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Blessings

( 18 )

Overview

At Blessings, Patricia Brown's Los Angeles salon, we listen in on the dish and the drama and get real with the four unforgettable women who work there. Pat is the owner and matriarch of the salon, and she presides over Blessings with a kind but commanding air - preventing fiery arguments, smoothing over conflicts, and lending a sympathetic ear to those who need it. Zuma is Blessings' star stylist, and she knows it. This brash diva is a self-described superwoman committed to making her dream of being both a ...
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Overview

At Blessings, Patricia Brown's Los Angeles salon, we listen in on the dish and the drama and get real with the four unforgettable women who work there. Pat is the owner and matriarch of the salon, and she presides over Blessings with a kind but commanding air - preventing fiery arguments, smoothing over conflicts, and lending a sympathetic ear to those who need it. Zuma is Blessings' star stylist, and she knows it. This brash diva is a self-described superwoman committed to making her dream of being both a businesswoman and a mom come true. Faye, another stylist, can't quite forget the memory of her late husband. Lonely and overweight, she turns to food to dull the pain of raising her two children alone. Sandy, the manicurist, is still searching for her own fulfillment and can't be bothered with the needs of her two small kids. She makes no apologies for her highly neglectful mothering, she ultimately makes a mother's biggest sacrifice.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Blessings Hair and Nails, the beauty salon and main setting of Shaneska Jackson's novel, is a place for conversation and lessons in living. Blessings is located in Inglewood, California, the small, predominately black area of Los Angeles. Pat, the owner of the salon, is a conservative and peaceful black woman in her late 30s. The book revolves around Pat, her three lifetime friends, Sandy, Zuma, and Faye, and the challenges they encounter in life. Ms. Jackson does an excellent job of developing the characters, and we can all identify with these women and their obstacles -- and in the process, you just may learn more than which hairstyle might work best for you.
Kirkus Reviews
An overly slick third novel from Jackson (Li'l Mama's Rules, 1997, etc.) focuses in a rather programmatic way on the reproductive lives of four womenþthree black and one white. When Patricia learns that she's infertile, she falls into a deep depression that lifts only when her long-suffering husband Mark buys her the beauty salon she dubs Blessings. The shop gets off to a rocky start until Pat is joined by feisty young Zuma, a hot-shot hair stylist with a master plan. Tired of the no-account men in her life, Zuma saves a bundle of money, secretly planning to undergo artificial insemination and raise her child alone, partly to wipe away the pain of a long-ago abortion. Her story is set in counterpoint to that of Pat, who suffers bitterly, first over her barrenness and later over failed adoption efforts. Then there's Faye, a widow struggling to raise childrenþher six-year-old son, who gets suspended for trying to strangle another boy; and her 16-year-old daughter, who gets pregnant and runs away. Meanwhile, a new manicurist, Sandy, the only white girl in this all-sister mix, is married to the owner of the strip joint where she used to dance. Tied down with her two small children, Sandy openly resents motherhood and flagrantly neglects three-year-old David and baby Dalila. The story's climax comes about through Sandy's monumentally selfish behavior, though her callousness is partially redeemed through an act of kindness to Pat and Mark. Jackson's focus on the ways children shape and alter women's lives is provocative. But breezy, clich‚-ridden prose and facile observations on politics and love dilute whatever impact the story might have had.
From the Publisher
Linda Raymond San Francisco Chronicle An immensely entertaining tale...at once fresh and funny and serious and sad.

Essence A fast, funny look at four women and motherhood.

