He looked dispassionately at his livestock as they huddled together. They were all shapes and sizes, but he had no interest in their flesh or indeed their pedigrees, their only value to him was the covering that adorned each one. He had ordered that they be scrubbed clean and, deloused where necessary, and he gazed at them in icy detachment, mentally calculating how much he stood to gain after the shearing.
They all had a story to tell, if anyone cared enough to ask, but the common thread that bound them together was poverty, abject poverty, most of it not of their own making. They had been offered up by their parents, or their relatives, who knew that they income they would fetch would feed their families for a few months. The decision had been made on their behalf, they had had no choice at all in the matter. Mute with resentment, they stood sneaking glances at the man who held their fate in his hands. They had been herded into this small enclosure, and they knew the fate that awaited them. Their eyes were downcast, none daring to look the other in the eye, not wanting to see the despair they knew was reflected in their own eyes too. The man strode up and down between them, reaching out his hand to grab handfuls of hair as he went past.
He suddenly came to a halt in front of a girl who stared back at him with bold black eyes. She stood straight with ramrod stiff shoulders, and her hair cascaded down her head and rippled off her back, almost to her waist. He’d heard rumours that this herd contained a very special girl, and he knew without being told, that this was her. He had also heard that she was an Umbanda high priestess, but he was an educated man, and had no time for silly superstitions and beliefs. He reached out to touch her hair, and winced as he felt a razor sharp cut across his fingers. He glanced at his hand in shock, and watched as ruby red drops of blood welled up and started running down his hand. He yelled to his men ‘Grab her and search her, the stupid bitch hid a razor in her hair’ and started out of the room angrily. ‘What about the others?’ one of the men asked. ‘Not this time’ he retorted. ‘This one will do for today’ and with that he returned his hand to his mouth in an attempt to soothe his hand, which had started throbbing.
Hours later, he was being driven to the airport, his hand bandaged securely. The guards had not found anything in her hair, and she had been shorn of every single strand. She had started keening in a high pitched voice the instant they had started cutting her hair, and the only word he had been able to make out was ‘Orisha, orisha’. He knew some Brazilians were rumoured to still carry out the worship of the Yoruba gods, despite having been sold into slavery centuries before, but he had never given it a single thought till today. His hand was still throbbing, but the thought of how much money he stood to make from the two cases of virgin ‘Remy’ hair in the trunk of the rental car, helped to ease the pain. He wondered again just what had cut his hand, and reflected that his trip to the three villages on the outskirts of Florianopolis had been quite worthwhile.
She stooped as she entered the smoky room ,and then she hurried to kneel before the shrine in which a small fire burned. There were various carvings depicting Yoruba gods, and she bowed before that of Shango, the god of thunder. ‘They have come again’ she intoned. They sold us into slavery years ago, and now they come to steal our hair. Arise Shango, and avenge us’. She opened her hand to reveal a few strands of hair. ‘His blood, as requested’ she said, tossing it into the fire. As the flames consumed the hair, thunder rumbled in the skies overhead, and heavy rain started to fall. She sank to her knees before the flames and started to keen again.
He sat back in his car as his driver pulled away from the front of the busy Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Ikeja, and imagined the delight on Deidre’s face as he presented her with the special hair. He knew she would be the envy of all her friends, and that she would show her appreciation with even more acrobatic exertions later that day. His mind shifted to Shade, his wife, and he grimaced at the thought of seeing her. She had done nothing to offend, except that she had chosen to remain the simple unaffected person she had been when they had first met. She was not swayed by the craze for Brazilian, Indian and other human hair that currently swept Lagos and was quite content to use inexpensive synthetic extensions for her twists and braids. A sharp piercing pain suddenly shot from his hand to his chest and the shock of it made him suck in his breath. He looked at his hand, and it seemed to have swollen considerably since he’d landed. He wondered if he ought to get the hand seen to by a doctor, but wondered how he would explain the cut that continued to seep with no signs of drying up. He had a sudden instinct to go home, knowing that Shade would immediately change the bandage for him whilst praying over his hand; the image of her reaching for the bottle of anointed oil she always kept handy made him chuckle in exasperation, but he did not tell his driver to change course, and they continued on their way to Deidre’s apartment.
To be continued…..