I wake up to her lightly soothing my arm saying, “Wake up, mama.” My eyes peek at her for a moment then revert back to some more REM.
“Vamos Ariella, no hay tiempo,” Lets’ go Ariella, there’s not much time.
This time her voice resonates a bit louder with enough edge to break the sleep spell. I’m still rubbing my eyes as she jolts me up on my feet. Cheerios wait for me at the table; I sneak to the kitchen for a spoon of sugar while she’s distracted applying her makeup. Moments later we’re out the door and en route.
Click clack click clack.
The sound of my mom’s shoes leads me as I hold on tight to her belt hoop. Soon we’re on the bus. She shields me with her arm around my waist as I stare out the window. My jacket is too warm for inside the bus but the spring weather is too ambiguous to go without it. Off the BX3 and boarding the M100. We briskly pace two blocks and down below to the D train. As I sit, the train’s lateral force slides my posture over but I regain control. I count the stops down as people enter and leave.
“THE NEXT STATION IS …HARLEM 125TH STREET. PLEASE EXIT THROUGH THE NEAREST SLIDING DOORS.”
Some people carry briefcases, others suitcases, and some book bags.
“THE NEXT STATION IS …DOWNTOWN. THIS IS THE LAST STOP, PLEASE EXIT THE TRAIN.”
I’m fatigued by the constant walking but I can’t wait to get there, the only place I know where women come in looking all kinds of ways and leave better than before. They all seem lackluster and almost gray when they first enter through the salon door, shoulders slumped, faces unengaging, attitudes distasteful, patience slim, and hair—a mess.
We hop off the train and take the concrete stairs up to the nearest bus stop. My mom fishes through her purse for her MetroCard and we’re on the big wheels again. I spot the familiar streets. We’re almost there. I see Ervonia’s glistening white Benz parked in the front and I know we’ve arrived. As we enter, all the hairdressers greet me briefly at eye level in soft voices.
“Good Morning, how are you sweetie?”
Miguelina, the hair washer, comments on how fast I’m growing and sneaks me a Blow Pop while whispering, “Not until after lunch, ok?” I give her a secure smile and jam the treat in my back pocket, avoiding my mom’s eye.
There’s not much time before the 9:00 a.mppointments. Combing the hair off the styling brushes, my mom shoots me a scolding glare. I catch it and run to my designated spot on the bench. My mom’s chair is the first one on the right as you enter the salon parallel to my sitting spot behind her on the black leather bench. The hair cutting tools are submersed in Barbicide with a clinck as the scissors reach the bottom of the jar. I prefer her chair over my assigned seat, but it’s not my turn yet.
They’re playing Anthony Santos, all the women sing along. Elsa, in the back by the hair dryers, whistles the tune. I pucker my lips in imitation and let out a puff of air. No sound. I’m in a trance of reciting the words as my mom hands me the crossword puzzle book from her navy apron left pocket. I wonder how many I can complete before lunch time. The floor is checker and glossy. I’m tempted to pick at the small hole at the end of the bench, but I know this place does not shame spankings. I force myself to concentrate on the small book in my lap. There’s some puzzles about animals, some about toys, one about season—it’s my mom favorite season. A season of blooms and brides. My eyes are drawn to the bridal hairdos on the poster above the first mirror. Number 13 was a beautiful low bun studded with small silver diamond butterflies, styled to the right, with a swooped side bang tucked behind the right ear, a waterfall of curled hair hung over the bun, and a braided crown secured a cubic zirconia tiara.
The first client struts in. I wonder if she’ll get number 13. She has a torn page from a magazine. My mom scans the designs and places it on the dresser near the hair blower and curling irons. The lady is now escorted to Miguelina for a hair wash. As they chat, I catch a glimpse of her hands. I’m looking for one finger in particular. Her hand is lifted out from under the long black cap and the ring reflects the ceiling lights. Wow, so pretty.
“Cuantas palabras haz encontrado?” How many words have you found? my mom snaps.
