BY FLORENCE BETT
The plan for Muna’s hair was to have no plan, really. I simply wanted to maintain the mohawk she was born with. (Hang on. Is the right word for it ‘mohawk’? Give me a sec I look it up. I’ll be back in a jiff, don’t leave, OK? [A jiff later] I’ve looked it up on Google – it’s not a ‘mohawk’ but a high top. A hi-top. Let’s run with that, even if my title no longer ties to the story.)
I simply wanted to maintain the hi-top she was born with: I’d let it grow itself out, trim the sides and a little off the top every so often to neaten it and its fade, splash on some olive oil after her evening bath to lock in the moisture then comb it out with my fingers to make it look like it was not combed. There was a vibe I wanted her hair to give off – a mix of edgy and punk, bohemian and chic. Cared for enough to put some thought into its grooming but not too much to be obsessive. Her head was shaped for that hi-top.
I couldn’t tell just yet whether she had my hair or my GB’s. GB wouldn’t say it out loud just yet but I knew he was secretly praying that she had his. Understandably. I have terrible hair: it gets really dry, it grows too fast, its wispy and weak (I’m avoiding the word thin) and gets this brown unhealthy tint in the sunshine. My hairline is as irregular as a coastline. Only an insensitive bastard would ask me to style it in a bun that sits at the top of my head. I care about it only enough for it not to die and fall off my head.
If I could play the blame game and point fingers, I’d point at my Ol’Man – his lineage of Kale folk had their hair blown off their head as they got down the family tree. If this is what I have now, I’m terrified to imagine what the third generation after me will have.
GB’s on the other hand, the gods smiled on him. He has hair that light bounces off. The individual strands are thick and strong enough to prick you with. I’ve never seen him shampoo, moisturize or condition it. Let alone comb it. That hairline deserves a pinup in a barbershop, right next to the poster for Trey Songz or Ludacris. If he grew out his hair, it would grow into this mane that can be used as the cover art in an album sleeve for some hip hop artist. It’s unfair really. What does he need all that lovely hair for? Or eyebrows, what does he need them for?! I can’t even get into that storo for my eyebrows and their scarcity. I can’t! Haaha. I sometimes feel like Uncle Fester from The Addams Family.
I’ll say this to draw the carpe – my hair mumbles under its breath to itself, GB’s sings in a falsetto to a crowd.
As her Mummy, I didn’t care whose hair Muna got. I’d take whatever she was given – or came with – and I’d like it, even if it were three strands of hair that sat in a lonely patch at the top of her head. It’s the same way a new mum who hadn’t picked a name for her baby when she was pregnant ends up settling for whatever name her partner suggests, once that baby is born. “As long as we don’t end up calling her Baby, I’m fine,” she’ll tell him. So he’ll name their daughter Zipporah, Nancy or Peninah, after his own mum. Or their son Zephaniah or George, after his paternal great grandfather.
Muna came with a mild bush of newborn hair styled into a messy hi-top. God had taken His time to moisturize it before He let her into the world.
I shaved off this newborn hair when she was seven months old, so that her real hair would grow. I put it in a Ziploc bag then fixed a strip of masking tape on one side to label it: ‘28 May. Muna’s birth hair’. It looked like evidence collected from a crime scene. Or ingredients a witch doctor saved for a spell. Or pieces of an ex a crazy girlfriend put under her pillow at night. (Saving birth hair is a psychotic new-mum thing. You’d only get it if you’ve been there before.)
The new haircut made her eyes and forehead pop. GB insisted we plait it to make it grow faster, her nanny suggested we knot it up with coloured rubber bands. I ignored them both because it really wasn’t that serious. She’s just a baby, for Pete’s Sake. Hair grows! Besides, what were we fussing about it for, was she a finalist in a beauty pageant? In Toddlers and Tiaras maybe?
It filled up by the time Muna was nine months old. I continued with the hi-top. Then one Friday, I’m at the door from jobo unlacing my boots when Muna came towards me in this unusual half-run half-hop. An ‘oh no’ escaped my lips as I saw why she seemed off: the nanny had plaited Muna’s hair into two cornrows. They started in the middle of her head and run down a few inches to end right there in the middle of her head. In the words of Less Than Jake, the band, they were going nowhere.
Maybe it was the angle I looked at her from or maybe it was trick the cornrows played on my eyes, but the way she was running down the corridor toward me, she seemed to have no balance, like she was falling forward. Like her head was much bigger and heavier than the rest of her body. She looked older; less like a baby and more like a toddler, less like herself and more like a boy. She looked like GB. Jesus, she looked like GB – that box head with a flat top and gentle kisogo was all his. He squealed when he saw her. “This is what I’ve been talking about,” he said as he pointed to her hair and threw her into the air. Muna squealed back.
Well, the two cornrows became two and half in the weekend that followed. I undid them then slapped on some olive oil-water-castor oil mix I made from a natural-hair care video I had watched on YouTube. I took my time moisturizing and sectioning her hair into four matutas, and sweeping down the sides of baby hair. I sang to her while at it. When I was finished, she looked like an African doll. GB saw her and his eyes misted with tears.
Doing the matutas as she sat between by thighs every weekend became our thing. Still is. I have to admit, I was having such fun styling it and seeing it grow. The hi-top was long enough to tie into three neat little buns when we sang around her cake on her first birthday.
But I still can’t tell whose hair she has. Hopefully, and I pray GB doesn’t hear me say this, not mine.
An edited version of this story first run in the March-2017 issue of True Love Magazine