BY MIKE MUTHAKA
I finally got a newsboy hat. Google it. It’s a cool hat, aye? For some reason I’ve always thought it’s called a godpapa, which might explain the weird looks I got each time I mentioned my sudden desire for a hat. A godpapa is more like a cowboy hat, and would make me look like a constipated landlord. But a newsboy hat makes me feel like a moonshine smuggler during prohibition.
I love my hat. It’s on my dresser as we speak. I can’t wait to wear it to class every Monday. This sem I have Public Speaking with my favorite lec, Helen. I wonder what she’ll think about my hat.
The curriculum dictates we make regular class presentations, which is my least favorite activity. Helen will watch us – hand on chin – giving us pointers and coiffing us into orators. And on exam day we get extra points for putting on a suit.
I don’t know how a suit would go with my hat. I don’t even own a suit, for chrissakes. But the hat makes me feel cocky and confident, like I have the world at my feet, like I’m going to nail all my class presentations.
I like how the hat fits on my skull. I’m comfortable under my hat, a step up from how I came to feel about my wild locks of hair. My newsboy hat will knock every presentation into a cocked hat. There’ll be no fidgeting while I mumble my way through hastily researched notes on The MajiMaji Rebellion.
This hat will kick some Public Speaking ass. I could make any speech at the drop of a hat.
Perhaps the only thing I don’t look forward to this semester are the feigned gasps of shock, and all the wide-eyed incredulity, once people see what’s beneath the hat. I bet they’ll go, “Wawawa, why did you cut your hair?” before proceeding to make me feel like the ugliest boy to ever roam the school halls.
“But you looked so good. Aki why did you cut it?”
Shish! Put a sock in it, lady.
Truth is, though, my hair became unruly. The twists grew long and brown and they bounced around as I walked. My ears were totally hidden under the tufts, and it’d take half an hour to dry it after a shower. And then another 20 minutes while I whipped it back and forth, because slapping your forehead with your own hair is the most glorious feeling.
But I didn’t like the way my hair flung me at the center of a room. I stuck out like a rusty nail. I couldn’t blend in, or melt into inconspicuousness. People stared. Others got suspicious, and held their bags a bit closer when I slid between them in a mat. Sometimes, as the jav filled up at the stage, the seat beside mine was least preferred. You just didn’t want to sit next to the dirty-haired boy. You never knew what evil lurked on his scalp.
It also also took longer to convince watchmen at gates.
“Mpaka wapi brother?” they’d say, standing over me with folded arms.
“Fifteen,” I’d say, “house number fifteen.”
“Unaenda kuona nani? Anajua unakuja?”
“Eeh, boss. Ata ni yeye aliniita.”
“Ebu mpigie simu.”
Mpesa Shops. Same thing. They’d glare at me as I walked in, wondering if I was there to raid the coffers.
My hair was a great ice-breaker, though, but afterwards it would hang over me like a filthy shadow. Elderly folk would disapprove. Peers would ask if I dyed my hair. Others would be bold enough to ask, “Can I touch your hair?”
I became too self-aware as a result, which meant I wasn’t observing my surroundings.
My work demands I always keep my eyes peeled, joining the tiny dots of details to make up a solid narrative. Observation is really my basic tool of trade, yet my hair was quickly becoming an occupational hazard.
Much better, I reckoned, to cut it. And then get an unassuming hat. A newsboy hat. A hat that wouldn’t raise any alarms if I was ever to up sticks and move into the smuggling business.
So last Monday I check myself into a Barber shop at Tarikiville, Kitengela. The signage boasts of ‘executive cuts, salon, spa and sauna’. I pop into a room full of mirrors, with all sorts of hairsprays and purple bottles of gel. The reception desk is empty but there’s a man seated on a low bench near the door, looking down at his phone.
“Niaje, I say. “Nataka haircut.”
He looks up, and points me further inside.
I walk in, sure-footed, hat in hand. I find the barber section curtained off with wooden walls from the rest of the establishment. The barber is a slim-faced youth with long fingers, he’s tending to a customer’s beard.
I grab a chair and wait, doing my best to ignore any doubts about whatever is about to happen.
The hair was a real hit with the girls. What if I couldn’t flirt without the hair? What if Samson is on my family lineage and all my charm rests on my head? How would the barber feel about being Delilah in this story? Did Delilah have such long fingers?
I notice I’m seated in the salon area. There’s a ceiling security camera looking right at me, and a drier by the window overlooking a dirt road and a thorny field. There are no customers here, just tall mirrors and driers and what sounds like running water coming from the next room. An LG TV sits on mute on the other end. County Governors are holding a ‘Structured Benchmarking’ in Makueni.
I figure the spa and sauna are in the next room, not that I can tell any of them apart. Spa and sauna sounds too much like flora and fauna, and I couldn’t tell you the difference between those as well. But I allowed my mind to go beyond the sliding doors, and around the bend, to find a curvy towel-wrapped lady covered in steam.
Maybe she’d know the difference between spa and sauna.
Then – remembering the security camera – I quickly covered my crotch with the hat. The hat had just smuggled its first commodity, folks.
Five minutes later I’m joined by two uniformed ladies. One of them says hello, the other one takes a seat and starts to polish her nails. They don’t even ask if I’d like to go into the sauna. They sit together and engage in a spot of gossip, light chatter, fruitless conversations like the ones in Makueni.
The one who said hello looks up at the TV and says, “Steph alienda Makueni by the way.”
“Eh?” cometh the bored reply, trying to get a perfect flourish.
Meanwhile, I’m getting impatient. The barber is still on the customer’s beard, and now I just want to get it over with. I’m ready to kick the unkempt disposition.
I didn’t buy a hat to hide my stiffers. I don’t want to know where Steph has gone, or if I’m sitting wall-to-wall with a half-naked goddess, water cascading down her back, skin bathed in erotic sheen. I honestly don’t want to know.
I just want a bloody haircut and the chance to put on my newsboy hat.
Is that too much to ask, barber with the long fingers, is it?!
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