Chinyere looked up from her phone and stared with mild startle as her friend, Julianah, rose from the barber’s seat, flicking lint and hair from her chest and shoulders while the barber brushed away the same from the back of her shoulders. She grimaced as she watched the subdued lighting of the afternoon play on the shiny dome of Julianah’s skull, unable to resist a small shudder as she contemplated the other woman’s gumption.
“Ms. Nkemjika,” Julianah drawled as she bent slightly toward the mirror which stretched out nearly from one end of the wall to the other, accommodating the preening and grooming of the women in the upscale beauty salon they’d come to, “why are you looking at me like you’ve seen a ghost?”
“No, not a ghost,” Chinyere said. “I’m just wondering which mirror is the clearest, the one you’re looking at, or the one that is your head.”
“Touché,” Julianah said with a chuckle, as she brought out her cosmetic case, opened it on the marble-top before the mirror and began setting about repairing what damages had been done to her face. The chatter of the twenty-odd women in the room swelled around them as she continued, “This is a really refreshing thing to do, you know. Finally, my head can breathe. You should try it yourself.” She glanced with an impish smile at the reflection of her friend in the mirror.
“Have my hair shaved completely off my head?” Chinyere said, with another shudder. “Thanks, but no thanks. I have no desire to look like a cancer patient.”
Julianah’s laughter pealed as the door of the salon opened to admit Aidee.
“There you are,” Chinyere squealed, rising and waving her forward. “Let me see, let me see, let me see!”
Aidee moved forward, clutching a small bundle to her bosom, while stretching out her left hand so her friends could behold the bauble sparkling on her ring finger.
“Oh my God,” Chinyere gasped as she grasped Aidee’s hand and gazed with some reverence at the beauty of the ring. “He really outdid himself with this one, didn’t he?”
“Yes o,” Aidee gushed. “And I checked, the ring is a Tacori 14K Creation, really expensive, and quite rare. He must have pulled out all the stops to get this one.”
“If that doesn’t say I love and I want to marry you, I don’t know what else does,” Julianah interjected as she walked over to the other two women.
Aidee glanced at her, and blinked as mild shock set in. “Gee, Jules, what did you do, get diagnosed with cancer?”
Chinyere chuckled. “That’s what I said.”
“Oh come on, is it really that bad?” Julianah said, pouting, angling the good side of her head to Aidee and batting her eyelids. She was a budding starlet, and was acquiring quite the fandom for being one of the few authentic actresses in the movie industry.
“Not really,” Aidee conceded, eyeing her barbered head. “You’re actually wearing it well, makes your cheekbones stand out. It gives you something of an Alek Wek vibe.”
“Why thanks, Aidee.”
“So I guess you’ll be releasing some promotional shots?”
“Yes, going straight to the studio from here.”
“And there’s been a recent wave of reports on cancer in the blogosphere. People will especially laud you for this when they think you shaved your head as a way of creating awareness for the ailment.”
“That’s what I thought!” Julianah heaved, throwing Chinyere a look from the corners of her eyes. “See? I’m a celebrity with a cause. Something that is more than I can say for some people I know.”
“Excuse you!” Chinyere fired up, waving a hand in her face. “Was that one for me?”
“Well, I don’t know… Does the shoe fit?” Julianah rejoined.
“Listen, Miss Woman,” Chinyere bridled. “I’ll have you know –”
“Ladies, ladies,” Aidee cut in, heading off yet another one of her friends’ legendary fights over career choices. Chinyere was entitled, and came from enough money to afford her the luxury of flitting from one vocation to the other, something that rankled Julianah sometimes. “Let’s focus on the main issue at hand – Me! Hello! I have a wedding to plan?” She hefted the bundle in her hand upward for the other two women to see. It was a book, quite the tome, in fact.
“Wow, what did you do, rob the Vatican of one of their literary artifacts?” Julianah quipped.
Aidee gave a gurgle of laughter. “No, silly, it’s a wedding planning manual. I borrowed it for a moment from Biola Adams just for today –”
“Wait, you mean, the Biola Adams,” Chinyere interrupted, “one of this city’s most prestigious wedding planners?” Her eyes had goggled with amazement.
“Yes, my sister does PR for her, and they’re friends. So she let me have her bible just for the afternoon.”
“Chinyere Nkemjika, you’re up next!” the young woman manning the appointment desk just then hollered, gesturing at the hairdressing spot where a customer had just vacated.
“Wait abeg, can’t you see we’re in the middle of something serious,” Chinyere dismissed her with a cross tone.
The three women promptly adjoined to a corner of the beauty parlor and took their seats, amid chatters of wedding plans, prospective arrangements and the delegation of duties. The hardbacked book lay open on Aidee’s lap, seated as she was in the middle, and the three of them flipped pages this way and that, oohing and aahing at the depictions on each page. Every now and then, they would turn to their phones to tap away on the keypad whenever they needed to verify information on the internet or dash out a quick response to an IM.
“Wait, babe, when did you say you’re fixing your wedding for?” Julianah enquired as she focused on her phone screen.
“Next year, February fourteenth,” Aidee replied, and then continued, “I’m aiming for a Valentine theme. Oh, it’s going to be so divine. I have this idea for –”
“Oh no…” Julianah interrupted her with the groan.
“Oh no what?” Aidee said, both she and Chinyere turning their faces to the woman. “What, what is it?”
“I’m afraid that Valentine’s Day won’t be available. This blog I’m reading is reporting that INEC has fixed the 2015 elections on that day.”
“WHAT!” Aidee and Chinyere chorused in shock. Aidee continued in a splutter, “That’s rubbish! They can’t do that! What blog is reporting that nonsense?!”
“This upcoming blog…er, MyMindSnaps –”
“My mind what?!”
“Snaps – it’s run by this guy, Walter –”
“That’s just perfect, Jules,” Aidee interrupted her, her voice rich with derision. “A relatively unknown blog reports that, and you deem it worthy enough to give me heart attack with. Just great! How do you even know that it’s verified fact?”
“I can do a quick run on Linda Ikeji…” Chinyere began, already navigating her way through her phone browser.
“That gossip queen?” sneered Aidee. “Nah, I’m getting my update from Bellanaija.” She also picked up her phone and began tapping furiously on the keypad.
For a few moments, the three women concentrated on their reading, brows furrowing as they digested the breaking news that the whole country had woken up to that day.
Then Aidee heaved a sigh and dropped her hands, her shoulders slumping. As her friends watched her, her expression changed like the mercurial transitions of a kaleidoscope. The shock shifted to forlornness, which rapidly gave way to vexation, her eyes sparkling with angry tears.
“Oh fuck!” she husked with quiet vehemence. “Fuck you, Jega –”
“Now, now, Aidee –” Chinyere began.
“Fuck you, Jega! Fuck you, INEC!” she barreled on. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” she fumed, lifting her hands, the fingers stiffened, and waving them forward in accompaniment with each swearword. “Fuck!”
“Well, that’s a lot of fucks,” Julianah deadpanned, glancing around and noting that the other occupants of the room were starting to stare at them.
Wordlessly, Aidee snapped the wedding manual shut, got to her feet with an angry huff, shouldered her bag and stalked toward the door.
“Babe, where are you going?” Chinyere called after her.
“To take care of this!” she snapped back. She was thumbing through her phone, about to make yet another phone call concerning her wedding plans as she shoved through the door and out into the afternoon.
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