Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto. Saturday April someteenth 2009. Silky’s (formerly Sexy’s, formerly Nappy’s, formerly Afrotastic) Hair Emporium. One co-owner is at counter. Other co-owner is goodness knows where. Co-owner at counter has brown skin, sour face and thin-thin burgundy microbraids. Across street from Silky’s is sharwarma place. Shawarma place owner is Mr. Haddad. Silky’s ceiling is big painting-painting of coconut tree and man playing steelpan. To right of counter is buzzing front door. To left of counter is beaded curtain of Bob Marley in red, gold, and green tam. When someone goes into kitchen, Bob Marley’s face breaks apart, then comes back together. To right of Iere curtain is small kitchen. Jeffrey Osborne is coming from radio. Jeffrey sings some song where he keeps going “Woo Woo Woo”. And all around room, on left, on right, and at front, are things for hair. Little rubber bands, plastic/metal/wooden afro picks, big and small hairbrushes, beads, do-rags with smiling, smooth-skinned brothers with no ingrown chin hairs, scarves for keeping your hairstyle neat when you sleep, real-fake hair, fake-fake hair, and hair medicine: shampoos, conditioners (leave-in and wash-out), moisturizers, oils, waxes, gels, creams, setting lotions, leave-in treatments, hot-oil treatments, detanglers, and relaxers- all big letters and bright colour, and all promising Longer! Softer! Straighter!
Jeffrey Osborne is now Billy Ocean. Front door buzzes, and dark-skinned Mr. Linford Roberts Trini-walks into store. Grey-head Mr. Roberts was formerly of Palo Seco, Trinidad but has been of Toronto, Canada since 1965. Mr. Roberts is seventy, looks fifty, and moves like man of twenty-five. “Good afternoon darling!” he greets co-owner. He asks after other co-owner, and is told she is out. Mr. Roberts then says “Alright, I will just sit myself down and read my paper until she come back. You ain’t go even know I here! Where my chair?” Co-owner turns around and rolls her eyes, then gets Mr. Roberts his chair. Special chair is reserved for him, during his Saturday visits. Mr. Roberts then grabs copy of Share newspaper so he can find out first-hand what is going on with black people in Toronto. Mr. Roberts’ one true obsession in life is other black people. Just above stack of newspapers is calendar featuring Barack Obama with big-big grin. Mr. Roberts gazes up at Barack Obama as he takes newspaper and smiles back. Co-owner knows that once Mr. Roberts starts reading, he will start complaining.
Billy Ocean is now Lionel Richie. Front door buzzes, and brown-skinned man about six-foot-two steps into store. He has shaved head, sunglasses, jeans and leather jacket. Shaved-Head Man looks about thirty and has neat, trim, and sexy goatee. Shaved-Head Man also seems to be in hurry. He gives distracted nods to co-owner and Mr. Roberts when they say “Hello”. He glances all around store- on floor beside door, counter, top shelves, middle shelves, very lowest shelves. He turns to co-owner and asks “Do you have any shopping baskets?” in half-Jamaican, half-Canadian accent. Co-owner is amused, tells him “No!”, and that people never pick up more than two things during visits to Hair Emporium. Sunglasses Man seems disappointed at lack of shopping baskets but thanks her. Then Sunglasses man pulls out fancy young-boy phone from his pocket and studies something on-screen. He then moves to middle of store and starts staring at bottles, starting with “Action” line of moisturizers.
Lionel Richie is now Luther Vandross. Front door buzzes, and light-skinned CDs-Flyers-Parties man dances into store. He is wearing oversized white jeans, black winter coat, white do-rag on his head, and Bluetooth on his left ear. Mr. Roberts says “…and education is the most important thing!” Shaved-Head Man removes two afro picks from plastic hook. CDs-Flyers-Parties man is talking to someone as he comes in, but glances at Mr. Roberts and mouths “Hi!” When call ends, he flirts with co-owner. Mr. Roberts says “Parents need to make sure they know who their children hanging around!” CDs-Flyers-Parties man puts stack of post-card size flyers under Barack calendar. Flyers show black woman with long hair and bikini. Under woman’s navel are some words including “!!!”, “PARTY!”, “DJ!”, “BIGGEST”, “FRONT ST.”, and “!!!”. Mr. Roberts wants to know if there will be any calypso or soca at party. CD-Flyers-Parties man tells him it’s all hip-hop, dancehall, and hip-hop-dancehall. Mr. Roberts steupses and turns back to his newspaper. This makes CDs-Flyers-Parties man laugh. CDs-Flyers-Parties then starts to mock soca. He jumps up and down, waves his hand, and sings “Hands in the Air!”, “Hands in the Air!”, “Get something and wave”, “Jump! Jump!”, “Wine up your waist!” and “Moving to the left!” Mr. Roberts pretends to rush at CDs-Flyers-Parties man. Then Mr. Roberts and CD-Flyers-Parties man start laughing. CDs-Flyers-Parties man gets call on Bluetooth. Mr. Roberts says “…and children don’t want to go to school. CDs-Flyers-Parties Man waves goodbye and exits store.
