I don’t think I ever emptied a bowl of water on my sisters’ hair when I was a kid. My father hurriedly separated us when I came of age. Before then, we—my three sisters and I—shared a bedroom. We slept in the same bed, positioning ourselves like logs of wood. That was in the early 2000s when we lived in Mushin, Lagos. After we moved to our new house in Ikorodu, Lagos, I got the chance to sleep in a different room, while all my sisters shared a room.
We grew, and my father sent me to boarding school in another state—Ogun. I and my younger sister, Flourish, attended a mixed-gender school, while my older sisters, Favor, and Perfecta, attended an all-girls school. My parents planned their childbearing so that there’s a two or three year gap between us. Even though I and Flourish attended the same school, we only ever saw each other a couple of times every day. And that was during open gatherings of both male and female students.
I have spent most of my life outside my home, collating memories and experiences in the world. In the past decade, I only spent a maximum of three months at home in a year, until now, when the pandemic coerced us to remain under the same roof.
If all the movies I’ve seen with female characters have taught me anything, it’s that women cherish their hair as if it were strands of stars their scalps produced.
On the day I remember like it was only an hour ago, Flourish barged into my room, halting my writing. I sat on my bed, editing and revising a story on my laptop. It rained and the chilly weather compelled me to wear a cardigan while indoors. Her face stiffened with gloom; her eyes watery as she spoke to me, almost like a slice of onions got stuck in her eyes. Following minutes of explanation, she revealed that her hair was itching, and she thought she had dandruff. I struggled to understand why she was reacting as if it was eating away at her brain. Soon tears dripped from her eyes in a thin line; the sight convincing me to desert my bed.
She googled how to get rid of dandruff on her Infinix phone. And her findings drove her to watch a video. On YouTube, the lady listed: apple cider vinegar, baking soda, lime, or lemon. Those were the necessities to send dandruff packing from her hair. Fortunately, we had the ingredients in the kitchen. The thought of rushing out to a store already put my heart on a racetrack. I watched her mix them in a bowl in the kitchen, stirring with a spoon. For a second, one could mistake it for a juice.
It hadn’t dawned on me that I would wash her hair until she carried a stool and crammed the air with utterances of my name. My father was asleep. My mom had traveled before the pandemic to visit Favor, who gave birth in January and was stuck in Ghana (Favor married and relocated). Perfecta who is an alternative medicine practitioner wasn’t at home. She hadn’t returned from the hospital. What’s more, my younger sister wasn’t ready to wait. She wanted her hair washed before the hour’s end.
When I realized there was nobody else, I followed her to the bathroom. She sat on a wooden stool and bowed her head underneath the tap. I dunked my hand in the bowl, scooped the substance, and scoured it on her head, massaging it as she requested. Yet she grumbled she wasn’t feeling my fingers on her scalp, so I pressed more enthusiastically until my fingers felt numb.
As instructed by the YouTube lady: apply the mixture, then leave for ten minutes. Afterward, you wash with shampoo. And you’re done.
Ten minutes passed and I applied shampoo on her hair. The shampoo I used contained aloe vera—her usual kind. Her hair frothed; her head looked as though she wore ice cream. I scoured her hair under the running tap. There was also a bucket in the bathroom filled with water. Intermittently, I poured water on her hair from the bucket using a bowl. With more water on her hair, it soon lost its soapiness.
Seconds later, she wrapped her head with a blue towel and stood in front of a full-length mirror. The smile on her face after I finished washing her hair could probably banish a gathering of dark clouds. Her feeling of happiness infected me and I returned to my room grinning at a job well done.