Mother always had me seat outside on a wooden chair. She would wrap a red and white leso around my neck. Next she would bring out her large silver pair of scissors. It was tradition. Mother always cut my hair. She would hum as she did. Never mind that my head would look like cabbage patches when she was done. When mother did my hair it always felt like I was coco Chanel and she was Antoine né Antek Cierplikowski.
It was mid-morning and schools were about to open. Mother called me out to the verandah. The wooden chair sat their daunting me. I did not feel like coco anymore. The leso hang on the lines, a slave to the winds. I hesitated – for the first time in eight years. Mother called me out. I froze and shook my head. I did not want mother to cut my hair.
It was not always like this. The holidays would always end and I’d always go back to school. In school kids would share tales of how one wrestled the biggest jogoo. How we would run up the muddy slopes and slide down in our brown shorts. How we’d get cuts and bruises and brandish them like battle scars. This was life as we knew it. We all had one thing in common – our cabbage patched heads.
The last holiday was different. We all came back brandishing battle scars. We all had cabbage patches except one. Daudi did not have a cabbage patch. He had a clean cut, the edges were distinct. He carried himself with pride. We all hated our cabbage patches. Daudi said his father took him to a barber. He said he was a man now. We all wanted to be men.
Mother called out again. This time louder. I ran as fast and far as my skinny legs could carry me. I waited by the side of the road. She did not come after me. Maybe she went after the beating stick. Mother was a firm believer. She was generous with the rod. No son of hers would end up spoilt. I waited by the road side. I counted cars as they passed. I saw the young ladies escorted by the young men. They laughed as they flicked their hair. The young men would ever so often stop and stare into their eyes. This was strange. I hated girls. They were always crying. They were always clean. They never wanted to throw dirt and slide down muddy slopes. Such bores.
Then I saw it. The old white rickety pick-up. It jotted down the road. Father was finally home. He saw me seated by the roadside. He stopped and beckoned me to come in. I sat on his lap and took the wheel. It felt good to be in control. He rubbed my head noticing the fine stubble. Your mother hasn’t cut your hair yet he remarked. I went silent. I nodded my head. I confided in him how I wanted to be a man. A man like Daudi. His father took him to the barber. He smiled. We did not go home.
The barbershop wasn’t as I had expected. There was the boring drone of the machines. The occasional man making comments as he schemed through the newspaper. We walked in. Everyone nodded at my father and I. I felt important. The barber pulled out a chair and as I sat down he threw a pristinely white nylon wrap over my slender body. I loved it. The excitement sent chills down my spine. I was on my way to becoming a man. He shaved my hair – skillfully. I particularly liked the sting when they applied a blue liquid on my head.
We went home. Mother was worried sick. See there were no phones to call. She had been to her neighbors asking for my whereabouts. She saw me and ran arms wide open as she embraced me. I whispered into her ear:
“Don’t cry I am a man”
She shed more tears. I will never understand this. Schools opened Daudi was still a man, the rest were men as well. Now we were all men. The girls were still clean. They refused to throw dirt at each other. We let them be. They had no business with us men.