Upscale Sheneska Jackson reveals the priceless, inextricable bond between motherhood and sisterhood and shows why she's become a beloved chronicler of the heart of women.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Sheneska Jackson was born in South Central Los Angeles and currently lives in the San Fernando Valley. She teaches fiction writing for UCLA's extension program. She is the author of Caught Up in the Rapture and Li'l Mama's Rules.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
In this life there are mysteries that will never be fully understood by mere mortals. Questions that when pondered extensively can leave the average human psyche in such a state of disarray that normal brain activity stalls, leaving the ponderer of such questions wallowing in a mass of confusion, aimlessly searching for the unknown, and ultimately leading to a state of mental chaos and cerebral shut-down. Unfortunately, as we all know, there are some questions that are better left unanswered. Questions such as Does God really exist? Is there life after death? Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
Indeed these questions can certainly leave one's mind hopelessly frazzled and disheveled. But there is an even larger question at hand today. A mystery that has eluded the genius of scholars, scientists, and political pundits alike. A question that has dogged the earth for hundreds of years, and even to this day we are nowhere near a breakthrough in this timeless riddle. The question is a serious one. The question is mind boggling. The question is this: Why? For the love of God! Why does it take so long for a woman to get her hair done at the beauty shop?
Many have tried to unravel this mystery, but none have succeeded. Some of the theories to explain this phenomenon include tardiness on the part of the client, overbooking of appointments, and a general lackadaisical attitude on the part of the beautician. Still, the answer to this question has escaped us. We may never get to the bottom of this dilemma, but if we are truly committed to bringing about change we must first tackle the obvious, most irritating, and most unscrupulous element of the equation. And that is this: Beauticians talk too damn much.
Oh yes, it is a natural fact that beauticians love to run their months. No matter where you live, be it North, South, East, or West, it doesn't matter. Where there are beauticians there is chatter. And on this day, in the bustling city of Inglewood, California, inside the small but well-kept beauty salon on the corner of Centinela and LaBrea, the natural facts were in effect.
***
"I just can't believe he could do something like that," Faye said, shaking her head as she ripped open a bag of silky straight weaving hair. "Do you think he did it?"
"Hell no, I don't think he did it," Zuma answered as she meticulously pulled the end of a rat-tail comb through her client's thick hair, creating a perfect one-inch side part. "I know he did it."
"Don't say that," Faye said, pulling the one hundred percent human hair from its bag and shaking it out. "I believe he's innocent. You saw the trial. He didn't look like a killer."
"Well I don't know what trial you were watching, but all I know is this: His blood didn't just get up and walk over to that crime scene. He was there, he did it, he's guilty as sin, and that's all I have to say about that."
"Stop it!" Faye squeaked, the words stinging her ears as if she was the one accused of murder. "He was set up! And to be perfectly honest, I for one am glad that he got off. It's about time we won something around here. We didn't get any justice with Rodney King," she said, a bit surprised by the rising tone of her voice. She paused and brought it down a notch. "That not-guilty verdict was a victory for all of us. We won this time."
"We won?" Zuma said and stuck the comb into her client's hair. She turned to face Faye head-on and put her hands on her hips. "What did we win?" she asked, flinging her hand through the air. "I have yet to see my O.J. prize, honey. Please. We won?" She sucked her teeth. "I've just about had it up to here with everybody assuming that all black people think O.J. Simpson is innocent. Unh-uh, not me. I know he did it. He did it. He did it. He did it!"
"Well, you weren't looking too unhappy when the verdicts came down," Faye reminded Zuma and raised her hand in the air, rationally. "You were sitting right here in this shop jumping up and down with everybody else when we found out O.J. had been set free."
"Hell yeah, I was jumping up and down. But I wasn't jumping for O.J.," she said, and smirked. "I was jumping for Johnnie Cochran. Now that's one bad man. People may not like his tactics, but he was just doing what any other good attorney is supposed to do -- support his client at all costs and win. Shoot, Johnnie Cochran is a damn hero and if he had been white, people would have been begging for him to run for president by now," she said, and pointed a finger for emphasis. "Shit, Johnnie Cochran is the man, but O.J.?" she said, and curled her lips. "Fuck O.J."
"Zuma," Faye said, wincing at her use of foul language.
"Faye," Zuma said, not giving a damn.
"Well, I still don't think he did it. He may know who did it. But he didn't do it himself"
"Hell yeah, he knows who did it. He did it!"
"A man like that cannot kill two people. It's physically impossible," Faye rationalized. "How is O.J. going to kill two people with one knife? I mean, what was the second person doing while O.J. was stabbing the first? Waiting in line talking about, 'Cut me next, O.J. Cut me'?" Faye paused, surprised by the laughter that statement had generated, but she wasn't trying to be funny. "No," she continued. "There's no way a man like that call kill two people."
"A man like that? A man like what?"
"A rich black man like O.J. Simpson has no reason to be killing anybody. O.J. Simpson is black and any black man going up against this racist judicial system in America has got my support."
"O.J. Simpson ain't black. He ain't nothing but another rich, stuck-up white boy. He ain't never used none of his money to help out black folk," she said, and pointed at Faye. "When have you ever heard about O.J. doing something to help out the black community?" she said, and waited briefly for a response, but Faye was dumbfounded. "O.J. hasn't done shit for me," Zuma said with fire. "Shoot. Where was some O.J. when I was in need? Where was some O.J. when my car was being repossessed? Hell, where was some O.J. when my broke ass couldn't pay my light bill last week? Shoot, support O.J? O.J. can kiss my black ass. And I mean that. Shiiit."
***
It had been two years since the verdicts had come down in the O.J. Simpson trial, but the Juice was still a hot topic at Blessings. Blessings was the spot, the place where everybody came for a little pleasant conversation.Never mind that Blessings was a beauty shop. The way people ranted and raved throughout the place, it could easily have been mistaken for a town hall meeting arena. While women with nappy heads waited patiently on the faux leather sofa for hours and sisters with half-wet locks bent over shampoo bowls scratching their dandruff, the conversation between the two beauticians brewed on. Once again the subject had turned to the Juice, and as usual, the conversation was heated. So heated, that even the time-conscious clients had to get in on it.
***
"I know one thing," the lady with blond-streaked hair yelled as she poked her head from beneath the dryer. "If nothing at all, O.J. Simpson is a wife beater. Y'all saw those pictures of Nicole. She didn't beat herself up," she said, then slammed the lid of the dryer back over her head.
"O.J. said he never hit that woman and I believe him," a lady with a head full of loose braids said as she sat in the corner of the faux leather sofa. Her words seemed to ignite the blond-streaked lady's nerves as she poked her head from beneath the dryer again.
"Y'all kill me," she shouted over the rumblings of the old machine she sat underneath. "You women support O.J. like he was some sorta god." She looked sideways toward the lady sitting under the dryer next to her. "I know some of y'all have had your butts beaten by a black man," she said and squinted her eyes at her neighbor, "so don't tell me that O.J. isn't capable of beating his wife. I don't care how rich he is or was, he's still a wife beater."
The lady sitting next to her gasped as she rolled her eyes and pulled her skirt tail down to hide the black-and-blue bruise that stained her round thigh. She crossed her legs and hoped the conversation would end. But it didn't.
"O.J. was framed," another lady called out from the shampoo bowl. Her brown locks were covered in conditioner and as she lifted her head from the bowl, water dripped down the sides of her face. "Those crooked, racist cops set O.J. up. It was a C-O-N-spiracy."
The woman with the loose braids jumped in again. "That's right. That damn Mark Fuhrman ain't no good. This whole thing was a setup from the get-go," she said, scooping a handful of braids out of her face. "Did you hear those tapes he made? Nigger, nigger, nigger. He didn't have no business being on the police force, let alone being a part of the trial."
The blond-streaked lady had nothing to say about that so she just pulled down the lid of her dryer and sat back. But that didn't end the conversation. Another woman with a head of freshly blow-dried hair slammed the Essence magazine she'd been reading onto the counter in front of her. As she turned around to confront the lady with the loose braids her long hair whipped across her face just like one of those girls in the shampoo commercials on TV. "Now, I'm not trying to defend Mark Fuhrman, but the man was a cop. He was just doing his job. So what if he said all that mess on those tapes? That don't mean he framed O.J. Simpson."
"Fuhrman is a red-necked racist. Anybody who could talk about black people the way he did is capable of anything."
"Oh," Shampoo Commercial said. "And I guess you've never uttered a racist word in your whole entire life, huh?" She swung her head around to confront the lady at the shampoo bowl. "I was in here last week when you walked in here bitching and complaining about the Beaner who cut you off and almost made you crash into a tree. Now, does that make you racist against all Hispanic people?"
The lady at the shampoo bowl stuttered and wrapped the white towel that was around her neck over her damp hair as she sat back and shut up.
"And you," Shampoo Commercial said, turning to the woman with loose braids again, her hair whipping through the air. "Remember last month when we were in here talking about the civil rights movement? You said all white people are devils and that you wouldn't care if they all disappeared off the face of the earth." She tilted her head to the side. "Does that make you a racist? Just because you said those words, does that mean you're capable of framing somebody just because they are white?"
The blond-streaked lady realized Shampoo Commercial was on her side and regained enough confidence to poke her head from beneath the dryer again. "I said it before and I'll say it again -- O. J. Simpson is guilty as sin," she chanted like a cheerleader and gave a thumbs-up to Shampoo Commercial. "We've got a killer on the streets," she said as she lost her grip on the dryer's lid and it smacked her on top of her head. She winced, but didn't lose a beat. "And another thing," she said as the dryer's automatic timer buzzed. "That stupid jury in the criminal trial ought to be shamed of themselves."
The bruised woman sitting under the dryer next to her gasped again, but this time she pulled the lid of the dryer from over her head and turned right around to face her opponent. "I've been silent long enough," she said, and pulled her skirt tail down again to hide the black-and-blue mark on her thigh. "Don't go blaming those black people on that jury. They did their jobs. It's not their fault that the prosecution couldn't prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt."
Shampoo Commercial stood up from her seat to walk over to the hair dryer section so she could get in on this phase of the conversation. "No," she said defiantly, "those jurors did not do their jobs."
"Oh yes they did," Loose Braids said as she too walked over to the dryer section. "Those folks ought to be commended. They were locked tip for almost a damn year. Away from their families and everything."
"Hell, I should be so lucky," Blond Streaked interrupted. "I've been looking for an excuse to get away from my family for years." She and Shampoo Commercial chuckled over that. But Loose Braids and the bruised woman were not in the mood for laughing.
"I get so tired of people coming down on that jury." Loose Braids sighed. "Just because they were black and happened to come back with a not guilty verdict, everybody wants to call them stupid. As if a black jury isn't fit to handle a case like this." Bruised nodded as Loose Braids continued. "That black jury made the right decision," she said and pointed directly at the blond-streaked woman. "O.J. Simpson is innocent."
"First of all," Blond Streaked said as she removed the dryer from above her head and stood to her feet. She was all of five foot nothing, but as she looked up at Loose Braids her stance was like that of a giant. "You best get your finger out of my face," she said, eyeing Loose Braids until the finger she pointed had eased its way down. "And second of all, I call those black jurors stupid because they are. They did not do their fucking jobs. They listened to over nine months of testimony and reached their verdict in three hours? Ain't no way in the world you can call that doing your job. They were supposed to deliberate. Have you ever looked up the word deliberate in the dictionary?"
Shampoo Commercial took over from there. "Deliberate means to slowly and methodically come to a decision," she said, moving closer to Loose Braids and speaking as if she were talking to a two-year-old. "Deliberate means to weigh all the evidence. To consider it carefully. How could that jury consider nine months' worth of testimony in three hours? They did not do their jobs," she said, stressing each and every word of her final sentence.
"Yes they did!" Bruised shouted and pushed the dryer lid away from her head again.
"No they didn't!" Blond Streaked and Shampoo Commercial said in unison.
"Yes they did!" Loose Braids groaned.
"No they -- "
"Hey, hey, hey!" a voice shouted from the other side of the shop, forcing the debaters to pause. They all caught their collective breaths as they turned to catch a glimpse of the woman walking their way. "What in the world is going on over here?" the tall, pristine woman asked as she moved between the feuding ladies. She graced the debaters with a smile so pleasant that they all began to feel a bit awkward about the way they had let their conversation get out of hand.
"Sorry," Loose Braids said as she slowly walked back to the sofa and took a seat. "I guess we got a bit too caught up in our conversation."
"Sorry," Blond Streaked said as she sat back down beneath the hair dryer next to Bruised.
"Yeah, I'm sorry too," Shampoo Commercial said as she headed back to her chair and picked up her Essence magazine. "We didn't mean to get so loud. It's just that some people have some very screwed-up ways of thinking."
"Excuse me?" Bruised said and raised an eyebrow.
"Now, now, ladies," the tall woman said calmly yet authoritatively.
"Sorry," Bruised said and faked a smile toward Shampoo Commercial. "I guess you're right. I mean you ought to know with that big ass bowling ball you call a head. With a dome that big I guess you're qualified to think for all of us."
Loose Braids snickered as Shampoo Commercial rolled her eyes, but before another word could be uttered, the tall lady with the soothing smile spoke up. "Everybody just calm down," she said. "This is a beauty shop, not a battlefield," she scolded, and frowned for a second. She looked over her shoulder at Faye and Zuma and squinted her eyes at her fellow beauticians. "See what you guys started?" she said as both Faye and Zuma shrugged their shoulders and smirked. The tall woman looked around the shop at all the disgruntled customers and realized she had to do something quick. Unhappy customers were definitely bad for business. "Hey," she said, clapping her hands together and flashing her smile around to all the ladies. "I've got a joke," she announced, then took a deep gulp before she continued.
Faye and Zuma shot each other a look, but that didn't stop the jokester from putting on her show. "Okay," she said, grinning. "Here we go....What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhinoceros?"
Faye and Zuma rolled their eyes and sighed. The disgruntled debaters didn't even raise an eyebrow as they looked curiously at one another.
"Okay, we give up," Zuma squawked as she walked behind the client sitting at her hair station and waited for the punch line.
"Elephino!" the tall jokester said and grinned. "Get it? Hell if I know...Ele-phi-no... Hell if I know!...Get it?"
They didn't.
Still everyone gave her a polite chuckle, which was all the tall woman needed to feel satisfied. She stood in the middle of the shop and smiled to herself. Once again she had brought order back to the chaotic shop. So what if no one understood her joke. No one ever understood her jokes. The point was that she had returned the atmosphere back to its proper state of bliss. Keeping the peace was her duty. She owned the place. Her name was Patricia Brown.
Pat looked around at the shop she'd owned now for five years and decided to pick up a broom. The floor was covered in matted, dirty hair from a previous client who had her shoulder-length coif chopped off to a chin-length bob. She sighed as she swept through the shop, smiling at the customers who politely moved their feet out of the way for her. It was Friday evening and as usual the place was packed with women looking to get "did up" for the weekend. She was proud of her shop and the women who frequented it. Be they businesswomen who came in every week to keep up their professional appearances, broke women who had scraped together just enough money minus a tip for the occasional splurge, or the teenage ghetto fabulous girls who'd conned their boyfriends into giving them some cash to get their hair did. The nature of the client didn't matter to Pat. She loved them all.
Pat didn't see hair styling as a form of retail beauty. She saw it as a form of therapy. She was often amazed at what a good hairstyle could do for a person's self-esteem. It was almost miraculous. She'd named her shop Blessings, because that's what she wanted to create. She and the two other women who worked with her could take any average-looking woman off the streets and turn her into a diva with the flip of a hot comb. They were practically miracle workers. Hooking up hair was the ultimate blessing, Pat thought, and one of the easiest ways to make women feel better about themselves.
As she glided her broom across the floor toward the bathroom, Pat stopped for a minute and stuck her head in to take a peek at herself in the mirror. She ran her hand over her freshly styled hair that Zuma had trimmed for her earlier that day. She tucked a single curlicue that Zuma had left dangling over her eye behind her ear and smoothed it down. Zuma was always trying to give Pat's hair a bit of pizzazz, but pizzazz wasn't Pat's style. She was the conservative type. A prim and proper Christian woman whose only vice was her penchant for telling an occasional dirty joke. Pat was tall and slender with an understated beauty that didn't need to be beefed up with silly fashion fads or here-today-gone-tomorrow hairdos. Pat was content with herself and happy, and as she gave herself a final once-over in the mirror, she plastered the smile back onto her face, looked over her shoulder at the fully crowded shop, then continued sweeping.
When she had finally gathered up all the hair with the dustpan and trashed it, she sat down in a chair in the back of the shop and let out a sigh of relief as she gazed around. This was the first time Pat had been off her feet all day, and even though she still had a slew of heads to finish, she couldn't resist stealing a couple minutes of solitary relaxation. She glanced at her friends, Faye and Zuma, as they worked feverishly on their clients' heads. It was already getting dark outside and still her shop was packed with people. She knew she wouldn't get home before midnight tonight, but that was the norm on Fridays. She always kept the shop open late on the weekends to meet the demands of her ever-increasing clientele. Fridays and Saturdays were the days her shop made the most money and although the weekend was always hectic, she performed her duties with great pride. Yes, she was overworked, but that was a price she was willing to pay for success. More than anything, Pat was proud. Blessings was her baby. Her very own beauty shop. Her very own business. Her husband had bought the shop for her, but she had made it her own. Not only was she a wife, she was an entrepreneur now, and her life had taken on new meaning. And that was a blessing in and of itself.
To outsiders looking in, Pat had the perfect relationship with her man. He was rich by black folks' standards, meaning he owned a home, had a nice car, good job, and no apparent addictions. He loved Pat to death and gave her everything she ever wanted. But there was one thing that Pat's husband could not give her. He was a good man, but he wasn't God. He couldn't part the seas, turn water into wine, or heal the sick. So for now Pat had to make the most of the things her husband did give her, the most important thing in her life -- her beauty shop.
Blessings was located in Inglewood, California, a small, predominantly black area of Los Angeles that for the most part was considered a prettygood city. It wasn't as ritzy as West Los Angeles, but it didn't have the negative reputation of South Central even though it was only a stone's throw away. Inglewood was the perfect location to start up a small black business, but it was obvious to Pat when she first began looking for a location for her shop that she wasn't the only one who thought like that. There were so many other beauty shops in the area that Pat had been cautious about opening another right in the midst of all the competition. But Pat knew one thing. Black women like to look cute. Black women spend more money on hair, clothes, and entertainment than any other race of people. A black woman could have a refrigerator with nothing in it but a bag of bread, but if it came down to getting her hair done or going grocery shopping...well, let's just say she'd be eating wish sandwiches until her next paycheck.
With that in mind, Pat decided to go ahead and open her shop in Inglewood despite the competition and because she didn't want to work too far away from her home in Ladera Heights, the black Beverly Hills. Driving was not one of Pat's favorite things to do and with Inglewood being the next city over, she decided to throw caution to the wind and go with her instincts. Besides, Pat had a plan to get over on all the other beauty salons in the Inglewood area. It was a gimmick, she knew, still she gave it her best shot. Her plan? To post a sign right in the front of the shop's window that was sure to get everyone's attention. The sign was simple and to the point: Get your hair done in two hours or less or the service is free -- Guaranteed.
Needless to say, with the wait at most other salons in the area being upwards of three hours, Pat's sign attracted a huge amount of attention and gave her the leg up on the competition that she needed. Still, the gimmick only worked for a couple of months. The first weeks were wonderful. The sign caught the eyes of many women and clients began to trickle in slowly but surely. But by the second month, the darn sign began to work too well and soon Blessings was filled to the brim with so many clients that there was no way possible for Pat to keep her guarantee. There was no way she could get to all her customers in less than two hours working by herself.
She thought she had found the answer to the problem when she hired a part-time shampoo girl to help her out for a while. But even the two of them working together was not enough of a solution and on several occasions Pat found herself doing more heads for free than she could afford. Needless to say, the sign had to come down and with no gimmick, Blessings became just another run-of-the-mill beauty salon in an area already congested with too many. A few die-hard clients who were pleased with the way Pat handled their hair stayed with her, but most of the clients dwindled away, especially after a shop named Off the Hook Hair opened up lust two blocks away. Off the Hook Hair specialized in all the latest hair designs, and though Pat did consider herself to be an okay beautician, especially considering the fact that she'd only had her license for less than a year, she knew she could never compete with the stylists Off the Hook Hair had to offer. So, slowly but surely, Pat's business began to go under.
That first year Blessings was in business was a nightmare that Pat would certainly rather forget, she thought to herself as she stretched out her legs in the back of the shop. Looking around the shop now, though, it was hard to believe that Blessings had almost gone out of business in that first year. Now Blessings was considered one of the best hair salons in the city. People came from as far away as the San Fernando Valley to get their hair done at Pat's shop and business was, as they say, booming. Of course the days of the two-hour guarantee were long gone. Now if you come into Blessings by ten, you're lucky to get out by five -- on a good day. It was just one of those things. No one knows why it takes so long to get their hair done, they just accept it. They make a day out of it. And knowing that it can be rather taxing sometimes to wait over four hours to get one's hair done, Pat figured she could at least give the women who came to her shop a relaxing atmosphere. From the outside, Blessings looked like any other beauty shop. The two huge windows in front were trimmed in pink and stenciled with prices and advertising specials as well as a big, black woman with a full head of crimson hair and of course a large pink neon sign that blinked "Blessings." But inside, Blessings had all the comforts of home. There was a big-screen television complete with VCR, a sound system, a mini refrigerator and microwave oven for those who brought in food, a nice comfortable sofa, and mounds and mounds of magazines to distract the clients from their long wait. The shop was relatively small with only three hair stations, two shampoo bowls, two hair dryer seats, and one newly purchased manicuring station that Pat had bought last month because she wanted to expand. Just last week, she'd had the painters out restenciling the front window from Blessings Hair Salon to Blessings Hair and Nails. And it wouldn't stop there. Pat had even bigger plans for expansion. Soon she'd add on waxing and massaging, and as soon as the renters next door decide to shut down their fledgling hardware store, she planned on purchasing it too, knocking out the wall that separated the two suites and adding on an aerobics studio. But those plans would have to wait for a year or three. Right now, hair and nails were all Pat could handle.
With the addition of the manicuring station, Pat had plans of going back to beauty school to get the manicuring license. She hadn't planned on doing nails herself, but since the red and white Help Wanted sign that hung on the front door hadn't been answered she really had no choice. Pat had it hard enough doing hair alone and adding manicurist to her title was not a welcome designation for her. But she had gone ahead and purchased the manicure station and she couldn't let it go to waste. So on top of doing hair, booking appointments, greeting customers, answering phones, keeping the place clean, and managing the books, Pat would soon be taking on even more responsibility. But Pat wouldn't complain. No, no. She'd do whatever it took to make her business the best it could be. Blessings was her baby and she would never let it go under. She remembered how awful she felt that first year of business when the lack of clientele almost forced her to close down her shop. The thought of losing what she'd worked so hard to create was almost too painful to remember. But that was a very long time ago, Pat assured herself as she got up from her seat in the back of the room and walked up front toward her hair station. She beckoned her blond-streaked client to join her and as she watched her scramble from beneath the hair dryer she pasted on a smile and tapped the seat of her chair. "Come on, darling," she said to her client as she watched her sit down in front of her. She placed her foot on the lever at the bottom of the seat and pumped four times until her client was elevated to the proper height. "Spirals or an up-do?" Pat asked as her client gave her a perplexed look. "Spirals," Pat decided and plugged in her curling wand. Pat took in a deep sigh as she combed through her client's hair and waited for the wand to heat up. She looked around the shop, knowing it would be hours before she could get off her feet again, but still she didn't complain. She'd take a jam-packed salon over an empty one any day. She'd seen her share of empty seats that first year of business and she vowed never to go through that experience again. And as long as she had her secret weapon she never would. Pat's secret weapon would keep her in business for the rest of her life. That secret weapon went by the name of Zuma, Pat thought to herself as she shot her friend a quick glance. Blessings wouldn't be half the shop it was today if it weren't for Zuma. Zuma was the diva of all hair stylists in the L.A. area. Pat knew it, the customers knew it, and you better believe Zuma knew it too.
"Flip on the radio," Zuma yelled to Pat without even looking in her direction. And, like an obedient pet, Pat obliged.
Those who didn't know Zuma would swear she was the bossiest bitch they'd ever met. But that was just Zuma's way. The "please" in the statement was an understood thing that didn't need to be said. Sort of like the silent g in the word fight.
When Pat hit the radio switch, a smooth jazzy beat rolled through the air, and as if stung by a bee, Zuma paused dramatically and stared at Pat as if she'd just seen a ghost.
"What?" Pat exclaimed as she returned to her hair station and returned Zuma's glare.
"Aw shit," Zuma said, closing her eyes.
"What!" Pat said nervously watching Zuma and wondering if she was about to have some sort of physical breakdown.
"That's my jam!" Zuma shouted and finally snapped her fingers and bobbed her head to the beat of the music. "That's that Erykah Badu cut," she said, and nudged her client, who could care less. Her client had been in the shop now for four hours and all she wanted Zuma to do was fix her hair so she could get the hell out of there and go home. Damn Erik Dubois or whoever the hell that was on the radio.
Though Zuma's client was nearing her pissed-off point, Zuma didn't pay her any attention. "Oh on and on and on and on," she sang and danced her way over to Pat. Zuma knew Pat wasn't a fan of hip-hop, but she had at least gotten her older pal to respect Erykah Badu's music. In fact, Pat and Faye were the two most hip-hop-impaired people Zuma had ever met. Even though they were only a few years older than her, she often found herself breaking down the simplest of terms to them just so she could be understood. It had taken almost two weeks for Pat and Faye to understand what Zuma meant when she called something "the shit." Once Pat had walked in the shop wearing a brand-new pair of shoes which Zuma enthusiastically referred to as "the shit," and Pat's feelings had been so hurt that she almost cried. Until, that is, Zuma explained that she was merely complimenting her.
