Nyathiwa, her hairdresser, had brown hair under her armpits. But as hideous as it was, Amara did not mind because she was in awe of her skills. She loved how her fingers moved with precision, leaving a trail of beautiful lean braids. Occasionally, she would stop braiding to hold her waist and dramatise her exaggerated gossips, providing a breath of fresh air in the otherwise stuffy salon reeking of human hair, body sweats and hair chemicals. Amara had stared at the two fans standing on the opposite corners of the salon to see if they were on; they were but made no difference. The slim lady seated next to her, holding a copy of Eve Woman Magazine, laughed at something the hairdresser waxing her dreadlocks said. It was a high pitched laughter that pierced through the air and left a ringing sound in Amara’s ears.
She hated that laugh.
“I wonder why these people running the Maendeleo Ya Wanaume group have not come to my neighbour’s rescue. That man is suffering!” Nyathiwa was saying. Her English was flawless, Amara was sure if she asked her, she would say she had a bachelors degree and was only hairdressing for lack of ‘decent’ jobs. “You should see the way his wife insults him. I hear he does all the house chores while she catches up with her friends online.”
“How do you know all this, do you live with them?” Another hairdresser with thick arms asked.
“What is important? How I know or that I know?” Nyathiwa, who had stopped to hold her waist, went back to twisting Amara’s braids. Amara flinched when she tugged on her hair a little too hard and Nyathiwa was quick to apologise, “I am sorry, but there is no slaying without pain, so don’t worry.” She said this with an American twang and Amara wanted to laugh. She was loving Nyathiwa. She decided she would be her hairdresser henceforth.
“I reckon that man makes less money than him, am I right?” the woman with an annoying laughter said.
“He lost his job two months ago.”
“Well, men cannot spend all their lives looking down at us because they have money, and expect that we won’t revenge when tables are turned.”
“He is a nice man. I have known him for a while now.”
“Still, only foolish men marry women who make more money than them. Or are older than them.”
“As for me,” Nyathiwa said, “I don’t need to make more money than my husband for him to worship at my feet. He knows what I am capable of in the bedroom so when he makes a bad move and I close my legs,” She let out a long sarcastic laugh, “He will even offer to bath me till I grow white hair. Handling men is an easy thing, they think with their penis, after all.”
The whole salon roared with laughter.
“You are not saying anything, Amara, what do you think?” Nyathiwa asked, glaring at her through the huge oval mirror in front of them.
“You girls are right, marrying a man who makes less money than you is not wise.”
She did not sound convincing even to herself, and she was glad Nyathiwa did not press her any further.
“Wait a minute,” the annoying-laughter-lady turned to her, “Your name is Amara and you sound just like the Amara who took over Achika’s show. Are you—”
“No,” Amara waved her off. “I am not the Amara who took over from Achika. I have never been anywhere near a radio station, leave alone hosting a radio show.”
“I am not convinced, are you girls convinced?” she looked around the room and the expression on everyone’s face showed that they too were not convinced.
“You people should leave Amara alone; if she says she is not what you think she is then she is not. Ehe, Fiona, what happened to you and that thin bearded guy who picked you up last time? You know, one of you should volunteer and eat junk to grow fat, otherwise, I am concerned your kids will not like it when the wind blows too hard.”
Fiona hit her with the magazine as everyone laughed. Amara was grateful Nyathiwa drew the attention from her. It was also interesting how Nyathiwa called her name with the casualness reserved for long time friends. When she was done with her hair, Amara could not recognize the woman staring at her from the mirror. She was sure Masai would not recognize her too because she looked stunning. She ran her hand through her braids as she thanked Nyathiwa for a job well done and Nyathiwa smiled, telling her it wasn’t a big deal, but it was. Ever since she stepped foot in the city, she had been to three different salons and she always walked out disappointed, either because her hair was badly done or because of the bad attitude from the hairdressers. Nyathiwa offered to walk her out. They were standing under a lamppost, waiting for Samuel, Amara’s taxi guy, to pick her up, when Nyathiwa said, “I know you are the Amara running that great show. No need to deny it because all I want is to be associated with one famous person, so don’t forget to mention my name next time you are on air, okay?”
Amara smiled. They exchanged contacts and Amara promised her a mention. When Samuel pulled over, Amara hugged Nyathiwa, tipped her heavily and hoped in.
“Do you think she is married?” Samuel asked, driving off.
“Focus,” Amara admonished him with a smile.
Amara was in love with the fact that she was settling well in the city. She had found her go-to taxi guy, Samuel, and now her go-to hairdresser, Nyathiwa. Things could only get better. When she sat behind the mic for her Monday show, she narrated her experience at the salon, praised Nyathiwa for her good hairdressing and social skills, and brought up the discussion they had at the salon.
So tell me, do you think it’s a bad idea to get married to a man who is younger than you, makes less money than you, or both?
No sooner had she finished talking than the phone started ringing, which was not a surprise given how the show’s ratings had sky rocketed. Her confidence and authority behind the mic shot to a new level every day and fewer people were asking about Achika, which meant she had been accepted as Achika’s solid replacement.
