Next installment of “For Tomorrow.” This is another flashback to Jake and Wakesho’s days in Kenya.
DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. All characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual people, alive or dead, is purely coincidental.
“Can’t you have one of your girlfriends do this?” Jake complained, shaking his hands to try to restore feeling to his fingertips.
“They all want money. Or they say they’re too busy. Besides, I like the way you do it, you’re very gentle,” Wakesho said.
She was sitting on the floor on a foam cushion from Jake’s sofa with her head between Jake’s knees as Jake sat on a stool from his kitchen. They were on the front porch of Jake’s house facing the ocean, watching the tide come in.
“I don’t understand women and their hair,” grumbled Jake. “You spend hours getting it braided only to spend hours taking the braids out a month later.”
“We do it because of you men. Don’t you think that it makes us more beautiful?”
“Babe, you are a natural beauty, you don’t need to manipulate your hair. You would be gorgeous even if you were bald.”
“Seriously? Jake, do you mean it? I will shave my head if that’s what you like. But you know this is seven years of growth.”
“I am serious that you would be gorgeous with a shaved head, yes. But I’m not serious about asking you to do it.”
Jake was struggling with a stubborn hair extension that was knotted into Wakesho’s natural hair and refusing to come out. He used the tip of a pencil to prize the hair strands apart one by one. It was tedious work.
“You know, in my culture we only shave our heads if someone close to us dies. It’s a sign of mourning. If I shaved my head now people would think I was in mourning,” said Wakesho. “And with our wedding coming up I don’t want people thinking I’m in mourning.”
“But I see young ladies all the time these days with shaved heads or short hair, do people still associate it with traditional beliefs?”
“Not in Nairobi or Mombasa. But if I was in Sagala for sure people would ask me who died. Do this side next, baby, my neck hurts,” said Wakesho, shifting to her left side.
“Just don’t put chemicals on your hair, I like it natural,” said Jake.
“You don’t want me to straighten it like a white girl?” Wakesho teased.
“Nope, I want you to grow a huge Afro!”
“Jake, you have no idea how much work it takes to maintain an Afro! I don’t have time for that. That’s why I like braids, they are low maintenance.”
“What about dreads? I think small dreads are really sexy.”
“Dreads are for Rastas. Everyone will think I smoke bhangi. Besides, they are not professional. I would never get a job if I wore dreads.”
“That’s so weird. To me it’s just another hairstyle.”
“Well for us it’s much more than just a hairstyle. Dreads are what the Mau Mau wore in the forest while they were fighting the British. Like Dedan Kimathi. You’ve seen his pictures?”
“Yes, they made us watch a really dull history film at the National Archives during our training. I remember that all the Mau Mau had long dreads. But I’m not talking about huge dreads down to your waist like Burning Spear, I’m talking about nice little neat ones.”
“Still, it doesn’t matter. Dreads are dreads. And in Kenya if you wear dreads people think you are a Rasta and that you smoke a lot of bhangi. It’s just the way people think. Especially here at the coast, you know the way the beach boys wear dreads?”
“Okay, but when we are in America you can wear any style of hair you want and no one will think it means anything political.”
“Are you sure? Jake, you don’t know much about black people’s hair, I’m sorry, but you don’t.”
“No, it’s true. I don’t. I grew up in a very white part of the country. You’re the first black girl I’ve ever dated.”
“So what made you want to date a black girl?”
“Who is that?”
“From the Cosby Show. Lisa Bonet played the daughter, Denise Huxtable. I was completely in love with her when I was a kid.”
“Jake, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Is this a TV show or something?”
“Yes, you know Bill Cosby?”
“I’ve heard of him, but you have to remember I didn’t grow up watching TV. I’m a village girl and I went to a boarding school. Besides, we don’t have all those American shows in Kenya.”
“So in the 80’s, Cosby had the most popular TV show in America. The father was a doctor, the mother was a lawyer and the kids were all smart and good looking and successful. It was one of the first TV shows that portrayed upper class black Americans in a very positive way.”
“So you were in love with this character, Denise?”