It had taken Pat a while to get used to Zuma's eccentric, eclectic ways. Zuma was part homegirl, part African princess, and part businesswoman with just a touch of snobbery on the side. There were many things about Zuma that Pat didn't understand. Like how she could claim to be Muslim and still eat pepperoni pizza. How the mirror at her hair station could be filled with motivational savings like the one that read, "All that I need is already in me" yet Zuma seemingly was always in search of some unobtainable thing. Or how Zuma's most commonly used phrase was "My money is funny and my credit won't get it," yet Pat knew from the books that Zuma was putting in gobs of money by the week, more than she and Faye Put together as a matter of fact. Zuma was a piece of work, but just like a raggedy old blanket, she had a way of endearing herself to all who crossed her path. Zuma was the type of person you hated the first time you met her, but after a few days getting to know her, you'd wonder how you could have ever been so wrong.
"My cipher keeps moving like a rolling stone," Zuma sang as she danced her way over to Pat, grabbed her by the hand, and spun her around. Zuma snatched up an empty, bottle of water and held it to her mouth as she swayed around the room as if she were Ms. Badu herself. The rest of the women seemed to come alive with Zuma's impromptu performance and before long the entire shop was chanting, "On and on and on and on."
Even Pat got in on the groove for a moment. She stuck her hand in the air and moved it from side to side just enough to show that she had rhythm, but not so much as to bring any attention to herself. But Pat could spare only a minute's worth of time, and when she caught a glimpse of Zuma's pissed-off customer, who, unlike everyone else, was not too thrilled with the shop's sudden lapse into Soul Train fever, she reached out for Zuma and pulled her close to her chest. "If you don't get back to your client she's gonna have a cow. You're moving so slow today, you're gonna have to speed up to stop," she whispered.
Zuma rolled her eyes, bumped Pat on the hip, then headed back to her hair station. Zuma was as slow as the day is long, but damn, could she hook up some hair. She was a celebrity of sorts in the hair community. Her appointments were booked up for months in advance, which in shop talk meant she had a following. Zuma didn't care that it took her forever to finish a client's hair. She didn't care how much her clients sighed, rolled their eyes, or tapped their fingers impatiently. She knew that once her clients saw the finished product, they'd worship her forever. Hell, she was Zuma. Couldn't nobody do the do like Zuma could.
Long before Zuma ever came to work at Blessings, Pat had heard of her. Everybody knew Zuma. She was the infamous top stylist at Off the Hook Hair known best for her outrageous couture hair designs, which she showed off at Off the Hook's annual hair and fashion show. Pat had attended one of their shows during the first year she had opened Blessings. At the time Blessings was in a financial slump and Pat figured she should go check out the competition, get a few ideas on how she could make her hairstyles better, and maybe even steal a few hair designs for herself.
When Pat attended the show at Off the Hook, she sat in the back of the huge salon hoping no one would notice her. Not that they'd know who she was anyway, considering that Blessings had no following whatsoever. Still, she sat incognito in the back of the room watching the wonderful, nonstop display of fashion and hair designs as models strolled through the shop, spinning around, swinging their heads, and showing off their hairstyles from every angle. Aside from a few intricate finger-wave designs, Zuma's creations stole the show that year. She opened her collection with a simple flat ironed geisha bob, moved on to an abstract braided and spiraled up-do and the pièce de résistance -- a motorized windmill. Yes, motorized. Pat couldn't believe her eyes when she saw Zuma's final hair model take the stage. The confident model walked out wearing what seemed to be two simple ponytails on the sides of her head. But when she reached the end of the stage the tails began to slowly move upward, and when they reached the top of her head they began to split around and around. The crowd went crazy as they watched this girl's hair spinning like a roller coaster, and when the darn hair lit up with multicolored bulbs the crowd could barely contain itself.
Though she knew no one would ever be caught dead wearing their hair in such a gaudy style, Pat could see why Zuma was L.A.'s top hair stylist. She took hair to a different level. She made it an art.
Pat had thought going to that hair show would give her the added motivation she needed to stick with her own shop and make it an even better establishment. But in actuality all that came of it was a sense of depression. There was no way Pat could compete with Off the Hook Hair. Their reputation was too established and their stylists were on the cunning edge. And the fact that they were only a few blocks away from Blessings made matters worse.
After Pat left the show, she realized she didn't have a fighting chance of keeping her business alive, and the more she thought about it, the more she realized there was really only one thing left for her to do -- quit. She had toyed for weeks with the idea of closing down her shop, but the thought of giving up just didn't sit well with Pat. She knew the odds were stacked against her, still she couldn't throw in the towel. She knew there had to be a way, some way to hold on to her business. Pat often sat alone in the shop long after closing time on her knees, praying for God to give her the strength to keep on keeping on. She'd pray until her knees were sore, then get up and pray some more. But after a month or two of this, God still had not answered her and all Pat had to show for her prayers were two knobby knees and an empty bank account. Still Pat was sure of one thing -- God was no liar. Ask and you shall receive was what the Bible said, and by faith, Pat knew that one day when God was good and ready He would answer her prayer. It took a while, but verily, verily, the day finally came.
Pat had been nearly knocked off her feet when the young woman with a head full of tiny twists popped up at the shop one morning. The woman had been carrying an oversized hair bag filled with curlers, combs, brushes, dryers, and clippers. She'd walked right into the shop and over to a hair station without so much as a "hey, how ya doing" to Pat. She simply plopped down her hair bag, raised her eyes and said, "Can you use another beautician?"
"Do I know you?" Pat asked, cautiously, peering at the girl with the Afrocentric hair and relaxed, baggy attire. She tried to place her face, but though it was familiar she couldn't remember where she'd seen her before.
"You ought to," the woman replied and placed her hand on her hip. "Know me, that is," she added as she looked at Pat with an elitist air so arrogant and unwelcome that Pat's otherwise cool demeanor became stiff. "So can you use another beautician or what?"
Being a refined woman herself, Pat was not impressed by this stranger's presumptuous attitude, which she chalked up to a lack of home training and official church rearing. She was even less impressed when the woman, who appeared at least five years her junior, began unpacking her bag and setting up her utensils on the counter. If Pat was not mistaken, this was still her shop. But judging by the actions of this young girl in torn jeans with a pair of obvious knock-off Chanel earrings hanging from her lobes, it was hard to tell who was running things. It was a rarity for Pat to raise her temper, but this girl was pushing it. Who does she think she is, Pat thought, and stared at her sideways. And that's when it hit her. She did know this woman. She'd seen her at the Off the Hook Hair show, but for the life of her she couldn't remember her name, until..."You, you're..."
"Yes, I am," Zuma said, without even looking at Pat. She pulled out a notebook from her bag, opened it up, and began taking out small pieces of paper and sticking them on the mirror in front of her.
Yes, Pat knew this woman, but what she didn't know was what the woman was doing in her shop and why she was pasting these scrappy pieces of paper on the mirror. Papers that read, "No weapon formed against me shall ever prosper," and "Whatever you can believe and conceive you can achieve." Pat didn't know what was going on, but there was one thing she did know, or at least she thought she did. "Don't you style over there at Off the Hook Hair?"
The woman sucked her teeth and sighed. "That is past tense, honey. Get it straight or leave it alone," she said, then began mumbling to herself so rapidly that Pat almost assumed the girl was going insane. The only words she could make out were "bitch" and "fucking with the wrong woman" and "better recognize."
Pat scratched her head as she eyed the woman, watching as she mumbled on and on, becoming more and more upset with each utterance. She didn't know how to react in this situation so she decided to remain calm and fish around for more information. "Did you get fired?" she asked, then immediately realized she asked the wrong question when the woman stopped mumbling and glared into her eyes.
"Fired?" she huffed and jerked her head to the side. "No, baby. Don't get it mixed up. I quit. Okay?" She pointed a finger in the air for emphasis. "See, that bitch Connie thinks she's slick. But little do she know I wrote the book on slick. I know all the tricks. Shit. She better recognize."
"Connie?" Pat questioned with a wince.
"Yeah. She owns Off the Hook and I guess she thought she owned me too, but I had to wake her to a few things," she said and sucked her teeth. "Girl, let me tell you what happened," she said, shifting her weight to one side and cozying up to Pat as if they were old buddies. "Do you know that tramp had the nerve to come up in my face yesterday talking about she was going to raise her commission on me? Shit, I told her she must have lost her damn mind," she said and pulled on one of the tiny twists that filled her head. "Hell, she was already getting thirty percent of what I made then she gonna say she want forty-five? Oh hell no. That's bondage. I told that bitch I would rent my hair station for eight hundred dollars a month, no commission, take it or leave it."
"I guess she refused, huh?" Pat asked as she picked up a bottle the woman had tipped over as she ranted about her former employer.
"Naw," she said matter of factly. "I went off on her so bad that she backed down. I had to show her who was really the boss. She had fucked with the wrong woman, honey. I guess she was asleep, but I had to wake her up."
"Well, if she agreed to your terms, why did you leave?"
"Because she pissed me the fuck off," she scoffed. "She shouldn't have even come at me like that in the first place, demanding more money and shit. Ain't nobody over there bringing in more clientele than I was. But was that good enough for Connie? No. She had to be greedy and start talking that forty-five percent shit like I was some new Jill straight out of beauty school. Shit. Fuck her. Fuck that bitch. I don't give a fuck. I'm gone. Do ya miss me?" she yelled at the top of her lungs.
Whoa, Pat thought to herself and took a step back. She didn't know whether to laugh or be scared, so she just stood there watching the woman, silently preparing to run for her life if it came down to that.
The woman eased off her anger long enough to pause and take a good look at Pat for the first time. She smiled briefly, realizing her attitude was getting the best of her as it often did. It didn't faze her. Zuma believed in being real and expressing herself. Still, the look on Pat's face told her that she needed to chill out. So she took a deep breath, braced herself, and began afresh. "Look. I don't mean to bust up in your shop like I'm running things, but I can't continue to work for Connie and that's just the way it is," she explained as pleasantly as she could at the moment. "Anyway, I live right around the corner from here on Eucalyptus and I pass by your shop every day." She took a quick look around the empty, stale place and played with her hair twists. "I know how business is doing," she said with a pitiful grimace on her face.
"It's pretty terrible."
"You said it, I didn't."
An embarrassed silence hung between the two women. Business was terrible and whoever actually said it didn't matter -- it was the truth. Business was worse than terrible, it sucked, and as Pat stood facing the presumptuous, hot-tempered woman she was sure of one thing. God had answered her prayer. This woman was the talk of the town in the world of hair. She had name recognition and could bring in the clients. She also obviously had a chip on her shoulder, a bad attitude, and a hint of conceit, but every gem has at least one flaw, Pat concluded.
"Anyway," the woman continued, "I can get a job anywhere I want and that's the truth," she said, giving the shop the once-over again. She curled her top lip as her gaze returned to Pat. "But," she sighed, "since this shop is so close to my apartment..."
"You're hired," Pat interrupted, realizing the great opportunity that stood before her and not wanting to waste another minute.
"And you're a very lucky lady," the woman said and batted her eyes. She smiled and extended her hand to Pat. "Zuma Price."
"Pat Brown," she said and returned the smile. "Welcome to Blessings."
***
Ever since that day Blessings had been swamped. Gone were the days of slouching around the shop, hoping, wishing, and praying that one, just one potential customer would poke her head through the door. Now Pat had to handle the fall-off customers Zuma couldn't get to because she was too swamped, as well as the few regulars she already had. But Pat didn't complain. A packed shop meant a packed bank account, and oh, what a blessing that was.
***
"Can we turn that music off for a minute please?" a plump brown face asked as she brushed by Pat to get back to her hair station. "My customer's got a headache," Faye said as she fluffed out the newly tightened weave she'd just sewn into her client's hair.
Pat excused herself from her own client and dashed to turn off the radio before joining Faye at her station. She stood behind the wide woman and leaned over her shoulder. "You haven't had a break all day, have you?"
"I've done two weaves, an African corn row, and that woman with the loose braids is next," she said as she spun her client around in her seat and handed her a mirror so she could examine the back of her head. "I'm gonna have to take a minute to eat before I start on the next one."
"No problem," Pat said and looked around the crowded shop. It was nine-thirty and still the place was jammed. But Pat knew Faye needed a break. Faye was as nice and polite as anyone could be, but when she was working on an empty stomach, she could get a bit testy. "You want me to run out to Popeye's and pick you up something?"
"No thanks," Faye said, wiping sweat off her forehead. "I've got some greens and tortillas warming up in the microwave."
Greens and tortillas, Pat thought, and winced. What a combination. But Faye was always bringing in strange combinations like that to eat. Yesterday it had been pig's feet with a side of Spanish rice and beans. Go figure, Pat thought as she watched Faye collect three hundred dollars from her customer, slip it into her jumbled cleavage, then hustle over to the microwave in the back of the room.
Faye Cruz was Pat's best friend and closest confidante. She was closerin age to her than Zuma so naturally they were tighter. Faye had been working at Blessings for just under four years now as the shop's one and only hair braider and weave specialist. Faye had been braiding hair ever since she was in elementary school, but she'd never thought she was capable of making money at it until after her husband died, leaving her with zero income and two mouths to feed. Faye had never worked a full-time job in her life until she came into the shop four years ago. And when she first walked through the door and found Pat in the back of the room dusting off countertops she nearly freaked and ran right back out the door. But it was too late. Pat had already gotten a glimpse of her and there was nothing left for Faye to do but exactly what she'd come there to do -- ask for a job.
Faye was a whole two years younger than Pat, but if you saw the two together you'd swear Faye was old enough to be Pat's mother. It wasn't that Faye was ugly or had wrinkles or warts and such. It was just that she didn't do anything with herself. Thanks to her half-black, half-Mexican heritage, Faye had a head full of long and wavy hair that reached all the way down to her waist. Many women would love to have a head full of healthy hair like that, but all Faye ever did with it was pull it back and plait it in one long French braid that dangled down her back. You'd never find a ring in her ear or on her finger and the only jewelry she ever wore was the gold-plated face of the Virgin Mary that hung on a once gold, now rusted silver chain around her neck. She never, ever wore a drop of makeup so thank God she had smooth, glowing skin. Still, even the most natural face could use a spruce of lipstick every now and again. But the thing that most added to her aging appearance was the extra eighty-five pounds she carried on her frame. To see her walk, you'd swear she had arthritis by the slow way in which she moved around, her thick thighs blocking one another as she waddled. The extra weight not only added years to her face, it also added years to her mind. Faye couldn't remember which had come first -- had she lost interest in herself, then gained all the weight or did she gain the weight, then lose interest. The only thing she was sure of was that she no longer cared. Why concern herself with trying to look good? Men weren't attracted to her anymore. Why concern herself with trying to lose weight? She couldn't do it anyway. She'd been on every diet known to man -- Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Pritikin, the cabbage soup diet, the apple diet, the one meal a day pile anything you want on one plate and no more diet -- none of them ever worked. So why concern herself at all? Faye was what she was. A thirty-three-year-old, five-foot-two, two-hundred-and-ten-pound woman. Why fight it?
But at moments like the one she experienced the night she walked into the shop to meet Pat, Faye wished she could instantly snap her fingers and make all her weight go away. She hated first sightings. Without fail, the first thing people did when they saw her was look her up and down and shake their heads. Then they'd pretend not to see her or, if forced to make her acquaintance, pretend as if the fact that she was large made no difference to them. But Faye knew her size affected people. People often dealt with Pat and her weight just as they would deal with a person who had a bad case of halitosis. Theyd try to be nice and ignore it, but they knew it was there. There was no way you could miss it. Whoever came into contact with her had to deal with her problem and though they tried to act like they didn't notice it, she knew for a fact they did.
Faye tried not to let the curious way in which Pat gawked at her bother her on that first night they met. After all, it was nighttime, Pat was closing up, and in walked a complete stranger. Faye would have gawked too if she was in Pat's position. Still, Faye knew the peculiar look on Pat's face was more about her size than the fact that she was an unknown.
Faye had squeezed herself into her one and only church dress and jammed her swollen feet into a pair of white pumps. She approached Pat with the confidence anyone else would show when confronting a possible employer, but when she opened her month to state her purpose the only sound audible was that of her cries. "I need a job," she wailed and threw her hands over her face.
At first Pat had thought the woman was crazy. She backed away for a second and watched as the woman's stomach jiggled, pushing in and out, shoulders heaving up and down, her mouth seemingly stuck in the open position. But soon Pat's apprehension turned to compassion She searched the countertops for a box of tissue, but couldn't find one.
Luckily Faye had come prepared. She opened up the tiny white patent leather purse she carried and searched around, pulling out her wallet, a rosary, and finally a crumpled tissue that looked like it had been used before. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Faye whimpered, wiping the sides of her face and trying to control herself "It's just that I need a job and, and...I don't know where else to go." She dabbed at her nose and took a deep breath, knowing she was not making the great first impression that she had set out to display. She hadn't intended to beg or to cry, but she could not help herself. She was desperate. She had children. Mouths to feed. She needed money. "I've been braiding hair since I was ten," she spat out. "I do weaves, I, well...I'm not too good with chemicals, but I can help out on washing and conditioning, or if you just need someone to clean up the place..."
"Slow down," Pat said, more concerned with the woman's mental state than her verbal résumé.
"You don't understand. I need a job. I've got two children, my husband died and...and..."
"Ssh," Pat purred. "It's going to be all right," she said. "Everything's going to work out fine," she said, eyeing the rosary the woman still clutched up her hand. "Have you been using that?" she asked and touched the row of beads and the woman's hand. "Prayer works."
"I know," Faye said, suddenly finding strength in the woman's touch. The last time she'd gone to confession the pastor had told her she had to be strong. He told her to pray for strength, seek it out and meditate in it. She did. Still, when her mind was lulled into thoughts of her dead husband, seeing him slumped over, bleeding blood so red..."Oh God," Faye screamed as the tears began to flow again.
Pat felt so bad for the stranger that she took her in her arms right then and there and alone in the empty shop the two strangers held on to each other, neither one wanting to be the first to let go.
Two blessings were received that night. Faye found a job and Pat found a new friend.
***
Faye popped three quarters into the soda machine and retrieved her diet Sprite. As big as she was, she didn't know why she always opted for diet instead of regular, but she figured it was the least she could do. She took her bowl of greens and flour tortillas over to the sofa and sat down next to the woman with the loose braids. "I'll be with you in about ten minutes," she told her next client, then began to dig into her first meal of the day if you don't count the entire bag of Chips Ahoy she'd gone through at her hair station.
"What are you eating?" Loose Braids asked Faye just as she plopped a spoon full of greens in the center of her tortilla and rolled it up like a burrito. Faye bit into her cuisine and winced. She'd forgotten the salsa. But it was too late and she was too hungry to stop to go back to the refrigerator and get it. As she swallowed she turned to the woman and explained.
"Collard greens and tortillas," she told Loose Braids. "My mom used to cook this for my dad all the time. Would you like to taste?"
"No thank you," Loose Braids said, unaware of the frightful grimace she held on her face as she watched Faye chow down. "How did you come up with a combination like collard greens and tortillas?"
"When your mom is black and from the South and your father is a straight, traditional Mexican you find many different ways of compromising."
"Interesting," Loose Braids said, then quickly turned away.
As Faye swallowed another mouthful of her dinner she could feel all eyes turning on her. She couldn't understand why folks always liked to watch fat people eat. They stared at her as if she was doing something wrong. As if she were a diagnosed cancer patient smoking a cigarette. If there had been anywhere else for Faye to go she would have vanished. But since there wasn't she did the next best thing and tried to divert everyone's attention somewhere else. "So did we ever finish that conversation on O.J.?" she asked, politely covering her mouth as she spoke.
"Yes," Pat shouted quickly, not wanting to get all that started up again. She thought she'd closed the book on that conversation earlier, but Faye had defiantly opened it up again.
"Guilty!" Zuma sang as she sprayed her client's hair with oil sheen, then flagged her hand in front of her face as the cloudy fog engulfed her.
"Guilty," Pat's client chimed in and with that, Pat threw her hands in the air and walked off toward the rest room. She had been holding it for a long time and since she didn't want to hear another word about O. J. she decided to go handle her business, hoping against all hope that when she came back out the conversation would be finished for good.
"I say he's not guilty," Loose Braids said, and nodded to Faye as she downed another load of greens and tortillas.
Faye put her hand over her stuffed mouth before she spoke again. "I'm with you," she said, then swallowed.
"Look," Zuma shouted as she took the money her client held out for her and walked behind the woman toward the front door. "None of us will ever truly know whether O.J. did it or not," she said and paused to say a quick good-bye to her client. "But I'll tell you one thing -- none of this mess would have ever gotten started if O.J. had been a true brother and stayed away from those white women."
"I know that's right," Pat's client said as she waited patiently for Pat to come back from the rest room.
"You ain't never told a lie," Loose Braids admitted and pursed her lips. "But when a black man gets a little money what's the first thing he does?"
"Runs over to the other side," Zuma said, and shook her head.
If there was one thing practically all the women in the shop could agree on, it was the fact that no black man should be married to a white woman. Not when there were so many single, eligible, intelligent, and attractive black women such as themselves to pick from.
Faye was the only one who didn't agree with this logic. She thought the women sounded just as racist and stupid as a white man who'd say his daughter could never date a nigger. Faye saw nothing wrong with black men dating or marrying white women. Love was love, regardless of color or culture, and if it weren't for interracial marriages, Faye wouldn't be alive today. Her black mother and Mexican father were the perfect example of color-blind love. Sure they had their cultural differences, but their love was stronger than any conflict that could ever arise between them. Not even their differences in religion could tear them apart. Faye's mother was Southern Baptist and her father a devout Catholic. But never did they argue over opposing ideologies or conflicting doctrines. The bottom line was that they both loved the Lord so they simply shared religions. One month they'd attend St. Joseph's cathedral, the next, Wholly Waters. Their differences added spice to their lives, not animosity. Faye could still remember the lazy Saturday nights she'd watch her mother and father sashaying to Aretha Franklin one minute, then doing the cha-cha to Antonio Carlos Jobim the next. One night her mother would prepare neck bones and corn bread, the next night she'd make mole and manzanas rellenas. Their love wasn't about color, it was about acceptance, give and take, honesty and compromise. Those were the biggest lessons Faye learned from her parents. They never sat down and gave her a lecture about it. She just picked it up from the way she saw them living and loving. They taught her what true love was all about and Antoine, her beloved husband, taught her all the rest. But now they were all gone and the only love Faye knew now was the sacrificial, selfless love a mother has for her children. Romantic love was a town too far away for Faye to visit again. But if she ever got the opportunity to go there she wouldn't let the mere color of someone's skin keep her from it.
Faye hadn't realized her thoughts had drifted so far away until Zuma's booming voice roared through the air and snapped her back to the present.
"Honey, it's not just the athletes and the actors who are chasing white girls anymore," she said incredulously. "Now these everyday broke, run-of-the-mill brothers are dumping the black queens for the Baywatch babes."
"And what's so wrong with that?" Faye asked and pushed her plate away. "If two people fall in love, why shouldn't they be together?"
"Because it's not about love," Zuma said quickly. "To black men, white girls are like special trophies. They look at us like we're cheap knock-offs of what a woman should be. Since we don't have the hair, the nose, the small tooty behinds, somehow we aren't worth as much."
"Black men have been brainwashed," Loose Braids said, and turned to face Faye. "Everything they see in this society tells them that white is right and black is wrong and they believe it. That's why they go after white girls. Because they think they are better than us."
"But that's not every case," Faye said, and shook her head. "Sometimes it's really about love. Take Marcia Clark and Chris Darden, for instance."
"They fucking?" Zuma asked.
"Zuma," Faye said and winced. "Don't be so crass."
"Well are they?"
"Well, Marcia says they weren't, but Darden seemed to disagree," Loose Braids said. "And that's exactly what I'm talking about. Why Chris got to be all on the white girls' tip? A sister would love to be with a man like that. I know I'd take that big bald head of his and love him right," she said, and snapped her fingers to let everyone know she meant that.
"But that's what I mean. Maybe it was love for Chris. I mean he and Marcia were together all day, every day, for months. Can't you see how he could fall for her?" Faye said, flagging her hands in the air.
But her opponents were not willing to give in to her point of view.
"Blacks should stick with blacks and that's all I've got to say," Zuma said with finality, but Faye wasn't going to let it go.
"Look at us," Faye continued as she pointed to each woman around the room. "Look at all the different shades of brown we have in here. Not one of us can say we are one hundred percent pure black. The races have been mixing since the beginning of time," she said, then pointed directly at Zuma. "Look at you," she said as Zuma froze. "You're lighter than most white people. You ought to be thankful for race mixing or else you wouldn't be here."
Zuma squinted her eyes and seemed to boil with anger. "Thankful? Yeah right," she said and threw her hands in the air. "Thank you, Mr. Slave Owner, for creeping into the shed house and raping my black ancestors. Thank you ever so kindly," she said, then ran a hand through her twisted hair. "That's nothing to be thankful for, Faye."
"Well you're here, aren't you?" Faye asked, directly. "And so am I," she said, and pointed to herself as she stood up. "I'm thankful my Mexican father fell in love with my black mother. If he had thought like you guys I wouldn't be here today," she said with an increased intensity. "I myself married a Mexican because I fell in love with a Mexican," she said, defensively. "You can't stop love because it doesn't come wrapped in the package you're most accustomed to."
"No," Zuma interrupted. "You married a Mexican because you're part Mexican yourself. You can't even understand what us black women go through. Do you really know how it feels to be passed over by a black man? You don't know what the black woman's struggle is all about."
The loose, deep, caramel-colored skin on Faye's arm dangled as she lifted her arm high above her head. "Who cares if I'm half Mexican? With skin this dark I got called nigger so many times growing up that I forgot all about being Mexican. So don't act like just because you claim to be so Muslim and pro-black that you're the only one in here who knows about the struggle."
"Damn, Señorita," Zuma said, realizing how personally Faye was taking this conversation. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Come on, Mami," she said, hurrying over to Faye with her arms outstretched. "Dame un besso," she said, puckering her lips and making kissy sounds.
