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Friday, 17 July 2020

A Haircut Is a Fair Deal

As a child, Fridays were the best. My father would be coming home after a week or two away on assignment. As a government accountant, he was always diligent for government business wherever they sent him. And for that reason, they found places far and wide to send this tireless civil servant. My father was posted to a town in the outer fringes of civilization, on a hillside town called Maralal, well known for the Maralal International Carmel Derby and the Samburu-a pastoral community of exceptional goat and sheep rearers. I had this romantic notion of Maralal because my father seemed so happy when he came home, always carrying a few goats and a lot of meat.

“Edwin, you better finish those greens and Ugali.”

“But mom, we eat greens and Ugali every day, I have a heartburn today.”

“Boy, you better stuff yourself with that food.”

And I would stuff my mouth with Ugali, resentfully obedient.

It was 7 pm, and every Friday was Sabbath night. We ganged up against our fervently religious mother to ensure she didn’t turn the television off. Sabbath rules had to be obeyed, she insisted, which meant turning off the TV and seeking the Lord. So far, she had spoken spiritedly about this conviction. She never took steps to turn off the TV, which would have caused us to carry a grudge.

Anyway, the battle had been won, TV was on. I believe the campaign had been won by my elder sister. She who I looked up to and made me look bad when I was in lower primary. Those were terrible years; class one to class three. I was belittled and was last in my class. I heard people saying I was nothing like my sister. They called her the genius who got all the accolades. Got gifts, and finally went to the best girls high school in the nation, Alliance Girls High School. I was still growing and had not found my feet yet. My time would come. Again, that’s a story for another day.  

So for that Friday, I stuffed my mouth with ugali, with my ears perked up waiting to hear the familiar sound of a Land Rover engine. Do you know, the first new car I ever saw was a government-issued Land Rover 110. My father was being chauffeured by a short, stout policeman in uniform. I believe that’s why, to this day, no matter how spartan and uncomfortable they are, I would buy one in a heartbeat.  

A loud honk at the gate found my plate thrown to the side, as I dashed out, led by the excited barking of Tumbo our German Shephard, the dog was as old as I was. My dad said he bought him as a puppy when I was still a toddler. Tumbo was huge, fierce, and friendly. He wagged his tail and jumped around the Land Rover, as I went round to my father’s door, opened it, and welcomed him with all the stories of the past two weeks.

“Dad! So good to see you. You know Toby, and I walked to school, and he told me about his house. You know I feed Tumbo for all the days of the last week. You know there is a cartoon on TV that is new, and I love it so much,” I kept on and on like the Energizer Bunny. Dad frequently said, little. He would hand me his briefcase and bring out a sizeable foiled piece of roasted meat. That would silence me. For Tumbo, he had this massive bucket of bones and stuff, which Tumbo loved because I saw how he would have his face and teeth in that murk.

As the briefcase carrier, I would take my father’s briefcase to his bedroom, open it and come back with a set of newspapers from the week. I would sit silently aping my father, as we waited for the roasted meat to be cut up, and brought. I don’t remember my father responding to any of the many words I spoke. Over the years, I learned to talk less and focus more on the newspapers. A comfortable silence ensued that we carried as a habit into later years.  

Mother was a new woman every Friday, Sabbath would be forgotten during her husband's arrival. She would make the best meal ever, something she could never do during the bland weekdays when we ate colorless food. Saying Friday was colorful was an understatement. I loved eating mom’s cooking when dad arrived.  

His presence was magical and reassuring.

“I need to take you to have a hair cut and buy some shoes tomorrow,” my father said out of the blues.

My eyes nearly popped out. From experience, this was unusual. My father typically came home on Friday, and be off visiting friends on Saturday, while we went to church. I would see him later in the evening. And he would promptly be off to Maralal, on Sunday afternoon. I never got to have enough of him. So when he said, Saturday was him and me. I had a hard time sleeping. I dreamt of him taking me to all the places in town, I only saw from afar, and listening to all my incoherent stories.

In the morning, we got into the VW Beetle and drove into town.

The barbershop we walked into was the most elaborate in town, with mirrors running across the length of the wall. The barbers were in black and very kind. I vividly remember how comfortable the leather seat was and how spongy it felt as I sank in and got my hair cut.

My father would also get a haircut, and I fancied we looked alike. Once that was done, we walked a few blocks away into a restaurant where dad bought me chips, sausage, soda, and ice cream. I would be a chattering box all the way through, high on sugar.  

Then off to the shoe bazaar with men in aprons, trying to usher us into their small shops, smelling of leather, and artisan patience. I would be lost for choice, knowing dad would only buy a pair. I remember vividly coming out of the bazaar with new shoes that I would treat with white-glove respect. I would wipe, polish, and shine them diligently after a day of use. After two weeks, the shine was lost, I had to find something else as exciting. 

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