Ever heard this joke? It's quite popular. It goes like this:
"A barber just got arrested in my street for dealing drugs. I've been his customer for 10 years and I didn't know he was a barber."
Yes. That joke.
I was thinking about that joke when it dawned on me that I actually have a rather similar experience myself. And no, perish that thought. The closest I’ve been to doing drugs was chloroquine and its concomitant itching.
You see, I’ve always had a thing for a full head of hair. Barbers are not my friends because we don’t see often. Needless to say, my mom was far from pleased. For someone who looked like a Neanderthal who has adamantly refused to evolve anytime I have overgrown hair, I struggle to cut them every time. The last time I remembered being flogged was in connection with my hair and my refusal to cut it. She had badgered me to cut my hair which wasn’t even anywhere near as fully grown as this. She insisted and I acquiesced, but with no intention of doing so. She came back home that day and blew a fuse. I was in my early teens then and full of life and spunk. I thought it would be her regular scolding. I couldn’t be bothered because...well, no one has ever died from scolding. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., I was in for a rude awakening. Literally.
I had dozed off when I was rudely woken up with a long cane, of all things. I jumped up disoriented and terrified, thinking something had bitten me or stung me. I woke up to see my mom holding a cane. It took me some time to make the connection between her holding a cane and me waking up in the middle of an early sleep. For a while, I thought she was beating whatever it was that stung me. I wasn’t the brightest spark as a teenager. Before I could say a word of protest, she uttered these eternal words:
“I che na I karigo iti ihe?”
That’s when it dawned on me that I haven’t outgrown being flogged.
So off I marched to this barbershop.
On getting there, I met the placed locked. Deep inside, I felt pleased and was tempted to go home. After all, the barbershop was locked. I had set on my way home when I remembered Proverbs 14:12. I couldn't have thought of a better verse. It says "there is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." I'm not saying my mom is a killer, but you get the drift. Ordinarily I would panic. It was that bad. Surely there are barbers in this area who know what they're doing. It's just a low cut. What could possibly go wrong?
And so began my search for a salon that will attend to my hair. Walking down a not so familiar road some distance from my street, I looked left and right and for some weird reason, I didn't lay eye on a single sign saying "BARBER IN" or "BARBER HERE". I still maintained my smile and swallowed down the panic that was slowly crawling out of my stomach.
On getting to the main road, I politely asked a man in his shop where a brother could get a haircut.
"One guy dey here o but e no open today", he replied and I nodded meekly, biting down a "no shit Sherlock". "But e get another guy sha across the road. Look small to your left and you go see him signboard."
I turned to the road and strained my more or less useless eyes but couldn't see a thing. I have problems seeing things that are far away from me but I didn't want to trouble dude with my eye problems so I just did what I do best, sustain a confused facial expression and let him be my good Samaritan.
This Samaritan though wasn't amused.
"See am na. That white board beside those women wey dey sell tomatoes." He said rather dismissively and I happily looked back at him to reassure him that although I had a problem seeing a signboard, I'm not blind yet; humans aren't too small to miss.
I thanked him, crossed and with faith moved towards the women. Still no signboard in sight. As I approached though, I heard the sound of a generator and quickly looked in the direction it was coming from.
Lo and behold, it was a Barbershop!!!
Okay, maybe "Barbershop" is a bit of a stretch. It looked nothing like a shop. Honestly I've seen better-looking huts.
Inside was a haggard-looking fella wearing a once upon a time red singlet and dirty jeans. Beneath the armpits were a dense jungle thicker than my hair before I turned rogue. A pig would be proud.
For a second, I wondered if I really wanted to do this to myself, but before I could make a decision, he looked at my direction, gave a large smile I wasn't expecting and said, "Oga welcome, come inside. I go soon finish with this boy no worry."
Good words but I was worried all the same.
I looked at the little boy whose hair he was cutting and was surprised that he hadn't made a mess of it. He was actually good. I slowly walked into the dingy room, plugged in my headphones over my ears and increased the volume in a bid to drown out the sight. You know that feeling, right? That feeling you got the last time you were in a cab and the driver took an unfamiliar turn. You remember how you removed the headphones so you could see clearly? Yeah, that feeling.