"That's not funny, Zuma," Faye said and pushed her away, then shyly looked around the room full of ladies. It was rare for Faye to raise her voice, but sometimes Zuma could really get under her skin.
"Well, don't get your panties in a knot," Zuma said.
"Don't you worry about my chones, brrruja," Faye shot back.
"What did you just call me?"
"Nothing," Faye said coyly and sat back down.
"Don't be speaking that Spanish shit behind my back," Zuma warned.
"Cayate."
"No, you shut up," Zuma said, nodding her head.
"Whatever," Faye said, giving up.
"Fine," Zuma said and backed her way to her hair station.
"Good," Faye said louder.
"Great," Zuma scolded.
"Beautiful."
"Dandy."
This would be a good time for one of Pat's jokes, but she was still locked away in the rest room. The tension in the air was so thick between Zuma and Faye that the other ladies in the shop sat silently on edge, unsure if the scene they were watching was a fake argument or the real thing. But Faye and Zuma both knew were they stood. They'd always had this ongoing animosity toward one another, bickering back and forth over silly things. Sometimes it seemed they took opposite sides of a subject just to keep an argument churning. Or at least Zuma would. With the way Zuma picked away at Faye's nerves, one would assume she hated the woman. But that wasn't the case at all. There was love between Faye and Zuma. They could both feel it and sometimes it even showed. Like the times when Faye's car would break down and Zuma would go out of her way to pick her up for work. Or the times Zuma would run out of change for the soda machine and ask Faye if she could break a dollar. Their relationship was an unusual one, but unusual wasn't a bad thing. Just odd.
"Look," Zuma said as she sat down at her hair station. "All I'm saying is that black woman are just as good as white women and brothers need to recognize that. I may not have hair all down my back or a pointy nose or a flat behind, but I'm just as beautiful as any white women in this world," she said, rolling her eyes. She took both of her hands and ran them over her face, through her hair, then across her chest as if she were the starring vixen in a porno flick. "Look at all this loveliness," she said, and licked out her tongue so ridiculously that it caused Faye to hang her head in embarrassment. "You tell me what white woman could compete with this?" she said, trying to hold back a giggle.
And with that, a hush fell over the room. It seemed as though the sentence Zuma spoke had performed a magic all its own. At once, every eye in the shop focused on the front entrance and the strange woman who appeared in the doorway. Zuma was the last to focus her attention, but when she noticed the silence in the room she followed the glares of all the other women until she too was eyeing the doorway and the woman with straight blond hair and eyes the color of the sky who stood there. None of the brown faces in the shop uttered another word, but the vibe could be heard loud and clear.
What the hell is she doing here?
***
Sandy Dew McReiney stood in the doorway, tossing back each and every stare that came her way. The tension in the room was thick enough to bite into, and for a split second Sandy had thought about turning right around and going back home. Then again, she was used to this kind of reception. She'd been through it all her life, but that didn't make it any more bearable. She walked into the beauty shop and stood next to the reception desk knowing full well that every eye was upon her, but that no one would bother to speak. She could hear the whispers the ladies shot back and forth between themselves. What she want in here? She must be lost.
Sandy shifted her weight from side to side, wishing she'd gone bare instead of putting on the thong bikini underwear that was beginning to irritate her butt. Slyly, she slid her hand behind her back and grabbed the thin string through her Lycra leggings and yanked it to one side. She smirked as she tapped the three and a half inch heels of her stilettos, still waiting for someone, anyone, to say something to her.
They hate me because I'm white, she thought, a theory that had haunted her nearly all her life. She was always the minority, the only white in the bunch. She and her mother had always lived in predominantly black neighborhoods until her mother up and moved them to her new boyfriend's house in the San Fernando Valley when Sandy was sixteen. She hated that city and couldn't wait to get out of there. She had felt so out of place, so void of flavor out there amongst the upwardly mobile white folks who rolled the Ventura Boulevard with their car tops down. A Valley girl was something Sandy was not cut out to be, and on her seventeenth birthday she left her mother and moved back to Los Angeles on her own. The move wasn't only because she hated the Valley. The fact that her mom's boyfriend kept sneaking into her bedroom at night had a lot to do with it too. Still, in her heart, Sandy was black and felt more comfortable being a part of the black culture. She wasn't country or rock and roll. She was hiphop smoothed out on the R&B tip. She was hot links and baked beans. She was Ebony magazine, forget Vogue and Cosmopolitan. She was black, through and through, only you couldn't tell that by looking at her. You could catch a glimpse of it when she spoke, though. Her speech was laden with the slang of the streets, the hip savings of the day, the "Yo, what's up's" and the "just chillin's." On more than one occasion Sandy had been accused of trying to act black or trying to talk black. But Sandy wasn't trying anything. She acted and talked the way she'd been taught. The way all the other kids spoke in the neighborhoods she grew up in. It wasn't an act to show how down she was. It was her true self. Straight, no chaser.
Sandy turned away from the reception desk and looked through the crowd of brown faces for one that seemed halfway polite. She sucked her teeth, knowing still that no one would even smile her way. Forget these broads, Sandy thought, and ran a hand through her long blond hair. She'd done that on purpose. If there was one thing she knew black women hated her for more than her skin, it was her hair. Yes, Sandy thought as she needlessly flung her hair from side to side. It's all mine, no weave, no chemicals, just mine. Long, naturally blond and manageable. Jealous? She smiled to herself as her audience turned up their noses and rolled their eyes. Well, fuck y'all too, Sandy thought, tiring of the silent treatment. She looked through the crowd of faces again and cleared her throat. "Is anybody running this place or am I standing here for my health?" she asked in her deepest, most aggravated voice.
Instead of an answer all she received were more intense stares. Stares that if audible would say, "No, she didn't," or "She's got her nerve."
Sandy sighed and put her hand on her hip in preparation to speak again, but this time with more fervor. Just then a door in the back of the room opened and out came Pat. She breezed through the shop and stopped at Zuma's hair station. "Remind me to order some more toilet paper from the warehouse tomorrow," she said hurriedly, wiping her damp hands on a paper towel. "Did you hear me, Zuma?" She asked, but got no response. She looked at Zuma carefully, then around the shop at the other patrons. "What's going on?" she said, then let the stares of everyone else point her in the right direction. "Oh, we've got another customer," Pat said and headed toward the reception desk. "Hi, what can I do for you," she said to Sandy with a big smile.
Just then the phone rang out and Pat bent herself over the desk to pick it up.
"Excuse me for a second," she said to Sandy as she put the phone to her ear.
Sandy waited patiently for Pat to finish her conversation. By that time most of the other women had ceased staring at her -- except for Zuma. Fed up, Sandy began to stare right back at her. The two locked eyes for what seemed to be hours, neither one of them wanting to blink or dare to be the one to look away first.
When Pat hung up the phone she placed her hand on Sandy's shoulder. "I'll be right with you in a minute, darling," she said, and rushed over to her hair station where she'd left her last client. Just then the phone rang out again and Pat pleaded for patience from her client and ran back to pick it up. She gave Sandy another "I'll be right with you," then put the phone to her ear and pulled out her appointment book. She made a notation, then hung up the phone, only to have it ring a split second later. She smiled regretfully at Sandy and picked up the phone again. "It's for you," she screamed to Faye and laid the phone on her shoulder.
Faye had already taken Loose Braids to her hair station and began unraveling her long, frazzled hair. "Take a message, please," she shouted back, too caught up in the business of hair to stop for the phone.
Pat did her duty, hung up the phone, then looked around the shop. It was almost ten o'clock and the place was still packed. Zuma had two heads left, Faye was working on her last, but that was a braid job and would take at least another two hours. And in addition, there was her own client she'd left at her own station. Pat's nerves were on the verge of exploding and when the phone rang out for the fourth time in less that two minutes she screamed. "What is this?" she shouted and snatched up the phone -- again.
Sandy continued to wait patiently as she glanced at Pat, watching her book another appointment and concluding that she liked the tall woman even though she did think she smiled just a bit too much. Anyone who smiled that much has got to be truly unhappy about something, Sandy thougth to herself. Still, her first impression of Pat was cool. As for the rest of them, she thought, and turned to face the others in the room -- they can all kiss my white, freckled behind.
She boldly stared over toward Zuma again and found her still staring back.
"So what were we talking about earlier?" Zuma said, obviously talking to Faye, but refusing to take her eyes off Sandy.
Faye looked over at Sandy with apprehension and squeaked out, "I don't remember."
"I do," Loose Braids said confidently. "We were talking about all those white women stealing our black men."
"Don't start any mess," Faye interceded, and gave Zuma a cautioning glare.
"The mess has been started already," Zuma said, still glaring at the white intruder. "All I'm saying is that if these white women weren't so conniving maybe the brothers would marry us."
"I heard that," Loose Braids said. "Have you seen the way white women throw themselves at our men? Pathetic."
"Mmm-hmm. They need to get their own men and stay away from ours."
"My mother always told my brother," Loose Braids added, "if she can't use your comb, don't bring her home."
That comment ignited a chuckle throughout the shop. Even the fair-minded Faye had to laugh, but just for a second. "That's enough, you guys," Faye said sternly. "Let's be nice," she said and smiled apologetically toward Sandy.
"Oh don't mind me," Sandy retorted confidently, then looked back at Zuma. "Maybe if the black man was being taken care of he wouldn't have to look outside his own kingdom for a good woman."
Oh. It was on then.
Zuma's month dropped wide open and again all eyes returned to the white girl with the attitude, and though no one said a direct word to her the comments were loud and clear. "That bitch gon' get her ass beat up in here," she heard someone say.
"Well, come on with it," Sandy said, too bold and too proud to hide behind a whisper.
Pat put down the phone and picked up on the taut strain lingering through the room again. "Something wrong?" she said, not knowing fully what was going on. Then she paused for a moment and it hit her. Pat shook her head, knowing this was a color thang and felt sorry for the black women who were so insecure with themselves that the mere presence of a white woman could put them on edge. She was too much of a Christian to be ruled by race. As far as she was concerned the white girl standing beside her was just as much her sister as the darkest woman in the room. After all, everyone is a child of God, Pat thought. Still, she knew she had to do something to break the ice. "I've got a joke for you all," she said as she stepped from behind the reception desk, oblivious to the sighs the other women blew out. "Why did Buckwheat wash his clothes in Tide?"
Faye, her partner in peacemaking, was the only one who was paying attention. "Why?"
"Because it was too cold to wash his clothes out-Tide. Get it? Out-Tide, outside?"
"Got it," Zuma huffed with a frown.
Pat's joke had not brought peace, but it did shift the waves. She glanced over toward Zuma, then to Sandy. "Okay," she said pleasantly. "What can I do for you? You need an appointment, hair, braids? How can I help you, honey?"
"Well, I -- "
"Excuse me again, sweetie," Pat said and reached for the phone for the umpteenth time. She told whoever it was to hold, then turned her attention back to Sandy. "Sorry about that. It's just that we're so busy around here."
"That's a good thing, ain't it?" Sandy said, and leaned her elbow on the reception desk.
"Yes, I guess it is. But no more interruptions. How can I help you?" Pat said and opened up her appointment book.
"Oh, I ain't here for no appointment," Sandy explained. "Actually, I wanted to know if you could use a little help around the shop."
Pat blinked her eyes rapidly. "Help, honey?"
"Yeah. I do nails," she said, and motioned towards the manicuring station. "I just got my license last week and I've been eyeing that Help Wanted sign on your front door for the past month, hoping it would still be there when I graduated."
"Is that right?" Pat said, obviously caught off guard. This was the last thing she'd expected the woman to say. She looked her over more carefully, examining the painfully high heels the woman wore, the extra tight leggings and the fitted T-shirt. She certainly didn't look like a manicurist, Pat thought. Then again, just what does a manicurist look like, she questioned herself. Then Pat looked down at the woman's hands and nearly squawked. Her nails were so chewed and battered that Pat could have sworn the woman used them to buff bricks. You call yourself a manicurist, Pat thought. Then almost as if psychic, the woman pulled out her graduation certificate from the Inglewood School of Beauty.
"Here you go," Sandy said and handed the certificate to Pat and watched as she looked it over. "I do it all. Acrylic, porcelain, pedicures -- the whole hook-up. I got my license right here at the beauty school on Broadway."
"Uh-huh," Pat said, bewildered, and as Sandy watched the confusion on Pat's face she became defensive.
"Uh-huh," Sandy mimicked. "What? Is there a problem?"
"No," Pat said, and plastered a smile onto her face.
"So what's the deal? I mean, don't you need help around here? Isn't that what you got that sign in the window for?"
"Well yes, but -- "
"But what? Is it because I'm white?" Sandy snapped, realizing that Pat was just like every other black woman she'd met. Prejudiced.
"Now hold on, honey. Don't start none, won't be none," Pat said with authority. "Your color has nothing to do with this. It's just that I wasn't prepared for this. Do you know it's almost ten o'clock at night? Most people who are serious about employment go job hunting in the daytime."
"Well, excuse me for having a three-year-old and a ten-month-old tolook after, okay. This was the only time I could get away. And what's the difference? The shop is still open."
Pat paused and smiled really hard. She wanted to be sure that this woman knew she was not trying to be unfair. It was just that she didn't know what to say. "I'm gonna have to give this some thought," she said as the woman eyed her suspiciously. "What's your name?"
"Sandy," she huffed. "Sandy Dew McReiney."
"What a pretty name," she said and offered her hand. "I'm Pat," she said as they touched palms. "As you can see," she said, and held out her other hand toward the group of ladies in the room, "I'm pretty swamped right now, so why don't you come back tomorrow morning before we get too busy and we can talk about this further."
Sandy curled her top lip and shifted all her weight to one leg. "Come back, huh?"
"I'm not brushing you off, honey. just come back in the morning when I'll have some time to really consider this. Can you do that?"
"Yeah, I can do that. If you're on the real."
Pat glanced over at Zuma, wishing she had her there to interpret for her. But after a slight pondering she realized on the real must mean truthful. "Yes I am," Pat said, so happy she'd gotten it. "I'll see you tomorrow," she said, and tapped Sandy's shoulder.
"Peace," Sandy said as she backed her way to the door. She gave Zuma one last stare, then swung her long blond hair and went on her way.
"Good riddance," Zuma shouted as the door closed. "What the hell did she want anyway?"
"Mind your own business," Pat said as she headed back to her hair station, still looking over Sandy's manicurist certificate. "We'll talk later."
"Mmm-hmm," Zuma said as she eyed Pat like a hawk. "We'll talk all right."
***
It was a quarter to midnight when Faye closed the door behind the shop's last customer and locked it. Pat sat behind the reception desk, counting the day's receipts and recording them on the finance page of her day book. Zuma stood beside the shop's window peering out into the black night, rubbing her hands through a thick pink solution, trying to get off the burgundy cellophane she'd applied to her last customer's hair. It had been a long day for all the ladies and in less than seven hours they'd all have to start over again.
"What time's my first appointment?" Zuma asked Pat as she walked over to the reception desk.
Pat moved her day book aside and opened the appointment book to Saturday. "You've got a seven-thirty relaxer touch-up and an eight o'clock press and curl. Then at nine-fifteen -- "
"Okay, okay," Zuma said, holding up a hand and letting out a sigh.
"What about me?" Faye asked and joined the girls.
"You've got an eight o'clock, but she wants tiny, individual braids so you know what that means."
"Six hours if I'm lucky."
"Yep," Pat said, and slid her finger down the page of the book. "Then at three, you've got a weave, and at five you've got -- "
"I know. Another weave."
"That's right," Pat said as she moved her finger across the page to check on her own schedule. She found that she had a seven-thirty blow and curl, an eight-thirty virgin relaxer, a nine-fifteen finger wave, and oh, she thought and slammed the book shut. What a long day laid ahead of her. She always knew that her business would be a success, but she had never imagined it to this degree. Over the past three years, the shop had taken over her life. Not that she had much of a life before. It was just she and her husband, and to be totally honest, with the problems their relationship had been going through lately, it was better for her to stay busy at work than to go home and deal with him.
Still, she wished she had more time on her hands to spend doing the things she'd like to do -- like sleep, or watch a movie, read a book, or her most favorite pastime of all -- doing absolutely nothing. But time was a luxury for her at this point in her life and she could do little to change that fact. Unless, she thought as she sat behind her desk and leaned back into her chair. Unless...
"What you over there daydreaming about?" Zuma asked, heading back to her hair station to straighten up her counter.
Pat got up from her seat and walked to the middle of the shop to face Zuma. She beckoned for Faye, who was busy gathering up long pieces of hair extensions, to stop what she was doing. "I've got a question for you both," she said to the ladies, and put a finger to the side of her cheek. "You remember that girl who stopped by tonight?"
"The white girl?" Faye asked, laying her extensions across the back of a chair.
Zuma curled up her lip. "What about her?"
"Well," Pat started and began to pace the floor. "She was looking for a job and I was figuring -- "
"Oh hell no," Zuma interrupted. She plopped her hair bag down in a chair. "She ain't working off in here. No, no. I don't like her attitude."
"You don't even know the girl," Faye said, and crossed the floor to Zuma's station.
"I may not know her name, but I know her game."
"Zuma."
"Faye," she mocked back.
"Ladies!" Pat said, stopping it before it could get started. "I think we could use the help. It doesn't make any sense for us to still be in this shop at midnight. We need someone to pick up the slack."
"Well, is she qualified?" Faye asked.
"She just graduated with a manicurist's license. I was thinking she could start off with nails, then help out with washing and conditioning. Doesn't take too much expertise to wash someone's hair."
"I don't need no help," Zuma huffed.
"You're slower than a crippled snail, Zuma," Faye said, then looked around the shop. "I know I could use someone to help me take down braids."
"And she could help out with the phones and booking appointments too," Pat said and put her hands on her hips, satisfied with the way things were coming together in her head.
"I don't like her," Zuma snapped, and continued clearing off her counter. "She's got too much attitude for me."
"Look who's talking," Faye said, and laughed.
"Well, there can only be one diva around this joint, and I've already claimed that title."
"Well, there is only one owner of this joint," Faye said as she went back to arranging her hair extensions. "It's your decision, Pat."
"I know," Pat said. She walked over to Zuma and put her hand on her shoulder as a gesture of peace. "I told the girl to come back tomorrow so I'd have time to think things over."
"Hmm." Zuma moaned. "I hope you make the right decision."
"Oh, Zuma," Faye grunted. "You don't like her just because she's white. I swear you are the most racist person I've ever seen in all my days."
"I am not racist," Zuma quipped. "I am pro-black. There's a difference."
"Oh really?"
"Yes, really."
"Whatever."
"Whatever back to you."
"Fine."
"Good."
"Perfect."
"Excellent."
"Stop it!" Pat shouted and turned to walk back to the reception desk.
"But -- " Zuma said, only to be stopped.
"Zip it. Button it. Lock it, and throw away the key," Pat insisted as she sat down behind the desk, missing the snarl Zuma pitched in her direction.
Faye took a bundle of weaving hair, tied it in a knot, and placed it back into its package. Then she picked up her old battered satchel and tossed the hair inside with the rest of the unused fake locks and moved it to the side. She gathered up a collection of magazines her clients had left at her hair station and took them back to the magazine rack near the sofa. As she put them down she peered at the crumpled magazine on top and shook her head. "That poor baby," she said, eyeing the cover of the National Enquirer with grief.
"What you boo-hooing about over there?" Zuma asked. "The little girl in Colorado. You know, the beauty queen. What a shame," she said staring at the sweet face on the wrinkled paper.
"Oh yeah, what's her name? Janet, Jesse?" she asked as she walked closer to Faye.
"JonBenet Ramsey," Faye said and turned the National Enquirer around to show Zuma the picture.
"Fuck that little white girl," Zuma said and snatched the paper from Faye's hand.
Faye gasped at Zuma and snatched the paper back. "What are you talking about? This is a tragedy. That girl was only eight years old when somebody raped and killed her."
"Fuck her!" Zuma said, raising her voice.
"You've got a problem," Faye said, disgusted with Zuma's attitude.
"Girl, this stuff happens every day in the black community and nobody gives a motherfuck," Zuma spit out. "But just because this girl was white and rich she's getting all this national coverage. How come they didn't make a big to-do about that little baby in Compton who got shot playing in its front yard last week? Huh? I'll tell you why, because the baby was black. And what about that child out there in Chicago, uh, uh...Baby X?" she said, snapping her fingers. "Why didn't that get national attention? Because nobody cares when a black child dies, that's why. But let a little white baby bite it and the whole fucking world goes crazy."
"There you go with that black, white mess again. You need to get over it, Zuma. Every life is a sacred life."
"Except when you're black," Zuma retorted as she sprayed Windex on her station's mirror and went at it with a paper towel. "Black babies are dying around here left and right, and nobody gives a damn. Fuck 'em. Just let 'em die. They weren't going to be anything anyway."
"Well, it's the black people who are killing the black children, Zuma. They are dying because of gangs and drug dealing. Black-on-black crime, Zuma. That's what's going on."
"You don't have to preach to me," Zuma said, with an innocent air. "I know the deal. But let me ask you this. If white kids were killing each other through gangs or drugs, do you think this government would let that go on?"
"I -- "
"Hell no," Zuma shouted. "The president would be on the TV every day. Drugs would be off the streets. Guns would be gone."
"Whatever, Zuma," Faye sighed. "It's too late at night to be politicizing."
"Cause you know I'm right."
"Fine," Faye said, waving her off.
"Yeah, fine."
"Great."
"Wonderful."
"Oh mi cabeza."
"Don't start that Spanish shit."
"Pat, would you please tell Zuma to be quiet, por favor," Faye said as she plopped down in her seat and massaged the sides of her head. When she got no answer from Pat, she turned around to see what was going on.
Pat had long since removed herself from Faye and Zuma's discussion. She couldn't bare the topic. Faye and Zuma gave each other a look and decided it was time to shut up for real. They both busied themselves with their preparations to leave, both knowing that they had slipped into a discussion that was too much for Pat to deal with. Pat never joined in on discussions about children. The topic only bought her sadness.
Children were the one thing missing in Pat's life. She had everything else. A loving husband, a beautiful home, her own business. But the one thing she wanted the most was the one thing that she had been denied.When she and her husband married ten years ago, the first thing she had done was toss out her birth control pills. She'd expected to be pregnant within months, but after two years of trying she'd gotten no results. Next came a visit to her doctor, then tests and more tests, then a diagnosis. Pat was infertile.
When Pat first learned of her infertiliy she became so despondent that for a while her husband had seriously considered checking her into a psychiatric hospital. To say she was depressed was an understatement. Pat had felt so low that she could not see herself up. Her husband had tried to comfort her, but there was no way he could. He didn't understand what she felt. She couldn't explain it. She was barren. She felt less than a woman, less than a human being. She had all the parts God had given her, they were all in the right places, but they would not, could not do their jobs. Not being able to have a baby was like having nineteen dollars in the bank and trying to use the ATM machine. It was so frustrating that at times Pat would get so angry that she'd beat the walls until the angst inside subsided, leaving only an empty feeling so hollow that Pat thought she'd never be able to be happy again.
It wasn't until Pat's husband bought her the beauty shop that Pat began to come alive again. The shop had given her an outlet, a place to pour her attention, a project to fill her mind. It was just the gift she needed. He'd do anything to save his wife from the terrifying depression he'd watched slowly take her over. Still, to this day the relationship between Pat and Mark had never returned to the way it had been when they first got married, and to be honest the blame lay mostly on the shoulders of Pat. She knew Mark loved and supported her in everything she did, still somehow she felt unworthy of that love. Unworthy of him. Instead of moving closer to her husband in her time of pain and need, Pat began to push him away. It wasn't that she blamed him for the fact that she couldn't have a baby. His sperm were fine. It was Pat who had the problem. Still, it was her husband, the closest person to her, who bore the brunt of her discontent.
Of the three ladies, only Faye had been blessed with children. Zuma was nearing the age of thirty and was still without a child, but unlike Pat, all of Zuma's parts were in working condition. The only reason she had no children was because she couldn't find the proper father to impregnate her. For her, too, children were the only thing missing in her life. She had been wanting a child ever since she was twenty-one years old, but she wanted to do it the right way. She'd seen too many women in her lifetime, fooling around with loser after loser, only to wind up pregnant and be left alone to raise the child as a single mother. She didn't want that for herself. She wanted a husband, a man who could support her and her baby. But after years of searching for Mr. Right, she'd come up empty.
Still, her desire for a child was strong and five years ago she decided it was time to stop waiting for a man to come into her life and give her the things she needed. Zuma planned to be pregnant by the time she turned thirty. It was a goal she'd set for herself five years ago and with her thirtieth birthday less than a month away she was right on schedule. Zuma had a master plan and she was working it to her advantage. She knew what she was doing and one day very soon she'd have a child. A child that would take away the pain of the secret she'd been keeping for so many years.
"It's time for me to get outta here," Zuma said, and flung her hair bag over her shoulder.
"I'm outta here too," Faye added, and did the same.
Pat grabbed her purse from underneath the reception desk and sat it on top. She searched it for her car keys and pulled them out just as Faye walked up and grabbed the phone from beside her.
"Come on, Faye," Zuma shouted as she waited at the front door for the other ladies. It was Faye's paranoid insistence that they all walk out together for safety reasons, yet she was holding everyone up. "Who you calling anyway? You ain't got no man."
"Besa mi culo, brrruja," Faye wanted to shout. But telling Zuma to kiss her ass was too unkind, so she ignored her pest and waited for someone to pick up at her home. She wanted to remind her older daughter to unlock the top latch on the front door so that she could get in, but when the phone picked up on the other end, it was not her daughter's voice who greeted her.
"Hello," the voice squeaked playfully.
"Christopher," Faye said. "What are you still doing up?"
"Nothing."
"Boy, it's midnight. You know you ought to be in bed. I told Antoinette you were to be asleep by nine o clock," Faye huffed and pursed her lips together. "Put that girl on the phone."
"She's not here, Mami."
Instantly, Faye panicked. "She's not what?"
"She's been gone since the Power Rangers went off TV. But I've been a good boy, Mami. I've been taking care of myself," Faye's son said with pride. "I'm hungry, though," he whimpered. "I tried to reach the raviolis in the cabinet, but I fell off the chair."
"Oh Dios," Faye said quickly and put her hand over her eyes. "Are you all right, mijo? Did you hurt yourself?"
"Unh-unh."
"All right, baby. I'm on my way. Are the doors locked, the windows closed?"
"Yep."
"All right. I'm coming home," Faye said, and slammed down the phone as tears of frustration welled tip in her eyes. "I'm gonna skin that girl alive," she shouted and rushed as quickly as her thick legs would let her. Her sixteen-year-old daughter had left her six-year-old son at home by himself. Again.
"Let's go," she shouted to Pat and Zuma as she walked out the door, mumbling to herself.
Pat and Zuma gave each other a look, knowing by now that the only time Faye got upset was when her daughter screwed up. Pat flipped off the lights and walked out behind Zuma, then locked the door.
"Another day come and gone," Zuma said, and walked into the parking lot beside Pat as they both watched Faye slam the door of her car and speed off.
"Yes," Pat said, as she stuck her key in the car door. "And what a blessed day it was."