I struggle for words and she stares at my face. “Ah-ha! Para de estar de mirona.” In translation, stop staring. Staring is rude. I digress into the dull puzzles. The door bells ding as another customer walks in. I choose the animal crossword and search for GIRAFFE. The lady is now back in my mom’s chair.
“A que hora es la misa?” When’s mass? They chat about the details of her bridal itinerary as my mom slicks each wet strand of hair into rollers. G I R A….
Tanya’s phone rings and she flips her phone open. “HA-LO?” Her client rolls her eyes as she flips the page of the magazine while Tanya tucks her cellphone between her shoulder and ear.
G I R A F F E, check.
Ding dong! The bell goes again. This time a mother and daughter duo. My mom’s sweaty face darts a stare at Ervonia who shoots a stare at Mabel sitting in her styling chair browsing through hair colors who quickly says, “I’ll take care of mom first” and signals a girl a half inch taller than me to my neighboring spot. Her hair is toppled on her head in a “no time, we gotta go” bun; I watch her eyes glaze over at the girls’ hairstyles poster above Elsa’s mirror. Like a child at a candy store, she seems lost with an abundance of options.
“I’m getting number 9 done today.” I interrupt her thoughts.
She turns her attention to me reluctantly.
“Which one are you doing today?” I continue.
“I don’t know,” she says dryly. “My mom is going to pick.” I fight the urge to tell her I wasn’t just a client like her, that my mom was a hairdresser and I could have any of the styles I want, but I focus on finding TURTLE.
T U R T L E, check.
I’ve never gotten number 9 before. I wonder if my mom will protest. Number 9 is corn rolls in swirls decorated with colored beads at the ends. I know Ana, the braiding specialist, would be doing it for me so I debate whether to put my request in now before she gets another customer. My mom sees my intentions clear through the reflection in the mirror as she steps on the silver lever pumping the black leather chair higher and gives me a “I hope you’re finished with that first puzzle” look. I quickly scan for next word, ELEPHANT.
The girl who’s gone to get her hair washed and can’t pick her own hairdo is back sitting next to me. This time I’m nonchalant about her presence. I look at the clock. How much longer ‘till it’s my turn, I wonder. I hope my mom’s not offended when I tell her which style I’m doing today—braiding is not her expertise.
E L E P H A N T, check.
The sound of the hair blowers fills the salon and heat rises in small clouds as pieces of hair are transformed from coarse to silky. The smell of burning hair fills my nostrils. I see myself in the mirror. Ugh. It’s time for a new hairdo. My mom is busy blowing out her client’s hair when the lady catches me at the corner of the mirror reflection gazing at my mom.
“Esa es tu niña?”
My mom confirms and informs the lady that I am 6 years old and the younger one of her two daughters. The client smiles at me. I smile back.
“Ella se porta muy bien.” She’s very well behaved.
Mom gives me a proud smile. I gleam.
A couple crosswords later, I glance up to see the lady in the leather chair. Completely transformed. My mom, standing behind her, holds up a smaller mirror to reveal her masterpiece. I can see the lady’s eyes become glossy like the wax on the checkered floors. She’s never seen herself this beautiful before.
Hours later I find myself fed and sitting pretty. My braids look just like the girl in the picture Number 9. I shake my head to hear the beads collide with each other making small clashing sounds, when I see my mom untying her apron. Elsa signals me to lift my feet up as she sweeps up all the fallen hair under my chair.
I know it’s time to go.
Back on the bus, fast pace down to the subway, on board the subway, off, run across the street to the bus, exiting the bus, walk down three blocks.
The shower is running. My mom has wiped off all the light makeup from her face; she’s bare now. A warm glass of milk waits for me at the kitchen table. I’m getting in my pajamas as she wraps up her right hand with the old elastic bandage.
Her hair is washed and mounted up in a towel, but her arms don’t have enough strength to blow dry it tonight.
Ariella Mendoza Ozuna is a junior at CCSU. “A Day at the Salon” is her first published work. She was raised in Bronx, New York and now resides in Stamford, CT.
Originally published in the FALL 2018 edition of the Helix.