“The insecurities men have when married to a woman who is older than them, has more money than them, or both, is way too big for a woman to handle,” said Sonia, a caller.
“Nonsense!” Washington, a regular contributor to the show, countered. “I agree it’s a bad idea to marry a woman who makes more money than you only because they won’t allow you to have peace. The egoistic nature of women can’t allow them to be humble, not when their bank account is flooded with currencies, both local and foreign. As for age, it would be wise for those in support of this argument to note that age has got nothing to do with a man’s character whatsoever, otherwise, old men would not be chasing young legs in short skirts while their wives, probably stuck somewhere in the village practising peasantry farming, are suffering. If you are unable to keep your relationship floating, blame it on your unromantic nature and not age!”
“Washinton is right,” said another caller, “My husband is younger than me with five years and we have been married for almost a decade. Happily married, I must add.”
Amara turned when the door cracked open to see Jack sticking his head in. They had grown fond of each other that he always stuck around during her show, not because he was her producer, but because they enjoyed each other’s company. Amara smiled and signalled him to come in. He sat on the furthest end and cast Amara prying eyes.
“What?” she asked.
“You are having so much fun today.”
“The discussion is interesting, don’t you agree?”
He nodded and then almost too abruptly, leant forward. “One would be inclined to think that the discussion touches on your romantic life.”
“Oh, really? How so?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you are dating a younger guy. Or one with less money?”
She grinned. Jack, surely, was good at reading people and situations. But Amara wasn’t sure whether it was her or Masai who had more money than the other. Ever since she got a job, he had relaxed and allowed her to do things for herself, mostly because she always asked him not to worry about her so much because she could take care of herself, and him. But he still bought her gifts. He still came home with a folded fist, holding a lavish Necklace box. Not even once, had he asked her for any financial help and when she asked him where he got his money, he would laugh and brush off that topic. She remembered when she pressed him the last time to tell her the truth, he had said, “Promise you won’t leave me when I tell you.”
“You mean it’s something bad?”
“I kidnap people and ask for ransom.”
She hit him on the shoulder, “Just tell me what you do already!”
She believed he was joking. But still, later that night when they retired to bed, she asked him in a soft voice, “You do not kidnap people, right?” and waited with a held breath for his answer, falling back with relief when he whispered, “No.”
“My boyfriend is neither young nor does he make less money than me.”
“Ooh, so you have a boyfriend?”
“Of course I have a boyfriend!”
Jack smiled. Amara thought she detected disappointment in that smile. Almost as if he had not expected her to have a boyfriend, or admit it if she had.
“Well, tell me, Jack, what do you think of our discussion. Would you date a woman who is older than you?”
“Only if she wouldn’t think I am out of my mind.”
“Oh, someone is in love. And not just in love, but with an older woman, am I right?”
He chuckled and excused himself. Amara hoped that she was wrong, but she thought Jack was falling for her. The look in his eyes when she told him she had a boyfriend said it all. Maybe that was why he always offered to stay behind during her show, knowing they would only be the two of them. Maybe that’s why he was less fond of the male colleagues who flirted with her. She wished she was wrong but Timmy Thomas, singing Dying Inside To Hold You, did not make things any better.
“If you love someone, what matters is not what they are willing to do for you, but what you are willing to do for them. When you meet someone and get attracted to them, it’s not because your gods whispered their age or their bank account details in your ear, it’s because what is meant to be is meant to be, and nothing else matters. Fall in love if you are falling in love, don’t let age or money stop you. And that, ladies and gents, is what I think!”
Jack was standing at the balcony when Amara came out. He was staring at something on his phone but he put it away when he saw her. She stood next to him in silence for a while.
“You don’t want me to see your crush’s photo?” she asked.
“It’s a beautiful night isn’t it?” he responded.
She stared into the distance. The streetlights, clubs’ neon lights, and the splendid shapes the stars made against the blackness of the night were breathtaking. The city was calm and quiet Amara was sure if she listened attentively, she would hear its heartbeat. Indeed, it was a beautiful night.
“Seriously, tell me about this girl.”
“Woman, not girl.”
“Okay, tell me about this woman.”
“She is older, richer and famous. I stand no chance.”
“How would you know if you don’t tell her how you feel? You are a confident man!” Amara wasn’t sure why she was still talking. What would she say if he admitted it was her he was in love with?
“Fighting a war you are sure you will lose is not confidence, my dear, it’s foolishness. That’s why we are advised to choose our battles.” He glanced at her, then at her watch and said, “We need to get going, should I drop you?”
“I had already called Samuel. He will be furious if I cancel on him,” she said, retrieving her phone from her pocket to call Samuel, but she saw him pull over at the parking lot before she did. As they walked past the security desk, Jack walking ahead of her while replying to a message on his phone, she kept stealing glances at his phone and was about to lose hope of seeing anything substantial, when he pressed the back button and she saw that the woman smiling on his wallpaper with a few of her dreadlocks covering a part of her left eye, was Achika.