The Busiest Saturday of the Summer – VaMurimi
This is my first serious attempt at short story writing. The setting is my aunt and uncle’s black barber/beauty shop in a small town in the deep South. The time is a mid summer Saturday in the mid 1960’s. My character, Eddie, is a black college student from the North, my job is to take care of the cash register and to sweep up the shop.
It was the busiest Saturday of the summer, every black kid in the county came in for their summer haircuts. The folks around here were poor and haircuts were a seasonal luxury. The midsummer heat was oppressive and this was the season when ringworm and headlice reached epidemic proportions. My uncle yelled, “Eddie get that broom and clean up here, damn it boy what is I paying you for!”.
“Sorry, Uncle Henry.” I grabbed the long handled broom and swept up the mound of kinky hair that had accumulated from the last three haircuts. Uncle Henry shook out the cape and helped the boy down, brushing his shoulders off and said, “Is your mama coming to pick y’all up?”
“Yes sir, she is getting my cousins.”
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“O.K. cause we are going to close soon,” replied Uncle Henry.
I finished sweeping up and pulled down the closed sign on the door.
The boy said, “Here comes my mama now.” I saw an old pick-up truck pulling up in front of the shop. Uncle Henry went out to greet the driver.
“How you doing Sister?, ain’t seen you for I guess three or four months.”
Sister Leona was a very large dark woman , who was known in the community as “that ole African woman”, because of her appearance and rumors that she knew about voodoo. She and her boys lived on a farm out near the swamps. Sister Leona’s short cropped natural hair made her look like most folks’ idea of an African. She surveyed the boy’s haircut “You look good,” she said as she ran her hand over his freshly clipped scalp. “Go get your cousins out of the truck.”
The boy returned to the shop followed by two girls. Sister Leona said, “Henry, I want these girls to get their hair cut, with all they got to do on the farm they ain’t got no time to do no hair”. The girls looked at each other in terror when they heard Sister Leona.
“With the bugs and nits out where you is, short hair ain’t a bad idea,” my uncle said, as he cast a reassuring glance to the girls, who nervously fidgeted with their hair. “Besides, you’ll will be more comfortable with all that off your necks.”
Sister Leona. said, “Beverly, you first.” Beverly was a tall, slim, cafe-au-lait-colored girl, about 16 years old. She had a thick braid that hung two feet down her back. My uncle brushed off the chair, Sister Leona said, “Come on girl, either you do like I say or I put you in this chair myself.” She got in the chair and says in a low and broken voice, “Yes ma’am”.
My uncle adjusted the cape and said, “First lets take care of the braid, hold still.” With a single stroke on the clippers he removed the braid and laid it on the girl’s lap.”How’s that, Sister, is that enough?”
Sister Leona said, “Henry, I want you to cut it all off, you hear?”
“Oh, like the boy, you want them to get a real summer cut,” my uncle said. “You might have to hold her still for me, but this won’t take long.” He pressed the clippers to the nape of her neck and pushed them slowly forward, leaving a brown swath of scalp in their wake. The girl strained to keep her eyes clenched and to avoid the mirror. Uncle Henry seemed to be taking a bizarre pleasure from his task, as he pushed the clippers across her scalp. The cape was filling up with thick hair, as Uncle Henry examined his handiwork. As he removed the last vestiges of black hair from her neck, the girl opened her eyes and saw her shaven scalp.
Sister Leona said, “That’s fine, I don’t have to worry about no bugs on you, gal. Now you Diane” The girl stared at her freshly shorn scalp in the mirror and then looked at the hair on the floor.
The other niece had been in a state of shock since she came into the shop. As Sister Leona approached her she began to cry. Sister Leona lifted her writhing body into the chair, and held her firmly. My uncle said, “just hold her still this won’t take long. He flipped on the clippers and said to Sister Leona, “Now, hold her head down.” He said to the girl, “Like it or not we gonna cut your hair, it’s for your own good, gal. Now hold still”. With that he pushed the clippers from her nape to her crown. An eighteen inch lock hit the cape and the girl started screaming, “No! No!” Sister Leona held her grip while uncle Henry buzzed swath after swath. Within ten minutes of deft clipping the girl’s resistance was broken and he made the final pass across her brown scalp. Sister Leona released her grip and the girl rubbed her trembling hand over her shaven scalp. Both girls were still crying as Sister Leona paid me a crisp five dollar bill.
As they left the shop, I drew the shades. My uncle said as he folded the braid that he had clipped from Beverly, “This is good hair somebody could make a toupee out of this. Eddie, clean up this mess.”