Copyright © 1998 by Sheneska Jackson

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

In this life there are mysteries that will never be fully understood by mere mortals. Questions that when pondered extensively can leave the average human psyche in such a state of disarray that normal brain activity stalls, leaving the ponderer of such questions wallowing in a mass of confusion, aimlessly searching for the unknown, and ultimately leading to a state of mental chaos and cerebral shut-down. Unfortunately, as we all know, there are some questions that are better left unanswered. Questions such as Does God really exist? Is there life after death? Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

Indeed these questions can certainly leave one's mind hopelessly frazzled and disheveled. But there is an even larger question at hand today. A mystery that has eluded the genius of scholars, scientists, and political pundits alike. A question that has dogged the earth for hundreds of years, and even to this day we are nowhere near a breakthrough in this timeless riddle. The question is a serious one. The question is mind boggling. The question is this: Why? For the love of God! Why does it take so long for a woman to get her hair done at the beauty shop?

Many have tried to unravel this mystery, but none have succeeded. Some of the theories to explain this phenomenon include tardiness on the part of the client, overbooking of appointments, and a general lackadaisical attitude on the part of the beautician. Still, the answer to this question has escaped us. We may never get to the bottom of this dilemma, but if we are truly committed to bringing about change we must first tackle the obvious, most irritating, and most unscrupulous element of ttuck the comb into her client's hair. She turned to face Faye head-on and put her hands on her hips. "What did we win?" she asked, flinging her hand through the air. "I have yet to see my O.J. prize, honey. Please. We won?" She sucked her teeth. "I've just about had it up to here with everybody assuming that all black people think O.J. Simpson is innocent. Unh-uh, not me. I know he did it. He did it. He did it. He did it!"

"Well, you weren't looking too unhappy when the verdicts came down," Faye reminded Zuma and raised her hand in the air, rationally. "You were sitting right here in this shop jumping up and down with everybody else when we found out O.J. had been set free."

"Hell yeah, I was jumping up and down. But I wasn't jumping for O.J.," she said, and smirked. "I was jumping for Johnnie Cochran. Now that's one bad man. People may not like his tactics, but he was just doing what any other good attorney is supposed to do -- support his client at all costs and win. Shoot, Johnnie Cochran is a damn hero and if he had been white, people would have been begging for him to run for president by now," she said, and pointed a finger for emphasis. "Shit, Johnnie Cochran is the man, but O.J.?" she said, and curled her lips. "Fuck O.J."

"Zuma," Faye said, wincing at her use of foul language.

"Faye," Zuma said, not giving a damn.

"Well, I still don't think he did it. He may know who did it. But he didn't do it himself"

"Hell yeah, he knows who did it. He did it!"

"A man like that cannot kill two people. It's physically impossible," Faye rationalized. "How is O.J. going to kill two people with one knife? I mean, what was the second person doing while O.J. was stabbing the first? Waiting in line talking about, 'Cut me next, O.J. Cut me'?" Faye paused, surprised by the laughter that statement had generated, but she wasn't trying to be funny. "No," she continued. "There's no way a man like that call kill two people."

"A man like that? A man like what?"

"A rich black man like O.J. Simpson has no reason to be killing anybody. O.J. Simpson is black and any black man going up against this racist judicial system in America has got my support."

"O.J. Simpson ain't black. He ain't nothing but another rich, stuck-up white boy. He ain't never used none of his money to help out black folk," she said, and pointed at Faye. "When have you ever heard about O.J. doing something to help out the black community?" she said, and waited briefly for a response, but Faye was dumbfounded. "O.J. hasn't done shit for me," Zuma said with fire. "Shoot. Where was some O.J. when I was in need? Where was some O.J. when my car was being repossessed? Hell, where was some O.J. when my broke ass couldn't pay my light bill last week? Shoot, support O.J? O.J. can kiss my black ass. And I mean that. Shiiit."

***

It had been two years since the verdicts had come down in the O.J. Simpson trial, but the Juice was still a hot topic at Blessings. Blessings was the spot, the place where everybody came for a little pleasant conversation.Never mind that Blessings was a beauty shop. The way people ranted and raved throughout the place, it could easily have been mistaken for a town hall meeting arena. While women with nappy heads waited patiently on the faux leather sofa for hours and sisters with half-wet locks ben t over shampoo bowls scratching their dandruff, the conversation between the two beauticians brewed on. Once again the subject had turned to the Juice, and as usual, the conversation was heated. So heated, that even the time-conscious clients had to get in on it.

***

"I know one thing," the lady with blond-streaked hair yelled as she poked her head from beneath the dryer. "If nothing at all, O.J. Simpson is a wife beater. Y'all saw those pictures of Nicole. She didn't beat herself up," she said, then slammed the lid of the dryer back over her head.

"O.J. said he never hit that woman and I believe him," a lady with a head full of loose braids said as she sat in the corner of the faux leather sofa. Her words seemed to ignite the blond-streaked lady's nerves as she poked her head from beneath the dryer again.

"Y'all kill me," she shouted over the rumblings of the old machine she sat underneath. "You women support O.J. like he was some sorta god." She looked sideways toward the lady sitting under the dryer next to her. "I know some of y'all have had your butts beaten by a black man," she said and squinted her eyes at her neighbor, "so don't tell me that O.J. isn't capable of beating his wife. I don't care how rich he is or was, he's still a wife beater."

The lady sitting next to her gasped as she rolled her eyes and pulled her skirt tail down to hide the black-and-blue bruise that stained her round thigh. She crossed her legs and hoped the conversation would end. But it didn't.

"O.J. was framed," another lady called out from the shampoo bowl. Her brown locks were covered in conditioner and as she lifted her head from the bowl, water dripped down the sides of her face. "Those crooked, racist cops set O.J. up. It was a C-O-N-spiracy."

The woman with the loose braids jumped in again. "That's right. That damn Mark Fuhrman ain't no good. This whole thing was a setup from the get-go," she said, scooping a handful of braids out of her face. "Did you hear those tapes he made? Nigger, nigger, nigger. He didn't have no business being on the police force, let alone being a part of the trial."

The blond-streaked lady had nothing to say about that so she just pulled down the lid of her dryer and sat back. But that didn't end the conversation. Another woman with a head of freshly blow-dried hair slammed the Essence magazine she'd been reading onto the counter in front of her. As she turned around to confront the lady with the loose braids her long hair whipped across her face just like one of those girls in the shampoo commercials on TV. "Now, I'm not trying to defend Mark Fuhrman, but the man was a cop. He was just doing his job. So what if he said all that mess on those tapes? That don't mean he framed O.J. Simpson."

"Fuhrman is a red-necked racist. Anybody who could talk about black people the way he did is capable of anything."

"Oh," Shampoo Commercial said. "And I guess you've never uttered a racist word in your whole entire life, huh?" She swung her head around to confront the lady at the shampoo bowl. "I was in here last week when you walked in here bitching and complaining about the Beaner who cut you off and almost made you crash into a tree. Now, does that make you racist against all Hispanic people?"

The lady at the shampoo bowl stuttered and wrapped the white towel that was around her neck over her damp hair as she sat back and shut up.

"And you," Shampoo Comme rcial said, turning to the woman with loose braids again, her hair whipping through the air. "Remember last month when we were in here talking about the civil rights movement? You said all white people are devils and that you wouldn't care if they all disappeared off the face of the earth." She tilted her head to the side. "Does that make you a racist? Just because you said those words, does that mean you're capable of framing somebody just because they are white?"

The blond-streaked lady realized Shampoo Commercial was on her side and regained enough confidence to poke her head from beneath the dryer again. "I said it before and I'll say it again -- O. J. Simpson is guilty as sin," she chanted like a cheerleader and gave a thumbs-up to Shampoo Commercial. "We've got a killer on the streets," she said as she lost her grip on the dryer's lid and it smacked her on top of her head. She winced, but didn't lose a beat. "And another thing," she said as the dryer's automatic timer buzzed. "That stupid jury in the criminal trial ought to be shamed of themselves."

The bruised woman sitting under the dryer next to her gasped again, but this time she pulled the lid of the dryer from over her head and turned right around to face her opponent. "I've been silent long enough," she said, and pulled her skirt tail down again to hide the black-and-blue mark on her thigh. "Don't go blaming those black people on that jury. They did their jobs. It's not their fault that the prosecution couldn't prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt."

Shampoo Commercial stood up from her seat to walk over to the hair dryer section so she could get in on this phase of the conversation. "No," she said defiantly, "those jurors did not do their jobs."

"Oh yes they did," Loose Braids said as she too walked over to the dryer section. "Those folks ought to be commended. They were locked tip for almost a damn year. Away from their families and everything."

"Hell, I should be so lucky," Blond Streaked interrupted. "I've been looking for an excuse to get away from my family for years." She and Shampoo Commercial chuckled over that. But Loose Braids and the bruised woman were not in the mood for laughing.

"I get so tired of people coming down on that jury." Loose Braids sighed. "Just because they were black and happened to come back with a not guilty verdict, everybody wants to call them stupid. As if a black jury isn't fit to handle a case like this." Bruised nodded as Loose Braids continued. "That black jury made the right decision," she said and pointed directly at the blond-streaked woman. "O.J. Simpson is innocent."

"First of all," Blond Streaked said as she removed the dryer from above her head and stood to her feet. She was all of five foot nothing, but as she looked up at Loose Braids her stance was like that of a giant. "You best get your finger out of my face," she said, eyeing Loose Braids until the finger she pointed had eased its way down. "And second of all, I call those black jurors stupid because they are. They did not do their fucking jobs. They listened to over nine months of testimony and reached their verdict in three hours? Ain't no way in the world you can call that doing your job. They were supposed to deliberate. Have you ever looked up the word deliberate in the dictionary?"

Shampoo Commercial took over from there. "Deliberate means to slowly and methodically come to a decision," she s aid, moving closer to Loose Braids and speaking as if she were talking to a two-year-old. "Deliberate means to weigh all the evidence. To consider it carefully. How could that jury consider nine months' worth of testimony in three hours? They did not do their jobs," she said, stressing each and every word of her final sentence.

"Yes they did!" Bruised shouted and pushed the dryer lid away from her head again.

"No they didn't!" Blond Streaked and Shampoo Commercial said in unison.

"Yes they did!" Loose Braids groaned.

"No they -- "

"Hey, hey, hey!" a voice shouted from the other side of the shop, forcing the debaters to pause. They all caught their collective breaths as they turned to catch a glimpse of the woman walking their way. "What in the world is going on over here?" the tall, pristine woman asked as she moved between the feuding ladies. She graced the debaters with a smile so pleasant that they all began to feel a bit awkward about the way they had let their conversation get out of hand.

"Sorry," Loose Braids said as she slowly walked back to the sofa and took a seat. "I guess we got a bit too caught up in our conversation."

"Sorry," Blond Streaked said as she sat back down beneath the hair dryer next to Bruised.

"Yeah, I'm sorry too," Shampoo Commercial said as she headed back to her chair and picked up her Essence magazine. "We didn't mean to get so loud. It's just that some people have some very screwed-up ways of thinking."

"Excuse me?" Bruised said and raised an eyebrow.

"Now, now, ladies," the tall woman said calmly yet authoritatively.

"Sorry," Bruised said and faked a smile toward Shampoo Commercial. "I guess you're right. I mean you o ught to know with that big ass bowling ball you call a head. With a dome that big I guess you're qualified to think for all of us."

Loose Braids snickered as Shampoo Commercial rolled her eyes, but before another word could be uttered, the tall lady with the soothing smile spoke up. "Everybody just calm down," she said. "This is a beauty shop, not a battlefield," she scolded, and frowned for a second. She looked over her shoulder at Faye and Zuma and squinted her eyes at her fellow beauticians. "See what you guys started?" she said as both Faye and Zuma shrugged their shoulders and smirked. The tall woman looked around the shop at all the disgruntled customers and realized she had to do something quick. Unhappy customers were definitely bad for business. "Hey," she said, clapping her hands together and flashing her smile around to all the ladies. "I've got a joke," she announced, then took a deep gulp before she continued.

Faye and Zuma shot each other a look, but that didn't stop the jokester from putting on her show. "Okay," she said, grinning. "Here we go....What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhinoceros?"

Faye and Zuma rolled their eyes and sighed. The disgruntled debaters didn't even raise an eyebrow as they looked curiously at one another.

"Okay, we give up," Zuma squawked as she walked behind the client sitting at her hair station and waited for the punch line.

"Elephino!" the tall jokester said and grinned. "Get it? Hell if I know...Ele-phi-no... Hell if I know!...Get it?"

They didn't.

Still everyone gave her a polite chuckle, which was all the tall woman needed to feel satisfied. She stood in the middle of the shop and smiled to herself. Once again she had brought order back to the chaotic shop. So what if no one understood her joke. No one ever understood her jokes. The point was that she had returned the atmosphere back to its proper state of bliss. Keeping the peace was her duty. She owned the place. Her name was Patricia Brown.

Pat looked around at the shop she'd owned now for five years and decided to pick up a broom. The floor was covered in matted, dirty hair from a previous client who had her shoulder-length coif chopped off to a chin-length bob. She sighed as she swept through the shop, smiling at the customers who politely moved their feet out of the way for her. It was Friday evening and as usual the place was packed with women looking to get "did up" for the weekend. She was proud of her shop and the women who frequented it. Be they businesswomen who came in every week to keep up their professional appearances, broke women who had scraped together just enough money minus a tip for the occasional splurge, or the teenage ghetto fabulous girls who'd conned their boyfriends into giving them some cash to get their hair did. The nature of the client didn't matter to Pat. She loved them all.

Pat didn't see hair styling as a form of retail beauty. She saw it as a form of therapy. She was often amazed at what a good hairstyle could do for a person's self-esteem. It was almost miraculous. She'd named her shop Blessings, because that's what she wanted to create. She and the two other women who worked with her could take any average-looking woman off the streets and turn her into a diva with the flip of a hot comb. They were practically miracle workers. Hooking up hair was the ultimate blessing, Pat thought, and one of the easiest ways to make women feel better about themselves.

As she glided her broom across the floor toward the bathroom, Pat stopped for a minute and stuck her head in to take a peek at herself in the mirror. She ran her hand over her freshly styled hair that Zuma had trimmed for her earlier that day. She tucked a single curlicue that Zuma had left dangling over her eye behind her ear and smoothed it down. Zuma was always trying to give Pat's hair a bit of pizzazz, but pizzazz wasn't Pat's style. She was the conservative type. A prim and proper Christian woman whose only vice was her penchant for telling an occasional dirty joke. Pat was tall and slender with an understated beauty that didn't need to be beefed up with silly fashion fads or here-today-gone-tomorrow hairdos. Pat was content with herself and happy, and as she gave herself a final once-over in the mirror, she plastered the smile back onto her face, looked over her shoulder at the fully crowded shop, then continued sweeping.

When she had finally gathered up all the hair with the dustpan and trashed it, she sat down in a chair in the back of the shop and let out a sigh of relief as she gazed around. This was the first time Pat had been off her feet all day, and even though she still had a slew of heads to finish, she couldn't resist stealing a couple minutes of solitary relaxation. She glanced at her friends, Faye and Zuma, as they worked feverishly on their clients' heads. It was already getting dark outside and still her shop was packed with people. She knew she wouldn't get home before midnight tonight, but that was the norm on Fridays. She always kept the shop open late on the weekends to meet the demands of her ever-increasing clientele. Fridays a nd Saturdays were the days her shop made the most money and although the weekend was always hectic, she performed her duties with great pride. Yes, she was overworked, but that was a price she was willing to pay for success. More than anything, Pat was proud. Blessings was her baby. Her very own beauty shop. Her very own business. Her husband had bought the shop for her, but she had made it her own. Not only was she a wife, she was an entrepreneur now, and her life had taken on new meaning. And that was a blessing in and of itself.

To outsiders looking in, Pat had the perfect relationship with her man. He was rich by black folks' standards, meaning he owned a home, had a nice car, good job, and no apparent addictions. He loved Pat to death and gave her everything she ever wanted. But there was one thing that Pat's husband could not give her. He was a good man, but he wasn't God. He couldn't part the seas, turn water into wine, or heal the sick. So for now Pat had to make the most of the things her husband did give her, the most important thing in her life -- her beauty shop.

Blessings was located in Inglewood, California, a small, predominantly black area of Los Angeles that for the most part was considered a prettygood city. It wasn't as ritzy as West Los Angeles, but it didn't have the negative reputation of South Central even though it was only a stone's throw away. Inglewood was the perfect location to start up a small black business, but it was obvious to Pat when she first began looking for a location for her shop that she wasn't the only one who thought like that. There were so many other beauty shops in the area that Pat had been cautious about opening another right in the midst of all t he competition. But Pat knew one thing. Black women like to look cute. Black women spend more money on hair, clothes, and entertainment than any other race of people. A black woman could have a refrigerator with nothing in it but a bag of bread, but if it came down to getting her hair done or going grocery shopping...well, let's just say she'd be eating wish sandwiches until her next paycheck.

With that in mind, Pat decided to go ahead and open her shop in Inglewood despite the competition and because she didn't want to work too far away from her home in Ladera Heights, the black Beverly Hills. Driving was not one of Pat's favorite things to do and with Inglewood being the next city over, she decided to throw caution to the wind and go with her instincts. Besides, Pat had a plan to get over on all the other beauty salons in the Inglewood area. It was a gimmick, she knew, still she gave it her best shot. Her plan? To post a sign right in the front of the shop's window that was sure to get everyone's attention. The sign was simple and to the point: Get your hair done in two hours or less or the service is free -- Guaranteed.

Needless to say, with the wait at most other salons in the area being upwards of three hours, Pat's sign attracted a huge amount of attention and gave her the leg up on the competition that she needed. Still, the gimmick only worked for a couple of months. The first weeks were wonderful. The sign caught the eyes of many women and clients began to trickle in slowly but surely. But by the second month, the darn sign began to work too well and soon Blessings was filled to the brim with so many clients that there was no way possible for Pat to keep her guarantee. There was no way she could get to all her customers in less than two hours working by herself.

She thought she had found the answer to the problem when she hired a part-time shampoo girl to help her out for a while. But even the two of them working together was not enough of a solution and on several occasions Pat found herself doing more heads for free than she could afford. Needless to say, the sign had to come down and with no gimmick, Blessings became just another run-of-the-mill beauty salon in an area already congested with too many. A few die-hard clients who were pleased with the way Pat handled their hair stayed with her, but most of the clients dwindled away, especially after a shop named Off the Hook Hair opened up lust two blocks away. Off the Hook Hair specialized in all the latest hair designs, and though Pat did consider herself to be an okay beautician, especially considering the fact that she'd only had her license for less than a year, she knew she could never compete with the stylists Off the Hook Hair had to offer. So, slowly but surely, Pat's business began to go under.

That first year Blessings was in business was a nightmare that Pat would certainly rather forget, she thought to herself as she stretched out her legs in the back of the shop. Looking around the shop now, though, it was hard to believe that Blessings had almost gone out of business in that first year. Now Blessings was considered one of the best hair salons in the city. People came from as far away as the San Fernando Valley to get their hair done at Pat's shop and business was, as they say, booming. Of course the days of the two-hour guarantee were long gone. Now if you come into Blessings by ten, you're lucky to get out by five -- on a good day. It was just one of those things. No one knows why it takes so long to get their hair done, they just accept it. They make a day out of it. And knowing that it can be rather taxing sometimes to wait over four hours to get one's hair done, Pat figured she could at least give the women who came to her shop a relaxing atmosphere. From the outside, Blessings looked like any other beauty shop. The two huge windows in front were trimmed in pink and stenciled with prices and advertising specials as well as a big, black woman with a full head of crimson hair and of course a large pink neon sign that blinked "Blessings." But inside, Blessings had all the comforts of home. There was a big-screen television complete with VCR, a sound system, a mini refrigerator and microwave oven for those who brought in food, a nice comfortable sofa, and mounds and mounds of magazines to distract the clients from their long wait. The shop was relatively small with only three hair stations, two shampoo bowls, two hair dryer seats, and one newly purchased manicuring station that Pat had bought last month because she wanted to expand. Just last week, she'd had the painters out restenciling the front window from Blessings Hair Salon to Blessings Hair and Nails. And it wouldn't stop there. Pat had even bigger plans for expansion. Soon she'd add on waxing and massaging, and as soon as the renters next door decide to shut down their fledgling hardware store, she planned on purchasing it too, knocking out the wall that separated the two suites and adding on an aerobics studio. But those plans would have to wait for a year or three. Right now, hair and nails were all Pat could handle.