Luther Vandross is now Isley Jasper Isley. Front door buzzes, and white woman with orangey-auburn hair dips toe into store. She is holding hands with half-black/half-white looking girl. Mr. Roberts says: “I always telling my grandchildren: All them big stars on TV already make their money. All you should study hard, instead of helping big stars make more money by continuing to watch them!” Orange Hair Woman’s mouth opens wide when she sees things in store. Little girl’s mouth falls open too. Little girl looks about eight, and has brown hair that falls to shoulder-blades in big curls. Orange Hair Woman and co-owner smile at each other. Orange Hair Woman says “I need something for my daughter’s hair.” Then she turns to little girl and says “Say hello, Tanya!” Tanya says “Hello!” in soft voice, to co-owner and Mr. Roberts. Mr. Roberts says, “I does tell them: But why you’re watching so much TV? TV ain’t watching you!” Co-owner tells Orange Hair Woman to try Sweetness For Kidz line. Co-owner points to beige and green Sweetness For Kidz” bottles near front door. Bottles feature smiling little black girl with big Goldilocks curls falling down sides of face. Shaved-Head Man says he is looking for Dreadz Lock-and-Twist Gel. Co-owner points to top shelf near curtain. Dreadz-line comes in red, green, and gold plastic jars with picture of smiling rasta. Orange Hair Woman comes back to counter with bottle of Sweetness No-Fuss Detangler and Sweetness Hair Moisturizer For Kidz with Vitamin E and Aloe Vera. Mr. Roberts says “and black people don’t support each other anymore!” Mr. Roberts advises Orange Hair Woman to take her time, and that she just has to get used to Tanya’s hair. Then Mr. Roberts tells her to get big comb, hard brush, and scarf to tie Tanya’s head down at night. So Orange Hair Woman buys big comb and hard brush and scarf. She thanks Mr. Roberts and shakes his hand. Co-owner tells Mr. Roberts that he should run store, since he knows so much about women’s hair. Shaved-Head Man comes up to counter with red head scarf, purple head scarf, and packet of multi-coloured beads. Shaved-Head Man then heads back to shelves. Then Orange Hair Woman and Tanya leave.
Isley Jasper Isley is now DeBarge. Front door buzzes, and two teenagey-looking girls wiggle into store. Mr. Roberts says “and black people don’t even say hello to each other any more!” The two girls have fancy handbags, tight jeans, and pretty-pretty fingernails. They head right to weave section of store. Shaved-Head Man has six bottles in his hands, including two in crook of each arm. One girl asks other girl if she should straighten her hair before she puts in weave. Shaved-Head man drops two bottles. Her friend says that maybe she should go for curly extensions if she does not want to relax her hair. Mr. Roberts tells Shaved-Head Man to put his things on counter, and keep them there until he is ready to pay for them. Shaved-Head Man is embarrassed, but puts bottles down. Teenagey Girls move from straight weaves to curly weaves, closer to Bob Marley curtain. One girl picks up pack of real hair. She tells friend that she doesn’t think she can afford real hair. Friend retorts: “No girl, you deserve the best! You deserve real hair!” Teenagey Girls hug each other, and then open packets to examine hair. Co-owner is too distracted with Mr. Roberts chit-chat to notice this. Shaved-Head Man is now squatting in front of Kinkilocks’ line of moisturizers, which is on lowest shelf near door. He watches his fancy phone, then Kinkilocks bottles, then phone, then Kinkilocks bottles again. Then he asks co-owner if store carries Kinkilocks’ Leave-in Treatment With Silicone. Mr. Roberts says “And the whole world on drugs!” (Mr. Roberts may be on to something here, wink!) Teenagey Girls are done scrutinizing weaves. They move to bottles in “Serengeti” line. Serengeti bottles feature drawing of lion lying in middle of savannah, being petted by black woman with long hair. Co-owner tells Shaved-Head Man that store doesn’t carry leave-in treatment for Kinkilocks, but he can try Maximum Leave in Treatment for Relaxed and Natural Hair. “Yes, try Maximum!” Mr. Roberts says. “My wife does use Maximum!” Teenagey Girls buy two bottles of conditioner and six packs of hair, and then they leave.
