I was, being lulled into a stupor, my book lying unread on my lap, one
foot in a whirl of warm, soapy water, another being gently massaged. Did I
want my nails painted in deep wine or dusty pink, inquired the pretty,
hour at a beauty salon is more of a retreat into a woman’s space, to
make ready for battle with the outside world, rather than a date with
walls are unashamedly peach, the music easy, endless cups of coffee and
tea gracefully proffered and consumed, the air is fruity with creams,
lotions, sprays and polish.
soirees spring up in the shared intimacy of the sauna, under the hair
dryers, during a massage. I’ve often wondered why women talk so much in
these salons. It’s a safe womb-like space. You are expected to be
laughter of women rings out, scandalously, all trace of demure control
vanquished because it is free, temporarily unarmed. It’s okay to enter
this feminine space with chipped nail polish, uneven hair colour, sore
muscles, tired eyes. In fact, we are expected to look like hell, which is
why we are there in the first place.
in a place associated with artifice, there is only honesty. And if you
walk along a corridor moving from the masseuse, to the manicurist, you
will hear behind closed doors, murmuring of women sharing secrets and
advice, but mostly, cheering one another on, building up one another’s
confidence in a world which we intuitively acknowledge can be hostile to
all, it’s a reprieve from fear which is so much part of our daily lives
that we absorb and factor it into our world as a fact of life. The polish,
the cut, the massage are simply a conduit to a ritual of survival.
chose the deep wine.
she painted, my pedicurist’s animated words ran rapidly into one
another, girlish, as if she had not long left her mother’s womb and
there wasn’t enough time in the day to observe everything.
she spoke I observed how lovely she was, with her quintessentially
Trinidadian face, the kind that has given us our reputation for beautiful
women, and can be found at every taxi stand, marketplace, office, mall or
face with its perfect oval shape, slanting eyes, glowing skin, could
probably launch a thousand ships, reflecting as it did, the features of
three, four continents.
slid even further into my chair, enjoying her chat about drag-racing, the
pleasure of watching a car speed with an aeroplane’s engine, thinking
languidly how pleasant it must be to be so young that your biggest gripe
is ‘Trinidadians’ who won’t stay off the track.
I should have known better. She was much bigger than my version of her
giddy, careless youth. The opposite is true.
has been robbed of that lovely sense of wonder, that careless freedom. And
women are almost always smarter than they look. (That’s also survival
because insecure men who tend to be violent don’t like that).
conversation rose with the skill of a crafted novel to a crescendo, a
pitch so compelling that she became the mouthpiece of every ordinary young
girl in this country, carrying me from the comfort zone to a point that
made me feel as if knives were being turned in my stomach.
asked how she was, expecting something platitudinous.
got a monologue.
sat up. She told me instead of how a short ‘lime’ in a sports bar in
town with her boyfriend turned into a nightmare.
the window of their car was smashed open on that busy street, early
evening, their valuables stolen. Now she perpetually looks over her
shoulder, night and broad daylight.
told me of her policeman friend who recounted to her in detail, the story
of the young woman who was picked up by armed bandits who went on an
all-night robbery rampage, how they raped her two at a time, after each
robbery and eventually left her battered body on the highway saying: “We
won’t bother to kill you. You are dead, anyway. We’ve given you
was sure those men had mothers, sisters, girlfriends, even children, but
no heart. She was sure they are beasts, paper humans without souls, and
not human men lurking in dark corners in streets, or disguised as an
uncle, even father, raping, hurting babies, women, grandmothers.
understand the proceeds from the Vagina Monologues, a play that our
puritan society will no doubt baulk against preferring as we do, the
bawdy, the slapstick, (and whatever makes us reflect the least) will go
towards, as Diana Mahabir-Wyatt put it “finding out why men hate women
and children so much”.
men can have their “men only” cricket and rotary clubs, their lodges.
But next time you hear a woman is at a beauty salon, remember, she’s not
wasting money, she’s seeking refuge from the dark around her for a