With the addition o f the manicuring station, Pat had plans of going back to beauty school to get the manicuring license. She hadn't planned on doing nails herself, but since the red and white Help Wanted sign that hung on the front door hadn't been answered she really had no choice. Pat had it hard enough doing hair alone and adding manicurist to her title was not a welcome designation for her. But she had gone ahead and purchased the manicure station and she couldn't let it go to waste. So on top of doing hair, booking appointments, greeting customers, answering phones, keeping the place clean, and managing the books, Pat would soon be taking on even more responsibility. But Pat wouldn't complain. No, no. She'd do whatever it took to make her business the best it could be. Blessings was her baby and she would never let it go under. She remembered how awful she felt that first year of business when the lack of clientele almost forced her to close down her shop. The thought of losing what she'd worked so hard to create was almost too painful to remember. But that was a very long time ago, Pat assured herself as she got up from her seat in the back of the room and walked up front toward her hair station. She beckoned her blond-streaked client to join her and as she watched her scramble from beneath the hair dryer she pasted on a smile and tapped the seat of her chair. "Come on, darling," she said to her client as she watched her sit down in front of her. She placed her foot on the lever at the bottom of the seat and pumped four times until her client was elevated to the proper height. "Spirals or an up-do?" Pat asked as her client gave her a perplexed look. "Spirals," Pat decided and plugged in her curling wand. Pat too k in a deep sigh as she combed through her client's hair and waited for the wand to heat up. She looked around the shop, knowing it would be hours before she could get off her feet again, but still she didn't complain. She'd take a jam-packed salon over an empty one any day. She'd seen her share of empty seats that first year of business and she vowed never to go through that experience again. And as long as she had her secret weapon she never would. Pat's secret weapon would keep her in business for the rest of her life. That secret weapon went by the name of Zuma, Pat thought to herself as she shot her friend a quick glance. Blessings wouldn't be half the shop it was today if it weren't for Zuma. Zuma was the diva of all hair stylists in the L.A. area. Pat knew it, the customers knew it, and you better believe Zuma knew it too.

"Flip on the radio," Zuma yelled to Pat without even looking in her direction. And, like an obedient pet, Pat obliged.

Those who didn't know Zuma would swear she was the bossiest bitch they'd ever met. But that was just Zuma's way. The "please" in the statement was an understood thing that didn't need to be said. Sort of like the silent g in the word fight.

When Pat hit the radio switch, a smooth jazzy beat rolled through the air, and as if stung by a bee, Zuma paused dramatically and stared at Pat as if she'd just seen a ghost.

"What?" Pat exclaimed as she returned to her hair station and returned Zuma's glare.

"Aw shit," Zuma said, closing her eyes.

"What!" Pat said nervously watching Zuma and wondering if she was about to have some sort of physical breakdown.

"That's my jam!" Zuma shouted and finally snapped her fingers and bobbed her h ead to the beat of the music. "That's that Erykah Badu cut," she said, and nudged her client, who could care less. Her client had been in the shop now for four hours and all she wanted Zuma to do was fix her hair so she could get the hell out of there and go home. Damn Erik Dubois or whoever the hell that was on the radio.

Though Zuma's client was nearing her pissed-off point, Zuma didn't pay her any attention. "Oh on and on and on and on," she sang and danced her way over to Pat. Zuma knew Pat wasn't a fan of hip-hop, but she had at least gotten her older pal to respect Erykah Badu's music. In fact, Pat and Faye were the two most hip-hop-impaired people Zuma had ever met. Even though they were only a few years older than her, she often found herself breaking down the simplest of terms to them just so she could be understood. It had taken almost two weeks for Pat and Faye to understand what Zuma meant when she called something "the shit." Once Pat had walked in the shop wearing a brand-new pair of shoes which Zuma enthusiastically referred to as "the shit," and Pat's feelings had been so hurt that she almost cried. Until, that is, Zuma explained that she was merely complimenting her.

It had taken Pat a while to get used to Zuma's eccentric, eclectic ways. Zuma was part homegirl, part African princess, and part businesswoman with just a touch of snobbery on the side. There were many things about Zuma that Pat didn't understand. Like how she could claim to be Muslim and still eat pepperoni pizza. How the mirror at her hair station could be filled with motivational savings like the one that read, "All that I need is already in me" yet Zuma seemingly was always in search of some unobtainable thing. Or how Zuma's most commonly used phrase was "My money is funny and my credit won't get it," yet Pat knew from the books that Zuma was putting in gobs of money by the week, more than she and Faye Put together as a matter of fact. Zuma was a piece of work, but just like a raggedy old blanket, she had a way of endearing herself to all who crossed her path. Zuma was the type of person you hated the first time you met her, but after a few days getting to know her, you'd wonder how you could have ever been so wrong.

"My cipher keeps moving like a rolling stone," Zuma sang as she danced her way over to Pat, grabbed her by the hand, and spun her around. Zuma snatched up an empty, bottle of water and held it to her mouth as she swayed around the room as if she were Ms. Badu herself. The rest of the women seemed to come alive with Zuma's impromptu performance and before long the entire shop was chanting, "On and on and on and on."

Even Pat got in on the groove for a moment. She stuck her hand in the air and moved it from side to side just enough to show that she had rhythm, but not so much as to bring any attention to herself. But Pat could spare only a minute's worth of time, and when she caught a glimpse of Zuma's pissed-off customer, who, unlike everyone else, was not too thrilled with the shop's sudden lapse into Soul Train fever, she reached out for Zuma and pulled her close to her chest. "If you don't get back to your client she's gonna have a cow. You're moving so slow today, you're gonna have to speed up to stop," she whispered.

Zuma rolled her eyes, bumped Pat on the hip, then headed back to her hair station. Zuma was as slow as the day is long, but damn, could she h ook up some hair. She was a celebrity of sorts in the hair community. Her appointments were booked up for months in advance, which in shop talk meant she had a following. Zuma didn't care that it took her forever to finish a client's hair. She didn't care how much her clients sighed, rolled their eyes, or tapped their fingers impatiently. She knew that once her clients saw the finished product, they'd worship her forever. Hell, she was Zuma. Couldn't nobody do the do like Zuma could.

Long before Zuma ever came to work at Blessings, Pat had heard of her. Everybody knew Zuma. She was the infamous top stylist at Off the Hook Hair known best for her outrageous couture hair designs, which she showed off at Off the Hook's annual hair and fashion show. Pat had attended one of their shows during the first year she had opened Blessings. At the time Blessings was in a financial slump and Pat figured she should go check out the competition, get a few ideas on how she could make her hairstyles better, and maybe even steal a few hair designs for herself.

When Pat attended the show at Off the Hook, she sat in the back of the huge salon hoping no one would notice her. Not that they'd know who she was anyway, considering that Blessings had no following whatsoever. Still, she sat incognito in the back of the room watching the wonderful, nonstop display of fashion and hair designs as models strolled through the shop, spinning around, swinging their heads, and showing off their hairstyles from every angle. Aside from a few intricate finger-wave designs, Zuma's creations stole the show that year. She opened her collection with a simple flat ironed geisha bob, moved on to an abstract braided and spiraled up-do and t he pièce de résistance -- a motorized windmill. Yes, motorized. Pat couldn't believe her eyes when she saw Zuma's final hair model take the stage. The confident model walked out wearing what seemed to be two simple ponytails on the sides of her head. But when she reached the end of the stage the tails began to slowly move upward, and when they reached the top of her head they began to split around and around. The crowd went crazy as they watched this girl's hair spinning like a roller coaster, and when the darn hair lit up with multicolored bulbs the crowd could barely contain itself.

Though she knew no one would ever be caught dead wearing their hair in such a gaudy style, Pat could see why Zuma was L.A.'s top hair stylist. She took hair to a different level. She made it an art.

Pat had thought going to that hair show would give her the added motivation she needed to stick with her own shop and make it an even better establishment. But in actuality all that came of it was a sense of depression. There was no way Pat could compete with Off the Hook Hair. Their reputation was too established and their stylists were on the cunning edge. And the fact that they were only a few blocks away from Blessings made matters worse.

After Pat left the show, she realized she didn't have a fighting chance of keeping her business alive, and the more she thought about it, the more she realized there was really only one thing left for her to do -- quit. She had toyed for weeks with the idea of closing down her shop, but the thought of giving up just didn't sit well with Pat. She knew the odds were stacked against her, still she couldn't throw in the towel. She knew there had to be a way, some< /I> way to hold on to her business. Pat often sat alone in the shop long after closing time on her knees, praying for God to give her the strength to keep on keeping on. She'd pray until her knees were sore, then get up and pray some more. But after a month or two of this, God still had not answered her and all Pat had to show for her prayers were two knobby knees and an empty bank account. Still Pat was sure of one thing -- God was no liar. Ask and you shall receive was what the Bible said, and by faith, Pat knew that one day when God was good and ready He would answer her prayer. It took a while, but verily, verily, the day finally came.

Pat had been nearly knocked off her feet when the young woman with a head full of tiny twists popped up at the shop one morning. The woman had been carrying an oversized hair bag filled with curlers, combs, brushes, dryers, and clippers. She'd walked right into the shop and over to a hair station without so much as a "hey, how ya doing" to Pat. She simply plopped down her hair bag, raised her eyes and said, "Can you use another beautician?"

"Do I know you?" Pat asked, cautiously, peering at the girl with the Afrocentric hair and relaxed, baggy attire. She tried to place her face, but though it was familiar she couldn't remember where she'd seen her before.

"You ought to," the woman replied and placed her hand on her hip. "Know me, that is," she added as she looked at Pat with an elitist air so arrogant and unwelcome that Pat's otherwise cool demeanor became stiff. "So can you use another beautician or what?"

Being a refined woman herself, Pat was not impressed by this stranger's presumptuous attitude, which she chalked up to a lack of home training and off icial church rearing. She was even less impressed when the woman, who appeared at least five years her junior, began unpacking her bag and setting up her utensils on the counter. If Pat was not mistaken, this was still her shop. But judging by the actions of this young girl in torn jeans with a pair of obvious knock-off Chanel earrings hanging from her lobes, it was hard to tell who was running things. It was a rarity for Pat to raise her temper, but this girl was pushing it. Who does she think she is, Pat thought, and stared at her sideways. And that's when it hit her. She did know this woman. She'd seen her at the Off the Hook Hair show, but for the life of her she couldn't remember her name, until..."You, you're..."

"Yes, I am," Zuma said, without even looking at Pat. She pulled out a notebook from her bag, opened it up, and began taking out small pieces of paper and sticking them on the mirror in front of her.

Yes, Pat knew this woman, but what she didn't know was what the woman was doing in her shop and why she was pasting these scrappy pieces of paper on the mirror. Papers that read, "No weapon formed against me shall ever prosper," and "Whatever you can believe and conceive you can achieve." Pat didn't know what was going on, but there was one thing she did know, or at least she thought she did. "Don't you style over there at Off the Hook Hair?"

The woman sucked her teeth and sighed. "That is past tense, honey. Get it straight or leave it alone," she said, then began mumbling to herself so rapidly that Pat almost assumed the girl was going insane. The only words she could make out were "bitch" and "fucking with the wrong woman" and "better recognize."

Pat scratched her h ead as she eyed the woman, watching as she mumbled on and on, becoming more and more upset with each utterance. She didn't know how to react in this situation so she decided to remain calm and fish around for more information. "Did you get fired?" she asked, then immediately realized she asked the wrong question when the woman stopped mumbling and glared into her eyes.

"Fired?" she huffed and jerked her head to the side. "No, baby. Don't get it mixed up. I quit. Okay?" She pointed a finger in the air for emphasis. "See, that bitch Connie thinks she's slick. But little do she know I wrote the book on slick. I know all the tricks. Shit. She better recognize."

"Connie?" Pat questioned with a wince.

"Yeah. She owns Off the Hook and I guess she thought she owned me too, but I had to wake her to a few things," she said and sucked her teeth. "Girl, let me tell you what happened," she said, shifting her weight to one side and cozying up to Pat as if they were old buddies. "Do you know that tramp had the nerve to come up in my face yesterday talking about she was going to raise her commission on me? Shit, I told her she must have lost her damn mind," she said and pulled on one of the tiny twists that filled her head. "Hell, she was already getting thirty percent of what I made then she gonna say she want forty-five? Oh hell no. That's bondage. I told that bitch I would rent my hair station for eight hundred dollars a month, no commission, take it or leave it."

"I guess she refused, huh?" Pat asked as she picked up a bottle the woman had tipped over as she ranted about her former employer.

"Naw," she said matter of factly. "I went off on her so bad that she backed down. I had to show her who was really the boss. She had fucked with the wrong woman, honey. I guess she was asleep, but I had to wake her up."

"Well, if she agreed to your terms, why did you leave?"

"Because she pissed me the fuck off," she scoffed. "She shouldn't have even come at me like that in the first place, demanding more money and shit. Ain't nobody over there bringing in more clientele than I was. But was that good enough for Connie? No. She had to be greedy and start talking that forty-five percent shit like I was some new Jill straight out of beauty school. Shit. Fuck her. Fuck that bitch. I don't give a fuck. I'm gone. Do ya miss me?" she yelled at the top of her lungs.

Whoa, Pat thought to herself and took a step back. She didn't know whether to laugh or be scared, so she just stood there watching the woman, silently preparing to run for her life if it came down to that.

The woman eased off her anger long enough to pause and take a good look at Pat for the first time. She smiled briefly, realizing her attitude was getting the best of her as it often did. It didn't faze her. Zuma believed in being real and expressing herself. Still, the look on Pat's face told her that she needed to chill out. So she took a deep breath, braced herself, and began afresh. "Look. I don't mean to bust up in your shop like I'm running things, but I can't continue to work for Connie and that's just the way it is," she explained as pleasantly as she could at the moment. "Anyway, I live right around the corner from here on Eucalyptus and I pass by your shop every day." She took a quick look around the empty, stale place and played with her hair twists. "I know how business is doing," she said with a pitiful grimace o n her face.

"It's pretty terrible."

"You said it, I didn't."

An embarrassed silence hung between the two women. Business was terrible and whoever actually said it didn't matter -- it was the truth. Business was worse than terrible, it sucked, and as Pat stood facing the presumptuous, hot-tempered woman she was sure of one thing. God had answered her prayer. This woman was the talk of the town in the world of hair. She had name recognition and could bring in the clients. She also obviously had a chip on her shoulder, a bad attitude, and a hint of conceit, but every gem has at least one flaw, Pat concluded.

"Anyway," the woman continued, "I can get a job anywhere I want and that's the truth," she said, giving the shop the once-over again. She curled her top lip as her gaze returned to Pat. "But," she sighed, "since this shop is so close to my apartment..."

"You're hired," Pat interrupted, realizing the great opportunity that stood before her and not wanting to waste another minute.

"And you're a very lucky lady," the woman said and batted her eyes. She smiled and extended her hand to Pat. "Zuma Price."

"Pat Brown," she said and returned the smile. "Welcome to Blessings."

***

Ever since that day Blessings had been swamped. Gone were the days of slouching around the shop, hoping, wishing, and praying that one, just one potential customer would poke her head through the door. Now Pat had to handle the fall-off customers Zuma couldn't get to because she was too swamped, as well as the few regulars she already had. But Pat didn't complain. A packed shop meant a packed bank account, and oh, what a blessing that was.

***

"Can we turn that music off for a minute please?" a plump brown face asked as she brushed by Pat to get back to her hair station. "My customer's got a headache," Faye said as she fluffed out the newly tightened weave she'd just sewn into her client's hair.

Pat excused herself from her own client and dashed to turn off the radio before joining Faye at her station. She stood behind the wide woman and leaned over her shoulder. "You haven't had a break all day, have you?"

"I've done two weaves, an African corn row, and that woman with the loose braids is next," she said as she spun her client around in her seat and handed her a mirror so she could examine the back of her head. "I'm gonna have to take a minute to eat before I start on the next one."

"No problem," Pat said and looked around the crowded shop. It was nine-thirty and still the place was jammed. But Pat knew Faye needed a break. Faye was as nice and polite as anyone could be, but when she was working on an empty stomach, she could get a bit testy. "You want me to run out to Popeye's and pick you up something?"

"No thanks," Faye said, wiping sweat off her forehead. "I've got some greens and tortillas warming up in the microwave."

Greens and tortillas, Pat thought, and winced. What a combination. But Faye was always bringing in strange combinations like that to eat. Yesterday it had been pig's feet with a side of Spanish rice and beans. Go figure, Pat thought as she watched Faye collect three hundred dollars from her customer, slip it into her jumbled cleavage, then hustle over to the microwave in the back of the room.

Faye Cruz was Pat's best friend and closest confidante. She was closerin age to her than Zuma so naturally they were tighter. Faye had been working at Blessings for just under fou r years now as the shop's one and only hair braider and weave specialist. Faye had been braiding hair ever since she was in elementary school, but she'd never thought she was capable of making money at it until after her husband died, leaving her with zero income and two mouths to feed. Faye had never worked a full-time job in her life until she came into the shop four years ago. And when she first walked through the door and found Pat in the back of the room dusting off countertops she nearly freaked and ran right back out the door. But it was too late. Pat had already gotten a glimpse of her and there was nothing left for Faye to do but exactly what she'd come there to do -- ask for a job.

Faye was a whole two years younger than Pat, but if you saw the two together you'd swear Faye was old enough to be Pat's mother. It wasn't that Faye was ugly or had wrinkles or warts and such. It was just that she didn't do anything with herself. Thanks to her half-black, half-Mexican heritage, Faye had a head full of long and wavy hair that reached all the way down to her waist. Many women would love to have a head full of healthy hair like that, but all Faye ever did with it was pull it back and plait it in one long French braid that dangled down her back. You'd never find a ring in her ear or on her finger and the only jewelry she ever wore was the gold-plated face of the Virgin Mary that hung on a once gold, now rusted silver chain around her neck. She never, ever wore a drop of makeup so thank God she had smooth, glowing skin. Still, even the most natural face could use a spruce of lipstick every now and again. But the thing that most added to her aging appearance was the extra eighty-five pounds she carr ied on her frame. To see her walk, you'd swear she had arthritis by the slow way in which she moved around, her thick thighs blocking one another as she waddled. The extra weight not only added years to her face, it also added years to her mind. Faye couldn't remember which had come first -- had she lost interest in herself, then gained all the weight or did she gain the weight, then lose interest. The only thing she was sure of was that she no longer cared. Why concern herself with trying to look good? Men weren't attracted to her anymore. Why concern herself with trying to lose weight? She couldn't do it anyway. She'd been on every diet known to man -- Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Pritikin, the cabbage soup diet, the apple diet, the one meal a day pile anything you want on one plate and no more diet -- none of them ever worked. So why concern herself at all? Faye was what she was. A thirty-three-year-old, five-foot-two, two-hundred-and-ten-pound woman. Why fight it?

But at moments like the one she experienced the night she walked into the shop to meet Pat, Faye wished she could instantly snap her fingers and make all her weight go away. She hated first sightings. Without fail, the first thing people did when they saw her was look her up and down and shake their heads. Then they'd pretend not to see her or, if forced to make her acquaintance, pretend as if the fact that she was large made no difference to them. But Faye knew her size affected people. People often dealt with Pat and her weight just as they would deal with a person who had a bad case of halitosis. Theyd try to be nice and ignore it, but they knew it was there. There was no way you could miss it. Whoever came into contact with her had to deal with her problem and though they tried to act like they didn't notice it, she knew for a fact they did.

Faye tried not to let the curious way in which Pat gawked at her bother her on that first night they met. After all, it was nighttime, Pat was closing up, and in walked a complete stranger. Faye would have gawked too if she was in Pat's position. Still, Faye knew the peculiar look on Pat's face was more about her size than the fact that she was an unknown.

Faye had squeezed herself into her one and only church dress and jammed her swollen feet into a pair of white pumps. She approached Pat with the confidence anyone else would show when confronting a possible employer, but when she opened her month to state her purpose the only sound audible was that of her cries. "I need a job," she wailed and threw her hands over her face.

At first Pat had thought the woman was crazy. She backed away for a second and watched as the woman's stomach jiggled, pushing in and out, shoulders heaving up and down, her mouth seemingly stuck in the open position. But soon Pat's apprehension turned to compassion She searched the countertops for a box of tissue, but couldn't find one.

Luckily Faye had come prepared. She opened up the tiny white patent leather purse she carried and searched around, pulling out her wallet, a rosary, and finally a crumpled tissue that looked like it had been used before. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Faye whimpered, wiping the sides of her face and trying to control herself "It's just that I need a job and, and...I don't know where else to go." She dabbed at her nose and took a deep breath, knowing she was not making the great first impression that she had set out to displ ay. She hadn't intended to beg or to cry, but she could not help herself. She was desperate. She had children. Mouths to feed. She needed money. "I've been braiding hair since I was ten," she spat out. "I do weaves, I, well...I'm not too good with chemicals, but I can help out on washing and conditioning, or if you just need someone to clean up the place..."

"Slow down," Pat said, more concerned with the woman's mental state than her verbal résumé.

"You don't understand. I need a job. I've got two children, my husband died and...and..."