DeBarge is now James Ingram. Front door buzzes, and skinny lady about five-foot-three walks slow-slow into store. She is wearing red sweat pants, brown winter coat, and green hat with blue scarf underneath hat. Shaved-Head Man is staring at pink and blue Soft and Bouncy line of moisturizers. Skin beneath Green Hat Lady’s eyes is sagging and hanging. Mr. Roberts says “...and all the young black women keep getting pregnant!” Green Hat Lady’s eyebrows have been shaved off and re-drawn with pencil. Shaved-Head Man heads to counter, ready to pay. Green Hat lady cuts in front of Shaved-Head Man and puts two shopping bags down on counter. Brown liquid is leaking from one shopping bag. Strong smell is coming from other bag. Shaved-Head Man starts to protest. Green Hat Lady ignores him, and pulls out bright-yellow jar of Rapunzel Hair Relaxer. She dips her finger in cream. “Excuse me miss,” co-owner says. “There was someone ahead of you!” Green Hat Lady dips finger in relaxer again, and screams:
Green Hat Lady holds up two fingers, now covered in whip-creamy relaxer. She grins at co-owner.
Shaved-Head Man steps backwards, away from Green Hat Lady. He turns his eyes to floor, then Bob Marley curtain, then ceiling with pan-man and coconut tree.
Mr. Robert just watches Green Hat Lady.
“Miss…” co-owner begins.
“BLESS THIS! BLESS THIS!” Green Hat Lady yells. She dips her finger in relaxer again. Then she removes hat, and unties scarf. Most of her head is clean. Clean like Shaved-Head Man’s. Except for couple of tufts at back near her neck, some scars, and some scabs. Shaved-Head Man looks at back of Green Hat Lady’s head, and then looks away fast-fast. Co-owner tries not to lock eyes with Green Hat Lady.
Green Hat Lady reaches across counter, and touches co-owner’s microbraids. “Is it real?” she asks.
“No,” says co-owner in scared voice. Co-owner draws back from Green Hat Lady.
Mr. Roberts puts down his newspaper, and gets up. “You alright, sister?” he asks Green Hat Lady.
Green Hat Lady does not answer.
Mr. Roberts comes closer to Green Hat Lady. “Where are you living?”
Green Hat Lady gazes at Bob Marley curtain, then out front door at slushy sidewalk and passing cars.
Mr. Roberts puts out his hand. “You want me to take you home?”
Green Hat Lady shakes her head.
“How about something to eat?” Mr. Robert says. This time Green Hat Lady nods.
Mr. Roberts tells co-owner: “We going by Haddad, just to get a little something to eat! I coming back just now!” Mr. Roberts and Green Hat Lady step outside. Mr. Roberts holds her hand, glances right and left, and then they cross street.
Co-owner gives Shaved-Head Man pressed-lips smile, and starts tapping prices into register. He has bought one packet of fifty black elastic bands, one packet of beads, two jars of leave-in treatment, five packs of black-black real hair, one pack of fake blonde and fuschia fake hair, one jar of lock and twist gel, three bottles of shampoo, five bottles of conditioner, two bottles of 2-in-1 shampoo, one bottle of 3-in-1 shampoo, two jars of No-Lye relaxer, one jar of relaxer with lye, two scarves, and two afro picks. His total is $256.75 and he leaves store with five full plastic bags.
Jenille Prince lives in Ottawa, Canada where she works as an accountant. Her parents are of Trinidadian descent and she lived in Trinidad for a few years during her childhood. In her stories, Jenille likes to focus on the mix of Caribbean and Canadian cultures and outlooks, and how they can co-exist in a single person. Her fiction has previously appeared in Poui.