On this cool Sunday evening, I had asked the stylist at a sleek saloon to wash and blow-dry my hair. I was going to fix a weave later. She inspected my hair as if she hadn’t quite seen such a mess before. Then, she spewed forth the words I always dread: “Madam, your hair don due oh!”
The words stung, not only because I had just retouched my hair the weekend before, but also because I had used the almighty, supposed miracle potion--Dr Miracle. That thing isn’t cheap! But I wasn’t upset at her for saying that because my hair certainly looked quite due--or at least totally lacking in that characteristic shine and limpness of the ultra modern perm.
My dilemma dates back to 12 years ago, when I first became acquainted with relaxer crèmes. I was in SS2 in Queen’s College, Lagos, and I couldn’t quite get over the envy I felt for all the other ‘modern girls’ in my class who had perms even as far back as primary school. But as my MFM-congregant father would say, all such things as perms are ‘ephemeral’ and not worthy of a virtuous woman’s consideration (he has come a long way since then and can even now be seen wearing shorts!) That particular doctrine went over my head and it took a lot of playful haranguing and behind-the-scenes debating by my mother (of blessed memory) for my father to succumb to my plea for a perm.
OK, I don’t know that he succumbed; just know that my mother gave me a cup of TCB and some money for a saloon visit when I was returning to boarding house. That day marked my induction into the world of scalp combustion, short circuited relaxation processes, hair breakages, and the weekly whisper of “Madam, your hair don due” from hair stylists all over Lagos (I have met many).
My hair is Pure African hair; my hair strands love to stay curled up and they do not particularly enjoy being stretched out and lying limp. When I first shocked them with the contents of that initial TCB cup, they obliged me by coming out of their shell to say hello, but since then--and we are counting 12 years--they stay limp only for a few days after relaxing, and return to their original state as if rushing back to an interrupted meeting. Even after I became a member of that perm clique, my friends never stopped commenting on how the hairs at my back always ‘takoko’d’ like ‘robo robo chewing gum’. I usually reacted by asking the stylist whenever I retouched my hair, to apply much more crème to that back. “Put more! Put more!” I would scream. But of course you can imagine the results. Massive first degree burns. Oh, the price I’ve paid for this clique!
Though I’m grateful to Garett Augustus Morgan , the African American who in the 19th century discovered the effect of alkaline relaxers on the hair protein structure by weakening its internal bonds and causing the natural curls to loosen out, I can’t help but think that my hair’s protein structure has only gotten stronger and more resilient by the years. From the lye cream once available, to the no-lye creams, to the kits requiring guanidine carbonate activators, I have tried all and stayed true to all the countless precautions on the fanciful packaging.
Some of my friends with hair more permeable to crème have advised me to stick to one particular product (I used Dark &Lovely for six years running), to try this or that. The latest was Dr Miracle and Profectiv (they did work but two weeks after, I was back to square one).
I am now officially frustrated but still not frustrated enough to abandon relaxers completely. I did try a few months ago to grow back my natural hair, claiming a desire to express my Pan-Africanism but it was merely a cloak for my relaxer incompatibility. However, this didn’t work because I was back to my saloon with a new kit of ‘Super’ Dr Miracle and a sour pout.
I’m in a cross betwixt two, coping with the coarseness of my African hair and not quite being able to bid goodbye to hair relaxers (lye or no-lye). I do not know what I might do to the next stylist who tells me, “Madam, your hair don due” when the hair should be anything but due.
No other Naija phrase (sorry, Aunty Dora) quite captures my frustration like this one: I HAVE TIRE!