"Ssh," Pat purred. "It's going to be all right," she said. "Everything's going to work out fine," she said, eyeing the rosary the woman still clutched up her hand. "Have you been using that?" she asked and touched the row of beads and the woman's hand. "Prayer works."

"I know," Faye said, suddenly finding strength in the woman's touch. The last time she'd gone to confession the pastor had told her she had to be strong. He told her to pray for strength, seek it out and meditate in it. She did. Still, when her mind was lulled into thoughts of her dead husband, seeing him slumped over, bleeding blood so red..."Oh God," Faye screamed as the tears began to flow again.

Pat felt so bad for the stranger that she took her in her arms right then and there and alone in the empty shop the two strangers held on to each other, neither one wanting to be the first to let go.

Two blessings were received that night. Faye found a job and Pat found a new friend.

***

Faye popped three quarters into the soda machine and retrieved her diet Sprite. As big as she was, she didn't know why she always opted for diet instead of regular, but she figured it was th e least she could do. She took her bowl of greens and flour tortillas over to the sofa and sat down next to the woman with the loose braids. "I'll be with you in about ten minutes," she told her next client, then began to dig into her first meal of the day if you don't count the entire bag of Chips Ahoy she'd gone through at her hair station.

"What are you eating?" Loose Braids asked Faye just as she plopped a spoon full of greens in the center of her tortilla and rolled it up like a burrito. Faye bit into her cuisine and winced. She'd forgotten the salsa. But it was too late and she was too hungry to stop to go back to the refrigerator and get it. As she swallowed she turned to the woman and explained.

"Collard greens and tortillas," she told Loose Braids. "My mom used to cook this for my dad all the time. Would you like to taste?"

"No thank you," Loose Braids said, unaware of the frightful grimace she held on her face as she watched Faye chow down. "How did you come up with a combination like collard greens and tortillas?"

"When your mom is black and from the South and your father is a straight, traditional Mexican you find many different ways of compromising."

"Interesting," Loose Braids said, then quickly turned away.

As Faye swallowed another mouthful of her dinner she could feel all eyes turning on her. She couldn't understand why folks always liked to watch fat people eat. They stared at her as if she was doing something wrong. As if she were a diagnosed cancer patient smoking a cigarette. If there had been anywhere else for Faye to go she would have vanished. But since there wasn't she did the next best thing and tried to divert everyone's attention somewhere else. "So did we eve r finish that conversation on O.J.?" she asked, politely covering her mouth as she spoke.

"Yes," Pat shouted quickly, not wanting to get all that started up again. She thought she'd closed the book on that conversation earlier, but Faye had defiantly opened it up again.

"Guilty!" Zuma sang as she sprayed her client's hair with oil sheen, then flagged her hand in front of her face as the cloudy fog engulfed her.

"Guilty," Pat's client chimed in and with that, Pat threw her hands in the air and walked off toward the rest room. She had been holding it for a long time and since she didn't want to hear another word about O. J. she decided to go handle her business, hoping against all hope that when she came back out the conversation would be finished for good.

"I say he's not guilty," Loose Braids said, and nodded to Faye as she downed another load of greens and tortillas.

Faye put her hand over her stuffed mouth before she spoke again. "I'm with you," she said, then swallowed.

"Look," Zuma shouted as she took the money her client held out for her and walked behind the woman toward the front door. "None of us will ever truly know whether O.J. did it or not," she said and paused to say a quick good-bye to her client. "But I'll tell you one thing -- none of this mess would have ever gotten started if O.J. had been a true brother and stayed away from those white women."

"I know that's right," Pat's client said as she waited patiently for Pat to come back from the rest room.

"You ain't never told a lie," Loose Braids admitted and pursed her lips. "But when a black man gets a little money what's the first thing he does?"

"Runs over to the other side," Zuma said, and shook her head.

If ther e was one thing practically all the women in the shop could agree on, it was the fact that no black man should be married to a white woman. Not when there were so many single, eligible, intelligent, and attractive black women such as themselves to pick from.

Faye was the only one who didn't agree with this logic. She thought the women sounded just as racist and stupid as a white man who'd say his daughter could never date a nigger. Faye saw nothing wrong with black men dating or marrying white women. Love was love, regardless of color or culture, and if it weren't for interracial marriages, Faye wouldn't be alive today. Her black mother and Mexican father were the perfect example of color-blind love. Sure they had their cultural differences, but their love was stronger than any conflict that could ever arise between them. Not even their differences in religion could tear them apart. Faye's mother was Southern Baptist and her father a devout Catholic. But never did they argue over opposing ideologies or conflicting doctrines. The bottom line was that they both loved the Lord so they simply shared religions. One month they'd attend St. Joseph's cathedral, the next, Wholly Waters. Their differences added spice to their lives, not animosity. Faye could still remember the lazy Saturday nights she'd watch her mother and father sashaying to Aretha Franklin one minute, then doing the cha-cha to Antonio Carlos Jobim the next. One night her mother would prepare neck bones and corn bread, the next night she'd make mole and manzanas rellenas. Their love wasn't about color, it was about acceptance, give and take, honesty and compromise. Those were the biggest lessons Faye learned from her parents. They never s at down and gave her a lecture about it. She just picked it up from the way she saw them living and loving. They taught her what true love was all about and Antoine, her beloved husband, taught her all the rest. But now they were all gone and the only love Faye knew now was the sacrificial, selfless love a mother has for her children. Romantic love was a town too far away for Faye to visit again. But if she ever got the opportunity to go there she wouldn't let the mere color of someone's skin keep her from it.

Faye hadn't realized her thoughts had drifted so far away until Zuma's booming voice roared through the air and snapped her back to the present.

"Honey, it's not just the athletes and the actors who are chasing white girls anymore," she said incredulously. "Now these everyday broke, run-of-the-mill brothers are dumping the black queens for the Baywatch babes."

"And what's so wrong with that?" Faye asked and pushed her plate away. "If two people fall in love, why shouldn't they be together?"

"Because it's not about love," Zuma said quickly. "To black men, white girls are like special trophies. They look at us like we're cheap knock-offs of what a woman should be. Since we don't have the hair, the nose, the small tooty behinds, somehow we aren't worth as much."

"Black men have been brainwashed," Loose Braids said, and turned to face Faye. "Everything they see in this society tells them that white is right and black is wrong and they believe it. That's why they go after white girls. Because they think they are better than us."

"But that's not every case," Faye said, and shook her head. "Sometimes it's really about love. Take Marcia Clark and Chris Darden, for instance."

"The y fucking?" Zuma asked.

"Zuma," Faye said and winced. "Don't be so crass."

"Well are they?"

"Well, Marcia says they weren't, but Darden seemed to disagree," Loose Braids said. "And that's exactly what I'm talking about. Why Chris got to be all on the white girls' tip? A sister would love to be with a man like that. I know I'd take that big bald head of his and love him right," she said, and snapped her fingers to let everyone know she meant that.

"But that's what I mean. Maybe it was love for Chris. I mean he and Marcia were together all day, every day, for months. Can't you see how he could fall for her?" Faye said, flagging her hands in the air.

But her opponents were not willing to give in to her point of view.

"Blacks should stick with blacks and that's all I've got to say," Zuma said with finality, but Faye wasn't going to let it go.

"Look at us," Faye continued as she pointed to each woman around the room. "Look at all the different shades of brown we have in here. Not one of us can say we are one hundred percent pure black. The races have been mixing since the beginning of time," she said, then pointed directly at Zuma. "Look at you," she said as Zuma froze. "You're lighter than most white people. You ought to be thankful for race mixing or else you wouldn't be here."

Zuma squinted her eyes and seemed to boil with anger. "Thankful? Yeah right," she said and threw her hands in the air. "Thank you, Mr. Slave Owner, for creeping into the shed house and raping my black ancestors. Thank you ever so kindly," she said, then ran a hand through her twisted hair. "That's nothing to be thankful for, Faye."

"Well you're here, aren't you?" Faye asked, directly. "And so am I ," she said, and pointed to herself as she stood up. "I'm thankful my Mexican father fell in love with my black mother. If he had thought like you guys I wouldn't be here today," she said with an increased intensity. "I myself married a Mexican because I fell in love with a Mexican," she said, defensively. "You can't stop love because it doesn't come wrapped in the package you're most accustomed to."

"No," Zuma interrupted. "You married a Mexican because you're part Mexican yourself. You can't even understand what us black women go through. Do you really know how it feels to be passed over by a black man? You don't know what the black woman's struggle is all about."

The loose, deep, caramel-colored skin on Faye's arm dangled as she lifted her arm high above her head. "Who cares if I'm half Mexican? With skin this dark I got called nigger so many times growing up that I forgot all about being Mexican. So don't act like just because you claim to be so Muslim and pro-black that you're the only one in here who knows about the struggle."

"Damn, Señorita," Zuma said, realizing how personally Faye was taking this conversation. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Come on, Mami," she said, hurrying over to Faye with her arms outstretched. "Dame un besso," she said, puckering her lips and making kissy sounds.

"That's not funny, Zuma," Faye said and pushed her away, then shyly looked around the room full of ladies. It was rare for Faye to raise her voice, but sometimes Zuma could really get under her skin.

"Well, don't get your panties in a knot," Zuma said.

"Don't you worry about my chones, brrruja," Faye shot back.

"What did you just call me?"

"Nothing," Faye said coyly a nd sat back down.

"Don't be speaking that Spanish shit behind my back," Zuma warned.

"Cayate."

"No, you shut up," Zuma said, nodding her head.

"Whatever," Faye said, giving up.

"Fine," Zuma said and backed her way to her hair station.

"Good," Faye said louder.

"Great," Zuma scolded.

"Beautiful."

"Dandy."

This would be a good time for one of Pat's jokes, but she was still locked away in the rest room. The tension in the air was so thick between Zuma and Faye that the other ladies in the shop sat silently on edge, unsure if the scene they were watching was a fake argument or the real thing. But Faye and Zuma both knew were they stood. They'd always had this ongoing animosity toward one another, bickering back and forth over silly things. Sometimes it seemed they took opposite sides of a subject just to keep an argument churning. Or at least Zuma would. With the way Zuma picked away at Faye's nerves, one would assume she hated the woman. But that wasn't the case at all. There was love between Faye and Zuma. They could both feel it and sometimes it even showed. Like the times when Faye's car would break down and Zuma would go out of her way to pick her up for work. Or the times Zuma would run out of change for the soda machine and ask Faye if she could break a dollar. Their relationship was an unusual one, but unusual wasn't a bad thing. Just odd.

"Look," Zuma said as she sat down at her hair station. "All I'm saying is that black woman are just as good as white women and brothers need to recognize that. I may not have hair all down my back or a pointy nose or a flat behind, but I'm just as beautiful as any white women in this world," she said, rolling her eyes. She took both of he r hands and ran them over her face, through her hair, then across her chest as if she were the starring vixen in a porno flick. "Look at all this loveliness," she said, and licked out her tongue so ridiculously that it caused Faye to hang her head in embarrassment. "You tell me what white woman could compete with this?" she said, trying to hold back a giggle.

And with that, a hush fell over the room. It seemed as though the sentence Zuma spoke had performed a magic all its own. At once, every eye in the shop focused on the front entrance and the strange woman who appeared in the doorway. Zuma was the last to focus her attention, but when she noticed the silence in the room she followed the glares of all the other women until she too was eyeing the doorway and the woman with straight blond hair and eyes the color of the sky who stood there. None of the brown faces in the shop uttered another word, but the vibe could be heard loud and clear.

What the hell is she doing here?

***

Sandy Dew McReiney stood in the doorway, tossing back each and every stare that came her way. The tension in the room was thick enough to bite into, and for a split second Sandy had thought about turning right around and going back home. Then again, she was used to this kind of reception. She'd been through it all her life, but that didn't make it any more bearable. She walked into the beauty shop and stood next to the reception desk knowing full well that every eye was upon her, but that no one would bother to speak. She could hear the whispers the ladies shot back and forth between themselves. What she want in here? She must be lost.

Sandy shifted her weight from side to side, wishing she'd gone bare instead of putting on the thong bikini underwear that was beginning to irritate her butt. Slyly, she slid her hand behind her back and grabbed the thin string through her Lycra leggings and yanked it to one side. She smirked as she tapped the three and a half inch heels of her stilettos, still waiting for someone, anyone, to say something to her.

They hate me because I'm white, she thought, a theory that had haunted her nearly all her life. She was always the minority, the only white in the bunch. She and her mother had always lived in predominantly black neighborhoods until her mother up and moved them to her new boyfriend's house in the San Fernando Valley when Sandy was sixteen. She hated that city and couldn't wait to get out of there. She had felt so out of place, so void of flavor out there amongst the upwardly mobile white folks who rolled the Ventura Boulevard with their car tops down. A Valley girl was something Sandy was not cut out to be, and on her seventeenth birthday she left her mother and moved back to Los Angeles on her own. The move wasn't only because she hated the Valley. The fact that her mom's boyfriend kept sneaking into her bedroom at night had a lot to do with it too. Still, in her heart, Sandy was black and felt more comfortable being a part of the black culture. She wasn't country or rock and roll. She was hiphop smoothed out on the R&B tip. She was hot links and baked beans. She was Ebony magazine, forget Vogue and Cosmopolitan. She was black, through and through, only you couldn't tell that by looking at her. You could catch a glimpse of it when she spoke, though. Her speech was laden with the slang of the streets, the hip savings of the day, the "Yo, what's up's" and the "just chillin's." On more than one occasion Sandy had been accused of trying to act black or trying to talk black. But Sandy wasn't trying anything. She acted and talked the way she'd been taught. The way all the other kids spoke in the neighborhoods she grew up in. It wasn't an act to show how down she was. It was her true self. Straight, no chaser.

Sandy turned away from the reception desk and looked through the crowd of brown faces for one that seemed halfway polite. She sucked her teeth, knowing still that no one would even smile her way. Forget these broads, Sandy thought, and ran a hand through her long blond hair. She'd done that on purpose. If there was one thing she knew black women hated her for more than her skin, it was her hair. Yes, Sandy thought as she needlessly flung her hair from side to side. It's all mine, no weave, no chemicals, just mine. Long, naturally blond and manageable. Jealous? She smiled to herself as her audience turned up their noses and rolled their eyes. Well, fuck y'all too, Sandy thought, tiring of the silent treatment. She looked through the crowd of faces again and cleared her throat. "Is anybody running this place or am I standing here for my health?" she asked in her deepest, most aggravated voice.

Instead of an answer all she received were more intense stares. Stares that if audible would say, "No, she didn't," or "She's got her nerve."

Sandy sighed and put her hand on her hip in preparation to speak again, but this time with more fervor. Just then a door in the back of the room opened and out came Pat. She breezed through the shop and stopped at Zuma's hair station. "Remind me to order some more toilet paper from t he warehouse tomorrow," she said hurriedly, wiping her damp hands on a paper towel. "Did you hear me, Zuma?" She asked, but got no response. She looked at Zuma carefully, then around the shop at the other patrons. "What's going on?" she said, then let the stares of everyone else point her in the right direction. "Oh, we've got another customer," Pat said and headed toward the reception desk. "Hi, what can I do for you," she said to Sandy with a big smile.

Just then the phone rang out and Pat bent herself over the desk to pick it up.

"Excuse me for a second," she said to Sandy as she put the phone to her ear.

Sandy waited patiently for Pat to finish her conversation. By that time most of the other women had ceased staring at her -- except for Zuma. Fed up, Sandy began to stare right back at her. The two locked eyes for what seemed to be hours, neither one of them wanting to blink or dare to be the one to look away first.

When Pat hung up the phone she placed her hand on Sandy's shoulder. "I'll be right with you in a minute, darling," she said, and rushed over to her hair station where she'd left her last client. Just then the phone rang out again and Pat pleaded for patience from her client and ran back to pick it up. She gave Sandy another "I'll be right with you," then put the phone to her ear and pulled out her appointment book. She made a notation, then hung up the phone, only to have it ring a split second later. She smiled regretfully at Sandy and picked up the phone again. "It's for you," she screamed to Faye and laid the phone on her shoulder.

Faye had already taken Loose Braids to her hair station and began unraveling her long, frazzled hair. "Take a message, please," she shouted b ack, too caught up in the business of hair to stop for the phone.

Pat did her duty, hung up the phone, then looked around the shop. It was almost ten o'clock and the place was still packed. Zuma had two heads left, Faye was working on her last, but that was a braid job and would take at least another two hours. And in addition, there was her own client she'd left at her own station. Pat's nerves were on the verge of exploding and when the phone rang out for the fourth time in less that two minutes she screamed. "What is this?" she shouted and snatched up the phone -- again.

Sandy continued to wait patiently as she glanced at Pat, watching her book another appointment and concluding that she liked the tall woman even though she did think she smiled just a bit too much. Anyone who smiled that much has got to be truly unhappy about something, Sandy thougth to herself. Still, her first impression of Pat was cool. As for the rest of them, she thought, and turned to face the others in the room -- they can all kiss my white, freckled behind.

She boldly stared over toward Zuma again and found her still staring back.

"So what were we talking about earlier?" Zuma said, obviously talking to Faye, but refusing to take her eyes off Sandy.

Faye looked over at Sandy with apprehension and squeaked out, "I don't remember."

"I do," Loose Braids said confidently. "We were talking about all those white women stealing our black men."

"Don't start any mess," Faye interceded, and gave Zuma a cautioning glare.

"The mess has been started already," Zuma said, still glaring at the white intruder. "All I'm saying is that if these white women weren't so conniving maybe the brothers would marry us."

"I h eard that," Loose Braids said. "Have you seen the way white women throw themselves at our men? Pathetic."

"Mmm-hmm. They need to get their own men and stay away from ours."

"My mother always told my brother," Loose Braids added, "if she can't use your comb, don't bring her home."

That comment ignited a chuckle throughout the shop. Even the fair-minded Faye had to laugh, but just for a second. "That's enough, you guys," Faye said sternly. "Let's be nice," she said and smiled apologetically toward Sandy.

"Oh don't mind me," Sandy retorted confidently, then looked back at Zuma. "Maybe if the black man was being taken care of he wouldn't have to look outside his own kingdom for a good woman."

Oh. It was on then.

Zuma's month dropped wide open and again all eyes returned to the white girl with the attitude, and though no one said a direct word to her the comments were loud and clear. "That bitch gon' get her ass beat up in here," she heard someone say.

"Well, come on with it," Sandy said, too bold and too proud to hide behind a whisper.

Pat put down the phone and picked up on the taut strain lingering through the room again. "Something wrong?" she said, not knowing fully what was going on. Then she paused for a moment and it hit her. Pat shook her head, knowing this was a color thang and felt sorry for the black women who were so insecure with themselves that the mere presence of a white woman could put them on edge. She was too much of a Christian to be ruled by race. As far as she was concerned the white girl standing beside her was just as much her sister as the darkest woman in the room. After all, everyone is a child of God, Pat thought. Still, she knew she had to do something to break the ice. "I've got a joke for you all," she said as she stepped from behind the reception desk, oblivious to the sighs the other women blew out. "Why did Buckwheat wash his clothes in Tide?"

Faye, her partner in peacemaking, was the only one who was paying attention. "Why?"

"Because it was too cold to wash his clothes out-Tide. Get it? Out-Tide, outside?"

"Got it," Zuma huffed with a frown.

Pat's joke had not brought peace, but it did shift the waves. She glanced over toward Zuma, then to Sandy. "Okay," she said pleasantly. "What can I do for you? You need an appointment, hair, braids? How can I help you, honey?"

"Well, I -- "

"Excuse me again, sweetie," Pat said and reached for the phone for the umpteenth time. She told whoever it was to hold, then turned her attention back to Sandy. "Sorry about that. It's just that we're so busy around here."

"That's a good thing, ain't it?" Sandy said, and leaned her elbow on the reception desk.

"Yes, I guess it is. But no more interruptions. How can I help you?" Pat said and opened up her appointment book.

"Oh, I ain't here for no appointment," Sandy explained. "Actually, I wanted to know if you could use a little help around the shop."

Pat blinked her eyes rapidly. "Help, honey?"

"Yeah. I do nails," she said, and motioned towards the manicuring station. "I just got my license last week and I've been eyeing that Help Wanted sign on your front door for the past month, hoping it would still be there when I graduated."

"Is that right?" Pat said, obviously caught off guard. This was the last thing she'd expected the woman to say. She looked her over more carefully, examining the painfully high heels the woman wore, the extra tight leggings and the fitted T-shirt. She certainly didn't look like a manicurist, Pat thought. Then again, just what does a manicurist look like, she questioned herself. Then Pat looked down at the woman's hands and nearly squawked. Her nails were so chewed and battered that Pat could have sworn the woman used them to buff bricks. You call yourself a manicurist, Pat thought. Then almost as if psychic, the woman pulled out her graduation certificate from the Inglewood School of Beauty.

