matutas on my head, while Esther dutifully rolled my T-shirt sleeves to my shoulders and began working on my nails. She placed a towel on my laps and plopped a small basin with warm water on it, asking me to soak my nails.
There was a queue for a hair wash, including a priority customer whose hair was being relaxed. As I waited my turn, Esther quickly did what she said was a manicure. I breathed in and out and relaxed, as she skipped several steps in a basic manicure.
When my hands were done, it was time for a hair wash. I was moved to the corner and the portable sink and a bucket placed below it for collecting water were moved to where I was so that Esther could also start on the pedicure as I had my hair washed.
More people came and some sat on plastic chairs outside waiting their turn.
Esther folded my trousers to mid-thigh and began doing her magic on my legs.
The hair wash was relaxing and my feet were soaked with soap and salts. I let myself go, enjoying the pampering and losing myself in my thoughts.
Suddenly, I heard a commotion and loud banging sounds. I must have dozed off a bit and I was startled. When I opened my eyes, head resting on the sink, I saw people in aprons running about, closing windows, grabbing chairs and towels and hauling them inside stalls... I turned heard someone screaming “Kanjo! Kanjo!” I sat upright and saw people running outside.
I was not waiting for whatever danger people were running away from. I bolted out of my seat, jumped over the stones and trench outside, ran and ran until I got to the estate gate, got in and ran into the first green gate that was open.
“Safe home,” I said to myself as I tried to locate my flat. I heard some laughter in the background, I turned around and saw some children hurdled in a corner and looking frightened, holding onto a ball, as two older ones laughed and pointed at me. I couldn’t handle this right then, and my eyes were stinging as conditioner got into them.
I realised I had run to the wrong block of flats. I needed to get to the house, and fast. I peeked out of the gate and everything looked peaceful, save for a few people at the main gate staring my way. The coast was clear and I quickly made my way to the next green gate where my flat was located.
I opened the door to the flat, panting after the run for my life and a walk up three flights of stairs. My boyfriend took one look at me and his jaw dropped, hands freezing on his video game controls.
I could feel his eyes follow me as I made my way to the bathroom. Once I reached there, I realised why those little children were horrified! I looked like something from a horror movie -- wet hair with yellow conditioner dripping down on my face and onto my white T-shirt; T-shirt folded to my shoulders; One trouser leg folded mid-thigh, the other barely kissing my ankle; and my feet! Where did I walk or run through? I had no shoes on and my feet were dirty as if I had walked through mud, with some of it splattered on my jeans.
Mr A. peeked through the door and softly asked if everything was okay. He looked so worried and at the same time scared like someone who had just seen a ghost. I just started cry-laughing and sat on the floor as tears rolled down my cheeks.
In-between my crying and laughing, I asked him to shut the door. It didn’t pass unnoticed that he took out the bathroom key as he closed the door. I didn’t know what was more vexing: the fact that I was a sorry mess and I was so tired after running for my life, or the fact that he thought I was a danger to myself.
I took a long shower and changed clothes, then joined him in the living room. A worried man looking so small in his frame stared back at me, his video game going on and his avatar being repeatedly shot at without him moving a muscle. For Mr A to let himself get hit like that...I knew he was worried.
I was at pains to explain what had happened. But well, he understood, sort of; and told me to call my sister and say I was okay. Apparently he had called her in a panic…
Anyway, after a while, he went to retrieve my shoes, treatment and head scarf from Mama Mary’s and to explain my reaction, and to pay my bill because I couldn’t face anyone there.
A neighbour later explained how everybody burst out laughing when he asked for my shoes, and he laughed even more than the women there when they asked: “The shoes for the girl who bolted out of here?”
To date, every time I pass by those stalls, I hear people sniggering and saying: “Bolt!”; “Ndio ule Bolt (There goes Bolt).”