Barbershop Blues

I have been looking for a barbershop in Embakasi all my life. In fact I have tried everything in the name of getting a good barber, so much that I let a lady purporting to have the skill shave me. I think it was last August, and six months on I can feel the pain she inflicted on my chin. I tried affirmative action with my head, it ended up badly and now I am insecure.

Blame it on my childhood… I grew up having my head shaved by Kichwanek (That’s how he wrote it), the legendary Kinyozi in Sosiot, somewhere in the armpit of Kericho. Kichwanek was everything; he was a barber who carried a pipe wrench with him. He had a bicycle, black Mamba, tired and corroded but it meant the world to him. In that small centre, Kichwanek was the only photographer. You had to be lucky with him, standing by the verandahs of shops to see if he’d pass by and you shout his name. He took a photo and you had to wait 6439 days (Okay that means three weeks) before you saw it. And there was no Photoshop, just his mouth… “Haiya kaa vizuri, 1…2… Chwaaa!” That’s how Kichwanek’s camera sounded, if you have a better option, upload it we listen.

But the best part about him was how he understood the plateaus and cataracts on my head. I only had to tell him “style ya shule” and the slender looking man with two abnormally large front teeth understood what to do. Kichwanek was the pride of Sosiot, the only man who would go to Kericho town more than twice a week.

So since I moved to this city, Embakasi has not been sympathetic. The barbers here don’t laugh with you. Their barbershops have cool names like “Kewl Kutz” (To mean cool cuts, I don’t get it either) and they have Wi-Fi. Even then they cannot get the cut right. Everytime they say ‘Niweke Cut’ I have a new nightmare. But this was valentines’ weekend, and my girlfriend already told me I look like a homeless man when I have hair. Women do that thing with us, where they wait for an opportune time like Valentines or her birthday, when your mood should be upright and tell you something like that. That I look homeless. Of course I always feel poorer when I have shaggy hair on my head, but homeless that’s new. So I had to look for a barber.

This time though I had to be right. The episodes I’ve had with these Kinyozi guys in Embakasi could make a book. The other day I told the guy to shape my side beard into something edible. Well the barbershop had wifi so I imagined he was a clever kid. He was speaking about cool TV series like Scandal and I imagined he would ponder the word ‘Edible’ like a clever kid. But the guy worked on my head like he was using a knife. I had to shave off the whole thing. Do you know how I look without beard? I look like Alfred Mutua. Do you know how hard it is walking around Nairobi, people confusing you for a poorer version of the Machakos Governor? It is not funny. And this is Embakasi, where all Kambas in Kenya come from. So you can imagine meeting a guy who starts lamenting all his problems in their mother tongue and you have to nod and look important. And then those barbershops use methylated spirit that hurts your soul. They apply it on your head and you remember why you go to church, because hell is painful sulfur.

The safest thing was to try the new barbershop. The thing is housed in a container, with graffiti hanging all over. You feel so uninspired looking at it but I had tried everything around. Soon as I walked in, I made sure the guy knows I am saved, and I serve a living God. The God of Zachariah, Zephaniah and Hezekiah. I picked that thing from soko around Fedha, some lady walked over to buy tomatoes. And as the vendor picked tomatoes for her, she was chanting ‘Rekeshebedekulakihehra… Thank You Loord, Father almighty, Asante Bwahahahana’. And then when she said Jesus, it sounded like it was laced with a ‘Ch’ sound somewhere… Like ‘Chhhjjjesus’. That lady got the finest red tomatoes in East and Central Africa. So it’s a trick I hoped would work, that if he knew I was saved, he would probably behave with my head. There was no one on the queue so I hopped on. The barbershop did not have that picture thing we used to look at and point ‘Nataka hii’. Me when I was young I used to point at the Afro, yet I had a round head with 1cm long hair. It never grew past that but I had a dream to look like Michael Jackson (The black one)… But this one did not have that picture thing. How old am I, or Nairobi is just going too fast. So I had to be descriptive. I tried to be… And he started working.

Thirty minutes later… My head looks like Jamie Foxx, that’s how I feel, if that’s not what you see, then your eyes do not have the Glory. Seek Jesus. I could feel the confidence walking past every lady, looking all taken, with a clean shave. At one point walked into this kiosk… That mama feels me by the way, because thrice she has given me extra change. And she pretends to give me milk ati ‘Hii isipoenda leo itaharibika, chukua tu’. But deep down her eyes you can see cupid playing bano with her heart. I walked in and she smiled… But she knows I’m taken so she had to pretend she was busy on a call.

“Nitarudi baadaye” I said to her.

Time’s up for me… I found my barber.


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