"Here you go," Sandy said and handed the certificate to Pat and watched as she looked it over. "I do it all. Acrylic, porcelain, pedicures -- the whole hook-up. I got my license right here at the beauty school on Broadway."

"Uh-huh," Pat said, bewildered, and as Sandy watched the confusion on Pat's face she became defensive.

"Uh-huh," Sandy mimicked. "What? Is there a problem?"

"No," Pat said, and plastered a smile onto her face.

"So what's the deal? I mean, don't you need help around here? Isn't that what you got that sign in the window for?"

"Well yes, but -- "

"But what? Is it because I'm white?" Sandy snapped, realizing that Pat was just like every other black woman she'd met. Prejudiced.

"Now hold on, honey. Don't start none, won't be none," Pat said with authority. "Your color has nothing to do with this. It's just that I wasn't prepared for this. Do you know it's almost ten o'clock at night? Most people who are serious about employment go job hunting in the daytime."

"Well, excuse me for having a three-year-old and a ten-month-old tolook after, okay. This was the only time I could get away. And what's the difference? The shop is still open."

Pat paused and smiled really hard. She wanted to be sure that this woman knew she was not trying to be unfair. It was just that she didn't know what to say. "I'm gonna have to give this some thought," she said as the woman eyed her suspiciously. "What's your name?"

"Sandy," she huffed. "Sandy Dew McReiney."

"What a pretty name," she said and offered her hand. "I'm Pat," she said as they touched palms. "As you can see," she said, and held out her other hand toward the group of ladies in the room, "I'm pretty swamped right now, so why don't you come back tomorrow morning before we get too busy and we can talk about this further."

Sandy curled her top lip and shifted all her weight to one leg. "Come back, huh?"

"I'm not brushing you off, honey. just come back in the morning when I'll have some time to really consider this. Can you do that?"

"Yeah, I can do that. If you're on the real."

Pat glanced over at Zuma, wishing she had her there to interpret for her. But after a slight pondering she realized on the real must mean truthful. "Yes I am," Pat said, so happy she'd gotten it. "I'll see you tomorrow," she said, and tapped Sandy's shoulder.

"Peace," Sandy said as she backed her way to the door. She gave Zuma one last stare, then swung her long blond hair and went on her way.

"Good riddance," Zuma shouted as the door closed. "What the hell did she want anyway?"

"Mind your own business," Pat said as she headed back to her hair station, still looking over Sandy's manicurist certificate. "We'll talk later."

"Mmm-hmm," Zuma said as she eyed Pat like a hawk. "We'll talk all right."

***

It was a quarter to midnight when Faye closed the door behind the shop's last customer and locked it. Pat sat behind the reception des k, counting the day's receipts and recording them on the finance page of her day book. Zuma stood beside the shop's window peering out into the black night, rubbing her hands through a thick pink solution, trying to get off the burgundy cellophane she'd applied to her last customer's hair. It had been a long day for all the ladies and in less than seven hours they'd all have to start over again.

"What time's my first appointment?" Zuma asked Pat as she walked over to the reception desk.

Pat moved her day book aside and opened the appointment book to Saturday. "You've got a seven-thirty relaxer touch-up and an eight o'clock press and curl. Then at nine-fifteen -- "

"Okay, okay," Zuma said, holding up a hand and letting out a sigh.

"What about me?" Faye asked and joined the girls.

"You've got an eight o'clock, but she wants tiny, individual braids so you know what that means."

"Six hours if I'm lucky."

"Yep," Pat said, and slid her finger down the page of the book. "Then at three, you've got a weave, and at five you've got -- "

"I know. Another weave."

"That's right," Pat said as she moved her finger across the page to check on her own schedule. She found that she had a seven-thirty blow and curl, an eight-thirty virgin relaxer, a nine-fifteen finger wave, and oh, she thought and slammed the book shut. What a long day laid ahead of her. She always knew that her business would be a success, but she had never imagined it to this degree. Over the past three years, the shop had taken over her life. Not that she had much of a life before. It was just she and her husband, and to be totally honest, with the problems their relationship had been going through lately, it was bett er for her to stay busy at work than to go home and deal with him.

Still, she wished she had more time on her hands to spend doing the things she'd like to do -- like sleep, or watch a movie, read a book, or her most favorite pastime of all -- doing absolutely nothing. But time was a luxury for her at this point in her life and she could do little to change that fact. Unless, she thought as she sat behind her desk and leaned back into her chair. Unless...

"What you over there daydreaming about?" Zuma asked, heading back to her hair station to straighten up her counter.

Pat got up from her seat and walked to the middle of the shop to face Zuma. She beckoned for Faye, who was busy gathering up long pieces of hair extensions, to stop what she was doing. "I've got a question for you both," she said to the ladies, and put a finger to the side of her cheek. "You remember that girl who stopped by tonight?"

"The white girl?" Faye asked, laying her extensions across the back of a chair.

Zuma curled up her lip. "What about her?"

"Well," Pat started and began to pace the floor. "She was looking for a job and I was figuring -- "

"Oh hell no," Zuma interrupted. She plopped her hair bag down in a chair. "She ain't working off in here. No, no. I don't like her attitude."

"You don't even know the girl," Faye said, and crossed the floor to Zuma's station.

"I may not know her name, but I know her game."

"Zuma."

"Faye," she mocked back.

"Ladies!" Pat said, stopping it before it could get started. "I think we could use the help. It doesn't make any sense for us to still be in this shop at midnight. We need someone to pick up the slack."

"Well, is she qualifie d?" Faye asked.

"She just graduated with a manicurist's license. I was thinking she could start off with nails, then help out with washing and conditioning. Doesn't take too much expertise to wash someone's hair."

"I don't need no help," Zuma huffed.

"You're slower than a crippled snail, Zuma," Faye said, then looked around the shop. "I know I could use someone to help me take down braids."

"And she could help out with the phones and booking appointments too," Pat said and put her hands on her hips, satisfied with the way things were coming together in her head.

"I don't like her," Zuma snapped, and continued clearing off her counter. "She's got too much attitude for me."

"Look who's talking," Faye said, and laughed.

"Well, there can only be one diva around this joint, and I've already claimed that title."

"Well, there is only one owner of this joint," Faye said as she went back to arranging her hair extensions. "It's your decision, Pat."

"I know," Pat said. She walked over to Zuma and put her hand on her shoulder as a gesture of peace. "I told the girl to come back tomorrow so I'd have time to think things over."

"Hmm." Zuma moaned. "I hope you make the right decision."

"Oh, Zuma," Faye grunted. "You don't like her just because she's white. I swear you are the most racist person I've ever seen in all my days."

"I am not racist," Zuma quipped. "I am pro-black. There's a difference."

"Oh really?"

"Yes, really."

"Whatever."

"Whatever back to you."

"Fine."

"Good."

"Perfect."

"Excellent."

"Stop it!" Pat shouted and turned to walk back to the reception desk.

"But -- " Zuma said, only to be stopped.

"Zip it. Button it. Lock it, and throw away the key," Pat ins isted as she sat down behind the desk, missing the snarl Zuma pitched in her direction.

Faye took a bundle of weaving hair, tied it in a knot, and placed it back into its package. Then she picked up her old battered satchel and tossed the hair inside with the rest of the unused fake locks and moved it to the side. She gathered up a collection of magazines her clients had left at her hair station and took them back to the magazine rack near the sofa. As she put them down she peered at the crumpled magazine on top and shook her head. "That poor baby," she said, eyeing the cover of the National Enquirer with grief.

"What you boo-hooing about over there?" Zuma asked. "The little girl in Colorado. You know, the beauty queen. What a shame," she said staring at the sweet face on the wrinkled paper.

"Oh yeah, what's her name? Janet, Jesse?" she asked as she walked closer to Faye.

"JonBenet Ramsey," Faye said and turned the National Enquirer around to show Zuma the picture.

"Fuck that little white girl," Zuma said and snatched the paper from Faye's hand.

Faye gasped at Zuma and snatched the paper back. "What are you talking about? This is a tragedy. That girl was only eight years old when somebody raped and killed her."

"Fuck her!" Zuma said, raising her voice.

"You've got a problem," Faye said, disgusted with Zuma's attitude.

"Girl, this stuff happens every day in the black community and nobody gives a motherfuck," Zuma spit out. "But just because this girl was white and rich she's getting all this national coverage. How come they didn't make a big to-do about that little baby in Compton who got shot playing in its front yard last week? Huh? I'll tell you why, because the bab y was black. And what about that child out there in Chicago, uh, uh...Baby X?" she said, snapping her fingers. "Why didn't that get national attention? Because nobody cares when a black child dies, that's why. But let a little white baby bite it and the whole fucking world goes crazy."

"There you go with that black, white mess again. You need to get over it, Zuma. Every life is a sacred life."

"Except when you're black," Zuma retorted as she sprayed Windex on her station's mirror and went at it with a paper towel. "Black babies are dying around here left and right, and nobody gives a damn. Fuck 'em. Just let 'em die. They weren't going to be anything anyway."

"Well, it's the black people who are killing the black children, Zuma. They are dying because of gangs and drug dealing. Black-on-black crime, Zuma. That's what's going on."

"You don't have to preach to me," Zuma said, with an innocent air. "I know the deal. But let me ask you this. If white kids were killing each other through gangs or drugs, do you think this government would let that go on?"

"I -- "

"Hell no," Zuma shouted. "The president would be on the TV every day. Drugs would be off the streets. Guns would be gone."

"Whatever, Zuma," Faye sighed. "It's too late at night to be politicizing."

"Cause you know I'm right."

"Fine," Faye said, waving her off.

"Yeah, fine."

"Great."

"Wonderful."

"Oh mi cabeza."

"Don't start that Spanish shit."

"Pat, would you please tell Zuma to be quiet, por favor," Faye said as she plopped down in her seat and massaged the sides of her head. When she got no answer from Pat, she turned around to see what was going on.

Pat had long since removed herself from Faye and Zuma' s discussion. She couldn't bare the topic. Faye and Zuma gave each other a look and decided it was time to shut up for real. They both busied themselves with their preparations to leave, both knowing that they had slipped into a discussion that was too much for Pat to deal with. Pat never joined in on discussions about children. The topic only bought her sadness.

Children were the one thing missing in Pat's life. She had everything else. A loving husband, a beautiful home, her own business. But the one thing she wanted the most was the one thing that she had been denied.When she and her husband married ten years ago, the first thing she had done was toss out her birth control pills. She'd expected to be pregnant within months, but after two years of trying she'd gotten no results. Next came a visit to her doctor, then tests and more tests, then a diagnosis. Pat was infertile.

When Pat first learned of her infertiliy she became so despondent that for a while her husband had seriously considered checking her into a psychiatric hospital. To say she was depressed was an understatement. Pat had felt so low that she could not see herself up. Her husband had tried to comfort her, but there was no way he could. He didn't understand what she felt. She couldn't explain it. She was barren. She felt less than a woman, less than a human being. She had all the parts God had given her, they were all in the right places, but they would not, could not do their jobs. Not being able to have a baby was like having nineteen dollars in the bank and trying to use the ATM machine. It was so frustrating that at times Pat would get so angry that she'd beat the walls until the angst inside subsided, leaving only an empty feeling so hollow that Pat thought she'd never be able to be happy again.

It wasn't until Pat's husband bought her the beauty shop that Pat began to come alive again. The shop had given her an outlet, a place to pour her attention, a project to fill her mind. It was just the gift she needed. He'd do anything to save his wife from the terrifying depression he'd watched slowly take her over. Still, to this day the relationship between Pat and Mark had never returned to the way it had been when they first got married, and to be honest the blame lay mostly on the shoulders of Pat. She knew Mark loved and supported her in everything she did, still somehow she felt unworthy of that love. Unworthy of him. Instead of moving closer to her husband in her time of pain and need, Pat began to push him away. It wasn't that she blamed him for the fact that she couldn't have a baby. His sperm were fine. It was Pat who had the problem. Still, it was her husband, the closest person to her, who bore the brunt of her discontent.

Of the three ladies, only Faye had been blessed with children. Zuma was nearing the age of thirty and was still without a child, but unlike Pat, all of Zuma's parts were in working condition. The only reason she had no children was because she couldn't find the proper father to impregnate her. For her, too, children were the only thing missing in her life. She had been wanting a child ever since she was twenty-one years old, but she wanted to do it the right way. She'd seen too many women in her lifetime, fooling around with loser after loser, only to wind up pregnant and be left alone to raise the child as a single mother. She didn't want that for herself. She wanted a husband, a man who c ould support her and her baby. But after years of searching for Mr. Right, she'd come up empty.

Still, her desire for a child was strong and five years ago she decided it was time to stop waiting for a man to come into her life and give her the things she needed. Zuma planned to be pregnant by the time she turned thirty. It was a goal she'd set for herself five years ago and with her thirtieth birthday less than a month away she was right on schedule. Zuma had a master plan and she was working it to her advantage. She knew what she was doing and one day very soon she'd have a child. A child that would take away the pain of the secret she'd been keeping for so many years.

"It's time for me to get outta here," Zuma said, and flung her hair bag over her shoulder.

"I'm outta here too," Faye added, and did the same.

Pat grabbed her purse from underneath the reception desk and sat it on top. She searched it for her car keys and pulled them out just as Faye walked up and grabbed the phone from beside her.

"Come on, Faye," Zuma shouted as she waited at the front door for the other ladies. It was Faye's paranoid insistence that they all walk out together for safety reasons, yet she was holding everyone up. "Who you calling anyway? You ain't got no man."

"Besa mi culo, brrruja," Faye wanted to shout. But telling Zuma to kiss her ass was too unkind, so she ignored her pest and waited for someone to pick up at her home. She wanted to remind her older daughter to unlock the top latch on the front door so that she could get in, but when the phone picked up on the other end, it was not her daughter's voice who greeted her.

"Hello," the voice squeaked playfully.

"Christopher," Faye said. "What are y ou still doing up?"

"Nothing."

"Boy, it's midnight. You know you ought to be in bed. I told Antoinette you were to be asleep by nine o clock," Faye huffed and pursed her lips together. "Put that girl on the phone."

"She's not here, Mami."

Instantly, Faye panicked. "She's not what?"

"She's been gone since the Power Rangers went off TV. But I've been a good boy, Mami. I've been taking care of myself," Faye's son said with pride. "I'm hungry, though," he whimpered. "I tried to reach the raviolis in the cabinet, but I fell off the chair."

"Oh Dios," Faye said quickly and put her hand over her eyes. "Are you all right, mijo? Did you hurt yourself?"

"Unh-unh."

"All right, baby. I'm on my way. Are the doors locked, the windows closed?"

"Yep."

"All right. I'm coming home," Faye said, and slammed down the phone as tears of frustration welled tip in her eyes. "I'm gonna skin that girl alive," she shouted and rushed as quickly as her thick legs would let her. Her sixteen-year-old daughter had left her six-year-old son at home by himself. Again.

"Let's go," she shouted to Pat and Zuma as she walked out the door, mumbling to herself.

Pat and Zuma gave each other a look, knowing by now that the only time Faye got upset was when her daughter screwed up. Pat flipped off the lights and walked out behind Zuma, then locked the door.

"Another day come and gone," Zuma said, and walked into the parking lot beside Pat as they both watched Faye slam the door of her car and speed off.

"Yes," Pat said, as she stuck her key in the car door. "And what a blessed day it was."

Copyright © 1998 by Sheneska Jackson

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 18 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2006

    Wonderfully Written

    I thought the book related to whats going on with women in general. I didn't really like the first chapter but the rest of the book was wonderful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2004

    Touching Story!

    My friend and I share books, and this is one of the books that she gave to me to read. I must say, it was slow in the beginning, but it had some very funny moments! It made me laugh and cry. The ending was a total shock. This is a definate must read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2004

    outstanding

    this book was very good and it is worth reading every page the characters felt so real that plot was good all the characters went threw a struggle and the book kept u satisfied

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2003

    EXCELLENT

    THIS BOOK WAS A JOY TO READ. I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. THE CHARACTERS HELD MY ATTENTION, AND THE PLOT WAS SO INTERESTING THAT I HAD TO JUST KEEP READING TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPEN NEXT. I WAS ABLE TO CONNECT WITH THIS BOOK AND ESPECIALLY WITH THE CHARACTER SANDY. YOU NEVER NOW WHAT LIFE HAS INSTORED FOR YOU. BUT IF YOU HAVE A WONDERFUL HUSBAND AND GREAT FRIENDS YOU ARE SURE TO WEATHER ANY STORM. I ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO READ THIS BOOK. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. I CAN'T WAIT TO READ HER OTHER BOOKS. DARLENE GINN-HARGROVE.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2002

    Wonderful

    This book was truly one I enjoyed, I would love to read her following books to come. I encourage everyone to read this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2001

    Sheneska's Books are HIP AND FUN TO READ

    I couldn't tear myself away from this book. When i read the plot i thought oh no another Waiting to Exhale but Ms. Jackson has her own unique style which includes flair and sass. I could connect to each chapter and found my self nodding my head as i read things that were so true about us black women i would recommend this book to men and women.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2000

    Blessings Is A True Pleasure!

    'Blessings' by Sheneska Jackson is most certainly a blessing to read! This enchanting story is based around four women who work at a hair salon in Los Angeles. Pat, the store's owner discovers she is infertile and with the help of her husband, Mark, starts a long and hard journey to adopting a child. Faye, a biracial, widowed, mother of two tries to come to terms with her daughter's wild, reckless ways and a son who will never know his father. Zuma is a hip young woman who's past has come back to haunt her and makes her decide to become pregnant. Finally, there's Sandy, an ex-stripper also called White Chocolate, who's number one passion in life is mistreating her kids. The characters in this story are sympathetic and believable. The plot is also fast-paced and well-planned. There are no boring places in the book so it will certainly keep your attention. If you're reading this review, you've got to get yourself a copy. It is not to be missed! Theresa Harbinger

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2000

    Touching story

    I also enjoyed reading this book...I could relate to each character...It was very well written..thumbs up to Ms. Jackson

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2000

    It was a Blessing to read Blessings

    I love this book! It made me laugh, cry and just gave a whole mixture of emotions. I recommend it to anyone who loves a good book. Because it is definitely that.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2000

    The 'BLESSINGS' are within the pages!

    I finished reading BLESSINGS, and feel that is was a powerhouse in the fashion of any soap opera on television today. The characters interacted like they were real, the dialogue was like what I hear from my sister and her friends, and the book proved that what one may consider a blessing may be a burden to others. Bravo!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2000

    THIS BOOK WAS THE BOMB!!!

    All of it could be related to, including the end when she got the baby. Especially if you've ever gone to an African American hair salon. It was so realistic throughout that I had to read it twice.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2000

    KEEP DOIN' IT GIRL!

    ONCE AGAIN I MUST SAY THAT MS. JACKSON HAS CAPTURD MY ATTENTION. I CAN'T WAIT TO READ HER NEXT NOVEL. CONTINUE TO BE THE BEST, BECAUSE SHENESKA INSPIRES ME TO BE MY BEST.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2000

    A Fantastic Book!

    Blessings is one of my all-time favorites and it's a book that I'm always telling my friends (and even strangers in the black bookstores) to read when someone wants to read a 'good' book. I loved reading this book and sharing in the lives of Pat, Faye, Zuma, and Sandy. For me, this book had me feeling the full range of 'happy' to 'angry' depending on the circumstances, but, from the beginning to the end, this book really touched my heart. At least one character is practically guaranteed to make you 'hate' her by the end of the book but it's a great book that makes you FEEL something, in my opinion. An excellent book that is very highly recommended!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2000

    a winner!!!!!!

    Blessings was an excellent book I tell everyone I come in contact with to read it. I cried so hard after reading it!! because it was so powerful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2000

    AN EXCELLENT READ!!!!!

    All i have to say for this book is four words: GREAT! FINE! EXCELLENT! PERFECT! if you read the book you'll get my drift... KUDOS TO SHENESKA AGAIN!!!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 1999

    Not A Blessing This Time Around!!!!!

    All I can say is I am glad the store took my money back for the return. I was thoroughly disappointed. No where near Caught Up or Lil' Mamma. Too much unnecessary weighty and useless bickering and bantering by the author as it relates to the characters. Almost half of the first chapter was spent on OJ (What???) I was gone then......

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2000

    BRAVO FOR BLESSINGS

    Sheneska Jackson's lastest novel, Blessings, was brillant. It was one of the best books I have read all year. She did a wonderful job of making the readers understand the plights of the characters and still kept the novel interesting. She relays an experience that all black women must go through if they get their hair done. WAITING. Funny, fiesty, and sad at the that time. I'm still in shock from the ending!! Two thumbs up for Blessings!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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