Finally, Aisha finished with her customer and asked what colour Ifemelu wanted for her hair attachments.
“Not good colour,” Aisha said promptly.
“That’s what I use.”
“It look dirty. You don’t want colour one?”
“Colour one is too black, it looks fake,” Ifemelu said, loosening her headwrap. “Sometimes I use colour two, but colour four is closest to my natural colour.”
Aisha shrugged, a haughty shrug, as though it was not her problem if her customer did not have good taste. She reached into a cupboard, brought out two packets of attachments, checked to make sure theywere both the same colour.
She touched Ifemelu’s hair. “Why you don’t have relaxer?”
“I like my hair the way God made it.”
“But how you comb it? Hard to comb,” Aisha said.
Ifemelu had brought her own comb. She gently combed her hair, dense, soft and tightly coiled, until it framed her head like a halo. “It’s not hard to comb if you moisturize it properly,” she said, slipping into the coaxing tone of the proselytizer that she used whenever she was trying to convince other black women about the merits of wearing their hair natural. Aisha snorted; she clearly could not understand why anybody would choose to suffer through combing natural hair, instead of simply relaxing it. She sectioned out Ifemelu’s hair, plucked a little attachment from the pile on the table and began deftly to twist.
“It’s too tight,” Ifemelu said. “Don’t make it tight.” Because Aisha kept twisting to the end, Ifemelu thought that perhaps she had not understood, and so Ifemelu touched the offending braid and said,
Aisha pushed her hand away. “No. No. Leave it. It good.”
“It’s tight!” Ifemelu said. “Please loosen it.”
Mariama was watching them. A flow of French came from her. Aisha loosened the braid.
“Sorry,” Mariama said. “She doesn’t understand very well.”
But Ifemelu could see, from Aisha’s face, that she understood very well. Aisha was simply a true market woman, immune to the cosmetic niceties of American customer service. Ifemelu imagined her working in a market in Dakar, like the braiders in Lagos who would blow their noses and wipe their hands on their wrappers, roughly jerk their customers’ heads to position them better, complain about how full or how hard or how short the hair was, shout out to passing women, while all the time conversing too loudly and braiding too tightly.
[End of Excerpt]