IF gossip and slander be the tonic for the soul, then this woman must be living in total tranquillity. As if tugging and pulling hard at my hair is not enough, she laughs at the top of her voice. Then she accompanies the sneer with a long winding jeer for every time she remembers the woman who annoyed her that morning.
When it is time to eat, she does not take a break â€” she chews and munches over my head as she pulls my hair and laughs with her mouth wide open. She is Margie, the woman who plaits my hair at my popular kafunda salon in Wandegeya, Kampala.
She will say the sweetest things to a potential customer and hurl the most venomous insults at the woman next door in the same breath. And as soon as the customer turns her back, she becomes the next victim of Maggieâ€™s corrosive tongue.
â€œOyo kaweke mmwe musibe, anti mwagala nnyo sente. Nze abo abatayonka nnabapowa sitawaana nabo. Yâ€™ayagala stailo ate ngâ€™obuviri busaala nga sityro. Ogenda okumala ngaâ€™engalo zijjudde enkyakya ngâ€™ezenjovu.â€ (You who are in need of money, go ahead and plait her hair. I cannot waste my time on such people. She wants complicated hairstyles yet her hair is like steel wool and by the time you are done with her, your hands are as cracked as an elephantâ€™s foot).
Such is the venom you will have to endure once you insist on a particular hairstyle which, apparently, Maggie is not conversant with, but does not want to admit.
If you are lucky (read a regular customer who pays well) you will be the subject of praise and admiration: â€œOyo mazzi mawanvu; nfiirako.â€ (That woman has the money; I would rather die than turn her down). If there were degrees to confer here, this hair stylist in Wandegeya would get the best â€” probably a first-class honours in bachelors of information, gossip and slander â€” something like BIGS (Hon).
She has mastered the art and she will spit the venom without batting an eyelid, with or without a client around. All she needs is spend a few minutes with you and she will churn out your profile and analyse your whole body and soul in a second â€” the way you were dressed, the man you are dating, the fact that you were dozing and how often your phone rang.
Dozing usually means you stayed up late getting up to no good or you have a good scalp, which can allow you to sleep through the tugging and pulling. My Margie seems to have added the line
â€œAbility to gossip and insult is an added advantageâ€ when she was recruiting the girls she works with. The last time I was there, her victim was a woman in the neighbourhood whom she called malaaya (prostitute).
And now, ask me why? The woman had dared challenge her by saying the hairstyle she had plaited was not beautiful. That did it! Like a cobra getting ready to attack, Maggie hissed, huffed and puffed and spat a hail of venom onto the young woman, the whole day, long after she had gone.
She told every customer who cared to listen and jeered at any passer- by that looked like or reminded her of the young woman. â€œSilly brat! No wonder she has no man chasing after her,â€ Maggie jeered. â€œLaba okugulu okumulinga omusekuzo. Ye abasajja nga balabye. Saasira omusajja alitwaala eryo ezikkeâ€ (her legs are like a pestle. Pity the man who will marry her).
And, remember, the mere mention of the word man sparks off a volley of gossip. The enthusiasm with which these women talk about men and sex would make one believe these are the only things that make their world go round.
I will give it to them though â€” they can narrate a story so accurately that you can picture it in your mindâ€™s eye. Margie precisely described a cat fight between three women over a Nigerian guy who owns a shop that sells hair pieces.
I could visualise it as clearly as a scene from a Nigerian movie, complete with the guy looking on smugly as the three tore their hair off their scalp. Mid-way into the gossip, the women remember they are missing out on potential customers passing by: â€œSister jjangu tukusibe (come so we plait your hair.â€
Is it one way of telling me that I have bad-looking hair? And why do my legs suddenly look like bukonyogo just because I have refused to branch off to your roadside salon?
And the sex talk â€” the graphic that would make the boldest woman or man blush with embarrassment. Some of these women take it upon themselves to play the role of ssenga to their customers. Calling a spade a spade is their trademark.
According to them, give your man great sex daily and you will have him under your armpit wherever you go. One of them narrated why she had to abandon her first husband: He could not produce boys because his manhood was too small! â€œImagine, it is three years since we separated and I have three bouncing boys!â€ she boasts.
â€œOyo Andy yali tamalaako; kajiiko bujiiko!â€ (He cannot produce boys because his p** is as small as a teaspoon) the woman narrated as her colleagues cheered. Another one told of how she locks her three-month- old baby in the house and sneaks out to go to the salon, her husband having refused her to work.
Then another talks about how her husband leaves her sh20,000 for food everyday and she only uses sh2,000 and pockets the rest.
Of course, all these tales are accompanied by cheers and intense admiration before the women drift back to their usual game of slander. As I listen, I shudder to think the scary nightmares I will endure that night having subjected my poor soul to this weird talk all day long.
And I set my foot outside the salon, I fear to look back, wary that the barrage of slander could hit my back like heavy artillery in Afghanistan.
But then I keep thinking if I were a butcher in Wandegeya, I would probably need no knife â€” just borrow a sharp tongue from one of these women and the job is done!
When friendship is not genuine
One of Maggieâ€™s â€˜girlsâ€™ talks about how she wants to go to a friendâ€™s kwanjula (introduction ceremony). â€œEkintwala kimu kyokya. Sigenda kulya, sigenda kunywa, njagala kulaba omusajja atwala akakazi ako. Nga kajerega abasajja ba banne!â€ (I am not after the celebrations. I just want to see the man she always brags about since she is fond of despising other womenâ€™s husbands).
Another woman wanted to attend the funeral of a colleague, not to console her over the loss of her mother, but to see where the bereaved comes from and whether they are welloff.
Then there is this other friend of theirs who was admitted to Mulago Hospital after undergoing an operation. â€œNagenzeeyo kulaba nga bwâ€™asetinze luumu ye,â€ (I went there to see how her room was set) one of them chipped in.
As I lay in my bed that night, I could not stop wondering how spiteful women can be. Are they living in competition with the whole world? Why would you attend my function just to size up my man?
Why would you come to my motherâ€™s funeral to assess my parentsâ€™ homestead and why would you visit me in hospital just to see what I have and what I am lacking?
Kafunda Salon- Acid tongues strip you to the bone