Women in black plastic smocks, natter about nothing, conversations muffled by the hum of competing blow dryers force them to speak louder. Their accompanying stylists feign interest, painted with stiff smiles, and vacant eyes. Two women in swivel chairs appear to have received a jolt of electricity – heads covered in folded strips of foil, smeared with hair dye. Trashy mags in hand; laser focus on images of plastic surgery gone awry; one titillated by salacious details of a leaked sex video involving a young, want-to-be actress and a married baller.
A nineties boy band hit pumps through camouflaged speakers. Patrons strain their ears to make out the words to the infectious chorus; remembering the catchy lyrics of decades past; one woman deliberates on which band member ended up in rehab.
An animated stylist, the size of a sixth grader, gossips with her chubby middle-aged client, while flat-ironing the woman’s shoulder length clownish red hair, judging her, for using an ‘out of box’ touch up in-between visits. The stylist’s intonation bounces up and down like the want-to-be-actress skillfully rides the baller, which the swivel chair lady will discover later this evening, when she downloads the sex video in the privacy of her bedroom.
A male stylist with glasses, freckles and a nerdy charm, appears out of place. He could easily be clothed in a blue suit and planted in a cubicle in a bank tower. His voice is theatrical and high-pitched, a mismatch for his conservative shell; hand affixed to hip, waxing on about his garden and the neighborhood cat that keeps shitting in his peony bushes. His client is red-faced, giggling, at each catty word he utters.
A woman enters the salon, inquiring if there’s availability for a colour. She appears slightly hesitant, observing the stylists and the organized chaos, while the receptionist studies the schedule on the computer screen. The woman’s sense of urgency permeates the air between her and the receptionist, who offers to adjust the schedule and accommodate her, stating it’s because she has short hair that they can squeeze her in.
The woman is thrilled to be escorted into the center of the room, amongst strangers, who like her seek to be pampered and transformed. Putting on the black smock, she remembers her last colour, at a different salon, in a different life. Her hair flowed down her back, her body still intact. Life was fast; she was immortal. The scenes in between clutter her mind bringing melancholy. She fights tears not wanting to stand out.
Her short cut seems Rapunzel long, as she stares at herself in the mirror, noting the stylist over her shoulders, assessing the same image. The stylist, complements her on her braveness to go so short. The woman pauses contemplating whether to divulge the truth or remain anonymous. She chooses to share. The stylist in turn softens her approach ever so slightly, asking if she wants a glass of water, cucumber or orange infused. Returning with the water, she states that her aunt is a survivor. She has that look, the one of pity mixed with a tinge of discomfort but all blanketed with politeness.
A rich dark brown is selected; a close match to the shade she remembers her long hair was before it fell out clogging her shower drain. While the colour sets, she avoids conversation, aware this appears to be a routine appointment, but for her, it’s another first; a milestone involving chemicals, but chemicals that bring beauty, not steal it away.
A curvy soft-spoken girl with jet-black bangs and volumes of eyeliner, escorts the woman to the sink, ensuring the woman is comfortable with her neck positioned just right on the cushioned lip. The woman closes her eyes and exhales; goose bumps cover her flesh. Beaming, loving being indulged, forgetting her husband and kids don’t know where she is, her phone on silent, ignoring the incessant text messages from her teenagers. She remembers how decadent it is to have someone wash her hair. Hands massage her scalp; the scent of eucalyptus calms her mind, allowing her to melt further into the chair. The stream of water drowns out the cacophony of noise, and washes it all down the drain.