Soon enough dude was done with the little boy and beckoned me to take his place.
I silently said a prayer and wished for this to be over soon. His rather surprisingly white cloth went around my neck in mini seconds and soon his clipper was singing. He brought out God knows what and dipped the clipper head into it. I was appalled.
"Abeg no vex. Wetin be that?" I asked.
"Na spirit," he answered in a matter-of-fact way.
It smelled like spirit alright but looked like used engine oil. It was so dark I bit my lips when the clipper touched my hair. I tried maintaining a smile on my face but it was no good. "I'm definitely leaving here with an infection", I said to myself and tried to enjoy the infectious process anyway.
Two minutes in, someone came in.
Now, I don't know if you understand how dirty the barber was but he was a cleaned, just washed, newborn baby compared to this mound of dirt. I almost jumped out of my seat when I saw his face from the mirror facing me.
Dude gave the barber some sign I didn't understand and the barber said "Guy, I dey come" to no one in particular. I assumed it was to me.
They both went outside beside the barbershop, and listening to their muffled voice, it was clear they were engaging in a transaction although I couldn't understand what business dealing Pig and his dirtier sidekick would be carrying out beside a barbershop. Honestly, I couldn't care less. I just wanted to have this haircut over with.
True enough, the barber came back and as he was about resuming the business of giving me a haircut my mom will approve, some other alien came in.
"I need that thing now abeg," the newcomer bellowed. "Oga calm down. Meet me outside" the barber rejoined rather harshly and I was slowly getting interested. What in the world is going on?
This time around, there was much haranguing by both before the barber came back to continue the business of giving me a respectable low cut. He spent more than six minutes outside the salon, I meant shack, before he returned. I knew because as soon as he left, I plugged back my earpiece and played Eminem's "Sing for the Moment" from start to finish and was on my second listen before he returned.
He picked up his clipper and started a soliloquy about how it's good to have multiple incomes and all, how he has to keep it on the low so that police won’t come visiting him. It would've been a conversation if I'd given him a reply. I wasn't being rude or anything. I was only processing what he was saying. My people have a saying that dibịa onye ekwurekwu a naghị agbara ekperima afa. This barber is loquacious for someone whose side hustle makes him a person of interest to the police.
Speaking of police, they soon drove by in a van and my guy froze like a man caught pants down with another man's wife. I was visibly amused by the sight, but silently nursed a prayer for him to finish with my hair. Soon after, he finished.
"Oga I don finish,” he cheerfully announced. “See as you handsome now. Girls go like you die, aswear." I made a mental note to recommend him for another pair of glasses not too dissimilar to the one I was wearing.
"Your money na ₦200, sir," he declared. I gave him ₦500.
"Ah, change go be problem now oo," he whined. "But wait small make I go find change," and he stepped out.
While he was out looking for change, an even dirtier guy with overgrown, discoloured armpit hair walked in. Because I have my earpiece plugged in, I didn’t hear him come in. There was no need to, really, since I smelt him come in. The stale of unwashed body that got to me minutes before he did was all the announcement I needed. Immediately he came in, I knew he came for the barber. I wouldn’t have made the connection if he wasn't wearing an equally discolored singlet. There must be something about this guy's side hustle that attracts filth.
"Where him dey?" the newest visitor growled.
I pretended to not have heard him, and getting no response from me, he left.
Soon after, the barber returned, with my change. I thanked him and proceeded on my way. I've barely left the place when the police ride screeched to a halt the way Nigerians are accustomed to. I turned back to find out who or what got knocked down only to see policemen rushing into the shack I just left. Next thing I saw, they were dragging the barber out by the waist like a criminal caught in the act. As they slapped him all the way to the vehicle, I could pick up voices talking about him selling igbo.
I wasn’t his customer for many years, but I had patronized him once. I only knew him as a barber.