“I wouldn’t say I was in love with her, I mean I knew she was fictional. But it was kind of earth shattering for me. I grew up in a very white part of America. I didn’t interact with black people at all because there just weren’t any around. So blacks were always the ‘other,’ you know? Somehow different. But then along comes the Cosby Show and not only are black people just like us, this family is actually a whole lot wealthier than us. And this daughter Denise, she’s cool, she’s funky, she’s sassy and she’s smart and absolutely gorgeous. So imagine me, a young kid going through puberty suddenly realizing that hey, black people aren’t different or ‘other,’ and wow, some of them are sexy as hell, too. It was sort of an awakening, I guess.”
“Here, oil my scalp,” said Wakesho, handing Jake a bottle of coconut oil. “Just put a little on your finger tip and rub it into the scalp at the base of the hair. Do that at every braid.”
“This is so much work!” complained Jake.
“Uh huh. Being beautiful is hard work. So Jake, how do I know that you’re serious about me and not just curious about black girls? How do I know this isn’t just some sort of experiment? I mean you said this TV character is what made you interested in black girls, but I’m the first one you’ve ever dated. How come you didn’t date a black girl in America?”
“It’s hard to explain. It’s not like that. I mean, you don’t just decide one day ‘hey, I’m going to go find a black girl to date.’ First of all, there were no black girls in my home town or in high school. None. We had one black guy who spent about a year in our school and then moved on somewhere, and there was a mixed-race guy a few years younger than me, but that was it. So I never even knew any black girls until I went to college. But even then there weren’t many. My college was very white, too. And I was a biology major and chemistry minor, and there just aren’t many minorities in the sciences, to be honest. So basically I never really had the chance to meet anyone. And to be completely honest, I never really dated anyone in college anyway.”
“What? You’re not saying I’m your first girlfriend?” Wakesho stood up suddenly and stretched her legs and back.
“Well, you kind of are. Is that a problem?”
“Jake! Why didn’t you tell me this before? We have been planning our wedding and now suddenly you tell me I’m the first girl you’ve ever dated? How can you marry the first person you ever dated?”
“It’s not like that. I’ve dated other girls. But they weren’t serious relationships. There was only one other who was serious and that just never worked out at all. It was unrequited love. I was in love with her but she didn’t love me.”
“Jake, this is serious. I need to think about this.”
“What do you mean? How does this change anything at all between us? I love you.”
“I know, and I love you, too. But I’m just afraid that you’re jumping into this too quickly. How can you be sure that you want to marry me if you’ve never had a serious relationship with anyone else?”
“So what, you want me to go out and date someone else and see if I still feel the same way about you?”
“No, I don’t want that. But I want you to be sure that this is what you want before we get married.”
“Wakesho, listen. What’s your favorite food? Roasted goat?”
“Yes, you know it is.”
“Do you remember the first time you ever tasted roasted goat? You knew immediately that you loved it, right? You didn’t have to go around tasting beef and pork and chicken and whatever so you could compare them and make sure that goat was truly your favorite, did you?”
“Jake, are you comparing me to a goat?” Wakesho asked incredulously.
“Hmm, it sounds like it, doesn’t it?” Jake laughed. “But you get my point, right? You are the one, I know it. I knew it the moment we first met that day in Mombasa when I caught your eye in the Post Office and you smiled at me. That smile melted my heart. I fell in love with you on the spot. Wakesho, I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.”
“Jake, I know you do. And I love you, and I want to marry you. I’m sorry, I guess I’m just nervous that maybe one day you will change your mind and realize that you made a mistake. I mean, why me?”
“Why you? Because you are the most incredible person I’ve ever met.”
“But what if you meet someone more incredible someday?”
“That could never happen because there isn’t anyone more incredible than you.”
Unbraided hair extensions lay in a pile by Jake’s feet. His hands were oily from the coconut oil. He went into the kitchen and got a towel and wiped his hands.
“What do you want to do with this old hair?” he asked.
“Throw it away. It’s useless now.”
“Shame, someone in India grew her hair for years so you could use it for a month. Seems like a waste.”