“Kafui!” Grandmother yelled from the living room.
“Yes Ma! I’m coming!” She responded with a little bit too much emphasis on the last word.
“Wo nua no wo hen?”
“I think my sister went to Selassie’s to rehearse for the church play,” Kafui said.
“Are you sure?” Grandmother asked. “ARE you sure?” She probed as if looking for a sign that Kafui would crack under more pressure. “Did she say when she would be back? She should not have been gone this long!”
“But Ma, she left barely thirty minutes ago!”
“Are you being insolent?”
“No Ma, but she really did just leave.”
“Hmmm…Yoo! Bebia wSa kε shε bia, onwhε no ho yei! Ma Snfa nyinsen mba fie ha o!” Kafui rolled her eyes subtly as she listened to Grandmother’s usual rant about boys and pregnancy as if these were a teenager’s greatest downfall. Perhaps it was her experience since she raised three children and two-grandchildren single-handedly.
Anyway, today Kafui hoped she was right about her sister’s whereabouts. Enyo often confided in her when she needed to go out and meet up with her boyfriend, but tonight she had plainly said, “Selassie and I have some work to do. I’ll be back.” There was no hint of illicit behavior, at least none that Kafui could detect. Kafui wondered if her sister had stopped trusting her.
She decided to return to her French homework, but before that she thought she’d read a few chapters of her latest illegal copy of Mills & Boon that one of her mates had slipped her in class. She had devised a way of doing so stealthily because if Grandmother discovered her reading these, not only would she be grounded and the book seized, but also her teacher would know about their practice. By then her mate’s parents would have to be brought into the equation. The adults made sure that such inappropriate reading material was kept from the hands of these “innocent” adolescents. She smirked as she thought of this, but the smirk was replaced by a smile at the thought that she and her mates had managed to pass five copies so far this school year. In any case, she knew she couldn’t afford this drama so she always kept the books hidden in pages of whatever textbook she was using at the moment. In between the turn of the pages, even as she kept up with the drama of unrequited love, her thoughts kept returning to her sister.
In the meantime, Enyo had arrived at Selassie’s and the two of them were getting ready to leave for their rendezvous. Selassie had also told her mother that she and Enyo had work to do, never quite explaining what that “work” was. Her mother trusted them because she felt that Enyo was a good influence on Selassie.
Growing up Kafui and Enyo were not allowed to have their hair relaxed. When Enyo told Selassie that she wanted to try it before the semester ended, Selassie encouraged her, and finally got her to acquiesce to getting it done. They decided that after class one day, the two of them would go to Selassie’s first cousin’s house to get the job done. The real problem with this act was that, relaxed hair could not be easily returned to its natural state, and Grandmother was bound to notice the very next day. At the moment of making the decision, Enyo, at sixteen, felt legally justified to do with her hair as she pleased.
As they walked over to the house, Enyo began to ponder the real significance of the act she was about to take. Sure, it would feel good to not deal with kinky hair—the weekly washing and combing out followed by hours of twisting and squirming under Grandmother’s fingers. It would also be nice to have hair that fingers could run through all the way without getting caught in a knot of kinky curls. She would look just like those white girls on TV tossing their hair ever so delicately. Somehow, she also had the impression that this new look would make her more popular in school. There was so much riding on this decision! On the other hand the consequences like the irreversible nature of having a relaxer, the burnt scalp (oh she had heard stories!), and Grandmother’s reaction at her outright disobedience plagued her. For Grandmother, everything was an affront to her personally, not to mention the family name. God forbid, anyone did anything for his or her own benefit with no intention of tarnishing the family name! Unconsciously, she began to drag a bit behind Selassie. Selassie, whose mother had allowed her to relax her hair at twelve, caught this change in my mood. She put her hand in Enyo’s and quickened her pace.
“Ko ko ko. Knock Knock.” Selassi’s cousin came to the door and after the usual greetings and hugs, Selassie explained to her cousin that Enyo was fast losing her resolve so they needed to hurry on with it and continue to assure her it would be perfect!
Selassie helped her cousin set up the kitchen with the hair relaxer crème, the combs, and some Vaseline mixed with pure Shea butter for those unavoidable scalp burns. Enyo had finally gotten excited about the process, and began helping Selassie partition her hair by holding down portions while Selassie wrapped rubber bands around them. Selassie rubbed the concoction of Vaseline and Shea butter around Enyo’s ears, neck, and temple. Her cousin came over and began slathering the crème in the partitions that Enyo and Selassie had made earlier, each from bottom to top. Once the whole can was gone, Selassie’s cousin began combing the crème through taking care not to touch the scalp. She began to feel the itch and then the burn, just as they had described it to her. She carefully to swiped the comb and began agitating her scalp to soothe the itch. Snatching the comb, Selassie stared Enyo down as she sat sullenly in her seat.
Eventually after what seemed like an hour, but in reality was only twenty minutes, Selassie’s cousin took Enyo to the sink and helped rinse out the relaxer. She put some conditioner in and then allowed the scalp some rest. She then walked her to the mirror, showed her the new hair and helped her comb it through. She couldn’t help but smile at the look in the mirror. Now she really looked like a Barbie doll…except she was brown. Enyo shrugged off that feeling and turned around to see her hair fall down past her shoulder blades. They had said the relaxer had the ability to straighten out the kinks and lengthen the hair! Up until this moment, she had not believed it. Selassie called to her saying that it was time to go. Her heart began to beat faster. Now that the scalp burns were out of the way, she had to contend with the reality of returning home.
As they walked home, Selassie reasoned with her. Grandmother could do Enyo no harm physically. The hair looked fabulous; Grandmother might actually want to give Kafui a relaxer too so she would spend less time grooming hair every weekend. She was not buying it. Enyo was lost in my thoughts when Selassie gasped. Enyo looked up. There was Grandmother. She was waving her flashlight wildly about with one hand and dragging Kafui with the other. She began yelling and reprimanding Enyo for staying out too late. She noticed Selassie and sent her home right away saying her mother was worried sick about her whereabouts. We later learned that this was a lie. Grandmother was more furious after Selassie left and she gave Enyo a lecture, not much unlike the usual. She dragged Kafui and Enyo behind her as she stomped towards home, Kafui looking forlorn because she had gone through her own mini hell when Grandmother had finally lost patience and gone in search of Enyo. Once inside the walls of the compound, she grabbed the cane she kept for such occasions, and gave Enyo fifteen lashes. With each one, she winced but refused to cry.
Enyo had gotten what she wanted. Grandmother could not take that away from her. Her hair was like Barbie. She would have all the boys gazing at her, and the girls dying to touch it, in school tomorrow. This thought, that everyone at school would be envious of her, kept her from crying out. When Grandmother felt satisfied, she sent them both to their rooms. Safely inside, Enyo unwrapped the scarf on her head and showed Kafui the hair she had acquired in a matter of an hour. Of course, Kafui was amazed. So would the kids are school, tomorrow.
Enyo fell asleep dreaming about the new day. She tossed a lot trying to find a comfortable spot because her legs and back stung from the lashes. She knew that Grandmother wasn’t done. She had punished her for being out late. Tomorrow, she would deal with the actual change in hair texture, but for now, she had gotten what she had dreamed about for years. Barbie-doll hair! Never mind that this doll was brown!