Celebrating East African Writing!

Of Girls and Women

You would think my hair has insulted her from the way that she keeps pulling it. How it manages not to get plucked from the scalp, I don’t know. She keeps complaining about its texture, occasionally calling my attention to the TCB tubs of relaxer lining the shelf. I tell her, rather timidly for I need my hair to look nice, that the Abuja braids I have bought will do just fine. Her hands work fast. I am barely over the pain of one tuft of hair being pulled and twisted before she is on to the next one. Above me, for I am sitted on a mat, laughter-spiced conversation flies across me from one corner to the other.

ENJOY SALON, the banner outside had promised.

Three new women come in; I cannot see their faces because my neck is bent down. Instructions of my hairdresser.

“My daughter is very kind I’m telling you,” says one of the ladies, as if she is only now lending voice to her private thoughts. She is a dark woman blessed with an ample bosom that spills over the sides of the stool she is sitting on. She speaks matter-of-factly, looking the other women in their faces as if challenging them to refute her statement.

“She is too kind, I don’t know where she picked the kindness from,” she continues.

“And her father? Kwani you gave birth to her on your own?” taunts a voice. It is one that has not been part of the previous conversation. It must belong to one of the ladies that have just walked in.

Laughter rents the air for a bit. It dies down just as quickly as it starts.

“Do you want to know what she did?” continues the first lady. I want to tell her to let it all out and be done with it already. She has done enough prefacing as it is. The other women, however, seem not to mind this.

“When last term ended, she gave out all her remaining shopping to needy students in school,” she said.


“I am telling you. Here I am wooing people to bring their fabric to my shop while my daughter plays the donor. Eh! Perhaps I am rich and I don’t know.”

More laughter. I suppress a smile myself.

Another voice starts: “What are you saying? That is nothing; it is only a taste of what I go through all the time. I have worse problems with my girl.”

This woman, I had to see. I made as if I was stretching my hand and dropped my phone. I raised my head as Ciru, the hair-dresser, picked it up for me.

“She refuses to go to school with blue tissue paper,” she continues after letting Ciru settle down.

The chorus of “whats!” that follows her words is drowned into a cackling of laughter and high-fives so loud that the man who owns the kiosk next to the salon peeps into the room.

“But it is true,” says a woman who has hitherto not spoken a word. She has been pressing buttons on her kabambe all this time. This I know from a remark that one of the women makes amidst girlish giggles, asking her if she is SMSing her ndogondogo.

The phone is put away.

“What is true?” asks the mother of the no-blue-tissue-to-school girl.

“I heard that blue tissue causes cancer. “

I remember being told the same thing by a classmate of mine back in high school. That I should stop using the green tissue my pocket money afforded me, that it causes cancer (especially for the ladies), that it was made out of recycled tissue paper.

The woman goes on to recite all of those reasons too. It is this last statement that elicits laughter from the group. This time Ciru joins in.

“How do they get the recycled tissue if we throw it down the toilet?” asks Ciru.

“Me I don’t know. Since cancer killed Mama Stella without pity, I stopped taking chances. Only white tissue in my house.”

I wonder silently if the over-priced pink and baby blue tissue in the supermarket also has cancer tainting its reputation. Silence now abounds as one of them gets up to take a call outside. Meanwhile, Rose Muhando’s Nibebe blasts from the radio. You can almost taste the anticipation for the chorus. When the chorus comes, the choir that emerges is so strong that I almost join in. The woman that has gone out returns.

“It is hard raising a girl. Even sugar has issues,” she says.

She is not answered. Everyone is busy finishing off the chorus to Rose Muhando’s song. She seems to understand because she lets the chorus end before she gives it another try.

“My girl will only go to school with Mumias Sugar. If you buy her these ones we get at the kiosks, I swear you will use that sugar yourself.”

I burst out laughing, but my mirth is not shared as Christina Shusho’s song is now playing on the radio and suddenly conversation appeals the women no more.

© Idza Luhumyo 2013


Word I based my story on: Girls.

What in the picture triggered me: The young school-going girls in the photograph.


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