Inside the salon, where a woman under a hood hair dryer thumbs a novel, owner Benedicte Ouguehi says the presence of the books has attracted new customers. Even hairdressers working out in the open come by the salon to borrow books for their clients, she adds.
In Abidjan's well-heeled district of Cocody, year-old salon owner Justine Inagohi says she immediately agreed to sign onto the scheme. Inagohi has even set up a reading corner for children, used both by children accompanying their mothers and those who live in her own building.
The presence of the books, whether they be for children or for adults, gives women who cannot read and write the incentive to learn, and even men are beginning to turn up in women's hair salons to borrow them, said librarian Adjiman. Search News Search web. The television above the counter was tuned to a channel based in Riverside, and the aunties—related or not related to the uncles—watched cooking shows and teledramas in Mandarin.
I was the only customer under sixty, and the only one who spoke in English. With others Lily used Vietnamese, Cantonese, or Mandarin. The first time we met, I lied and said that I had been adopted by a couple from Holland when I was a year old and that we moved to America when I was in middle school. Lily forgave me then for not being able to speak one of the languages she preferred.
Brought up by foreign devils, she told a nearby auntie in Cantonese. Half foreign, the auntie said; hair still Chinese. Half devil, Lily said; brain not Chinese. Both laughed. I smiled blankly at Lily in the mirror, and she smiled back. What do you do? She picked up a strand of hair and let it fall. My hair had just begun to show signs of gray. What subject?
Will you make money being a writer? The salon was caged in metal bars, and there was a chain on the door, which Lily unlocked when she saw her customers coming and locked again right after they entered. If the world had a mind to harm, it would do so to the prepared and the unprepared equally.
Does being a mother give one the right to bluff? If having children is a gamble, one has no choice but to bluff. We lived on the college campus where I was teaching at the time. Enclosed within the fences was a land of trees and ponds and creeks and fountains. The preschool was in a building that, with its white stucco and Spanish tiled roof, looked like an outdated resort in the Mediterranean. America was a young country, California among its youngest states.
Still, the world was full of perils. Some rather real, some rather close. Once, campus security sent out a warning that an unaccompanied pit bull had been spotted roaming near the swimming pool. Sometimes a drive-by shooting happened on the street corner near the preschool, and on those days the children were deprived of their outdoor time. A recurring fear I had, during those years, was that on a windy day a eucalyptus branch would fall on our heads. In one of the earliest conversations about nature I had with my children, I pointed out that the settlers had made a mistake introducing eucalyptus trees to California.
Hairdresser on Fire
A fire hazard in the dry season, I said, and in winter storms there was the danger of falling limbs. Once, returning to campus after a haircut, I ran into a colleague. My goodness, she said, I thought you were a student. I blend in, I replied. I could easily have booked an appointment at a boutique salon in one of the more picturesque suburbs. Mencius said that a man of wisdom does not stand next to a wall that is about to topple. Even though I wore sneakers and was a fast runner, I should have known that nobody can outrun a bullet.
Had I been superstitious, I would have thought that she had put a spell on me. Lily liked to chat.
Hairdresser On Fire
There were always dramas in her life. Once, her husband broke a toe when he tripped on the carpet that they had finally installed in their house, after ten years of planning. Once, her youngest son, who went to a state university, overslept on the very same morning that a man hacked at random pedestrians with a knife on their street. I listened, smiled, and asked questions—these were my most tiresome traits, and I used them tirelessly. Each encounter was a test I set up for myself: How long could I get people to talk about themselves without remembering to ask me a question?
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I had no stories to share. I had opinions, and yet I was as stubborn as Bartleby. I liked to believe that she had waited years for a perfect client like me. Once, a student complained about a J. Read a book for what it is, I admonished the student, not for what you want it to be.
The student replied that I had only stale ideas of what literature was about. What is life? I wanted to ask. What is real? But right away I felt exhausted. If she were to dismantle anything, it would be a house worth buying as a flipper. To my surprise, that day she did not want to talk about her husband or children or in-laws. Or perhaps it was a different day when she decided to tell me a love story. All those stories she had told me before had been only a prologue. It took one haircut for me to get the bare bones of the story, and a few more to gather the details, and still a few more for me to start looking at Lily askance.
What was real? What was life? She grew up in an ethnic-Chinese family in Vietnam. At sixteen, she fell in love with the Vietnamese boy next door, who was sixteen, too. He would do anything just to be with me, he told my parents. I thought about that war, three weeks and six days long, which was nearly forgotten now.
But, placed in history, that war was no more than a skinned knee or a sneeze to mankind. When Lily asked me if I knew the history between the two countries, I almost slipped and said yes. Then I remembered: I was supposed to have grown up in a country far from Asia, with an enviable childhood.
She had helped her parents in their Chinese takeout, apprenticed with an older cousin who ran a hair salon in Los Angeles, married, and had children. For a while, Lily kept asking me that, and each time I replied no, feeling bad for delivering disappointing news, yet not bad enough to stop going to see her.
Years of standing in the same spot—cutting and shaving and dyeing and listening to the uncles and aunties—had turned Lily into an unhurried storyteller. She took detours, and, like a verbal magician, offered dazzling distractions and commonplace tricks.
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More people came into the story, marching in and out like a platoon of extras. Her schoolmates were remembered. Some of them had also had crushes on Tuan. The friendships between the fathers and between the eldest sons of the two families were recollected, but friendships severed by war were hardly worth a movie. No one could pry his fingers off the chain lock. At the end of the third night, his older brothers were finally able to take him back to their house.
Everyone thought he was going to die. Could anyone cry non-stop for three days and three nights without food or drink or sleep? But what right did I have to doubt the boy, what right did I have to want him to express his heartbreak more poetically or die more realistically, like Michael Furey? Sorrow only desiccated me. Tears came to an end. Desiccation persisted. The boy did not die. He recovered and eventually moved to another province in Vietnam to teach mathematics at a middle school. A woman in town fell in love with him, though he did not reciprocate. A life of waiting was interrupted by a bout of illness, during which the woman took care of Tuan like a good wife.
After that, the two were married, and together they raised three daughters. How can I? He wrote and asked about my family, and told me a few things about his wife and daughters.
- All Will Be Well;
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- “When We Were Happy We Had Other Names”.
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Say a few nice things. The two countries were to blame, not the two of you.