Text: Monde Mabaso
Photograph: Simon Weller
You're probably tired of reading article after article discussing women’s hair, but you haven't read mine. So please sit down and read…Yes...Seriously… SIT.
Look, I haven't walked through the doors of a hair salon since 2008 when I asked Alfonso, my hairstylist (and by hairstylist, I actually mean the dude from Limpopo who just built a mkhukhu in his yard and decided he'll do people's hair). Also, I use the word door very loosely because Noxolo does her thing on the side of the road. You know how it is in the concentration camps mos.
When you enter Alfonso’s joint you are met with about four towels on the fence, and they are dirty as hell. But for some reason we keep going back. His spot has enough furniture to sit a few waiting customers, and to store the products and equipment. There is a mirror in front of the chair and the washing area is nothing but a 20 litre bucket or a washing basin that's big enough to hold all the water while you wash the hair. There's no fancy washing sink with warm water running through your hair here, our gentleman mixes the water in the right temperature and pours it on your hair as he washes it.
Come rinsing time, he goes out and returns with the same dirty towels from the fence. Some have seemed to say, “aowa! thawela enae feili bathong" but the words wouldn't come out of our mouths. So Alfonso continued with his work.
So I have not been to a “salon” in ages as I had decided to grow my hair naturally.
Before we go any further Alfonso is not his real name, I never bothered to ask him his real name when he gave me attitude, saying that my hair makes me look like a slave and wanted to charge me an extra R5 for a normal R25 wash.
Alfonso and I fought like a couple going through a divorce. At one point we were formal – he just did my hair and I paid him and left. That Alfonso bastard was mean to me because I had natural hair; in fact I think he hated me. He liked the girls who came in to put crack (relaxer) on their hair and watch it die a small death. He would roll his eyes every time I walked through the door and just to push his buttons I made sure to ask for him specifically.
“I'm waiting for that one,” I would say every time another stylist asked if they could help me. And the look of irritation on his face always made my day.
He always got his revenge when it was my turn to sit on his hair. He would pull my hair this way and that way and burn my poor scalp with the hairdryer. On other days I wondered why I didn’t just relax the hair because of the pain I felt from the heat of the hairdryer and the pulling was the same as being burnt by the crack cream. But at the end of it all my hair looked amazing. Alfy did a great job. Even though he hated my guts, he did a good job on my hair.
I got the surprise of my life when I went for another torture session with Satan and I found the salon empty and he was extra nice. He washed my hair better than the previous times, he even used conditioner.......twice.
“Uyekel' ukungiyenza ngathi ngiyi animal” he said in his broken Zulu.
“Mina ngiyakuthanda yaz’, kuthi wena u so,” he continued, pointing at me while smiling at me through the mirror.
“Bhuti, just do my hair ngizohamba. Angizelanga ukuzoshelwa la” I said.
My grandmother warned me that boys will get you pregnant just by looking at you, and Alfy’s look was filled with bad intentions. My response to his advances seemed to have annoyed him because what came after that was a horrific 30 minutes of hair pulling and scalp burning. He said a whole lot of things in Xitsonga that I could not understand and complained about my hair breaking his combs. I was almost in tears when I asked if he was done; a scalp can only take so much pulling. But at that moment I didn't care if he was done or not. I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible and go report him to the “Salon Visitors Union of South Africa” and if it didn't exist, I was about to start one.
I have not seen Alfonso since then. He has since moved from that shack of pain. Word is he is in another area abusing some other poor souls.
Today, I choose to do my own hair. I wash it myself. That man gave all hair salons a bad name and traumatised me. So the only person I trust with my forest is me.
As for Alfonso, he may not have gone to those professional beauty schools and maybe he also needed a little attitude adjustment, but he was a great hair stylist (minus the abusive relationship we had). Most importantly his prices were affordable; I just wish he kept cleaner towels.