By A. Jarrell Hayes
She steps into the beauty salon smiling. Her teeth are polished ceramic gems, her fingernails clear as glass, and her hair flows like an ebony ocean. Her pumps clank to a halt. Her hand falls slightly to the side of her whimsical dress, and she smiles. This is her first day at work.
The parlor’s proprietor verbally greets her and tells her to enter. Introductions are made. “This is Sandy. Over here is Maria. You already know Tonya. Everyone, welcome Christy, our new receptionist.”
Christy had met Tonya her first night in the city. They had shared girl talk over drinks at the club. That was how Christy found out about the position.
Everyone says in sing-song voices: “Hi, Christy!”
Idle chatter ensues; the four women gang up on Christy, trying to pry secrets and dirt from her. Christy’s teeth act as a marble barricade, and not one slip–Freudian or other–passes from her lips. She doesn’t tell them about her six-month old child she abandoned at home with her mother. Or that her purpose for moving into town was to search for her father, who had abandoned her and her mother ten years earlier. It’s none of their business.
Christy likes being in control, that’s why she’s a career receptionist. She’s worked at salons, lawyer firms, high-rises; anywhere you can imagine.
A receptionist knows everything that happens in the office: who comes in, who they see, when they leave. Did they carry anything with them? Did they leave with anything? Are they important enough for one of the prime slots, or are they able to be bumped down or rescheduled if a major client needs the time?
A receptionist knows more than the boss about what’s going on in the office.
Christy can gain all this knowledge from sitting at her desk by the front window, writing in the appointment book and answering phones. She does this while filtering in data from the fluttering conversations and gossip. Nothing passes the ears of a receptionist.
Meagan, the owner, tells Christy her duties and how to perform them. In the interim between the departure of the old receptionist up until that day, Meagan had assumed the role of receptionist. She gives Christy the appointment book, along with a sheet of regular clients and their peculiarities.
“I know this is your first day,” Meagan tells Christy, “but just relax. You’ll do fine. Listen to what the other girls say; you’ll pick up a lot of the customers’ nuances from their gossip.” She smiles and waves at everyone, then disappears into her office.
Christy takes her advice. When she isn’t busy greeting a patron or answering the phone, she strains to hear the conversation between the stylists and clients, all while filing her own nails.
“Girl, let you tell you about the man I met last night.” Tonya’s velvety voice rises above the others. She doesn’t have a client yet, so she’s talking to Maria. “I met him at 5 Senses, at last night’s Grown & Sexy party.”
“Aye, why you ain’t tell me you was going, mami?” Maria has a spicy way of speaking; every word a challenge to the English language. Christy suspects she is pretending to be a Latina; the elementary Spanish Maria uses is probably something she learned off television.
“Slipped my mind,” Tonya says nonchalantly. “Anyways, like I was saying, I met this man there. He was tall and sexy chocolate. He had on nice clothes, too. I think his shoes were Gucci.”
“Eww. Gucci shoes are ugly,” says Sandy, jumping into the conversation from the manicure table. She’s with a client, but focuses more on the conversation than the woman’s nails. Luckily the customer is a regular, a favorite of Sandy’s, and is just as intent on hearing about Tonya’s adventure as her manicurist.
“Nikes and Timbs are the best,” Sandy says. “Gotta love a man that looks sexy when comfortable.”
“You need to leave them thugs alone,” says Tonya, her voice teasing. “Or you’ll end up spending all your tip money on bail.” She and Maria laugh.
Sandy sucks her teeth and rolls her eyes. “Whatever, bish.” She remembers she’s with a client, and says to her, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Johnson.”
“Don’t stress it, child,” says the older woman. A grin forms on her lips and she shakes her head.
“Anyways, back to my man.” Tonya begins to go into greater detail of her encounter at the club. At the same time, the salon receives a call that Christy has to take. She can tell by the broad-lipped grins on the faces of the women that she’s missing a juicy tale.
Christy gets off the phone with the customer just as Tonya wraps up her story. “His name is Tyrone or Tyrese or something with a T. And–mmph–is he a T: tall, thick, and talented.” She sticks her tongue out and briefly mimics cunnilingus.
Maria pushes her playfully. “Mami, you are so nasty. Giving up the coochie and not even knowing papi’s name.”
“I like them thugs but at least I ain’t no ho,” says Sandy. Christy can’t tell if Sandy is joking or not, but everyone else in the shop assumes she is.
Christy would have to rethink her employment status if a fight broke out on her first day.
“What you say?” says Tonya. “At least I can get a man. You always wearing them knock off jeans. You need to get you some style.” She glides her hands down her outfit: a pink blouse and yellow skirt. “You got to learn how to dress sexy. No man gonna want you, dressed in sneaks and caps all the time.”
“As a matter of fact,” Sandy retorts, moving her head upon her neck like it is trying to walk on marbles, “I do got a man. And I know his name, too. It’s T-Bone.”
“T-Bone? Like the steak?” Maria bursts into laughter, and out of her fake accent.
Tonya soon joins in the revelry. “Tells us about steak man. Is he well-done or rare?”
Sandy grunts, rolls her eyes, and concentrates on Mrs. Johnson’s nails. “I got nothing to tell you heifers.”
“Chill out, mami. Wes only playing, damn,” says Maria.
Sandy relents easily, because, honestly, she wants to gloat about this man. “Well, I met him at the bus stop. He was driving this silver Caddy, sitting on 24s. Yeah, it was a fresh ride. He a little older than me, but I like ‘em older. They gots more experience. Know how to treat a lady.”
“Then what is he doing with you?” says Tonya. “You ain’t no lady.” She giggles.
“He drove me home,” Sandy snaps back.
“Did he ‘drive it home,’ too,” asks Maria, cutting her eyes at her coworker.
“No, he did not. I don’t give it up on the first day, like some people. But yeah, he coming by after work to pick me up and take me to dinner.” Sandy looks at the hand she holds, moving her head back to get different angles of her handiwork. “Well, Mrs. Johnson, it looks like you’re all set.”
“Thank you, child,” says Mrs. Johnson as she rises. “See you next week.” She takes out her wallet, retrieves a handful of bills, and leaves them on the table.
“Heifer got nothing better to do than to get her nails done every damn week,” says Sandy once Mrs. Johnson is out the door. She sneers as she counts her tip money. “I need a man that’ll let me spend all his money like that.”
“What does T-Bone do, anyways? Don’t tell me he works at Applebee’s; maybe he’s on the menu.”
Sandy turns to Tonya. “I don’t know for sure what he does. I think he sells dope.” She shrugs. “But he don’t seem like one of those low-level hustlers. He gots paper. What about Mr. T?”
Tonya flips her hair. “He said something bout being an executive or something.”
The conversation lulls at this point. More customers enter and, spurned by the show TMZ playing on the shop’s flat screen TV, the subject changes to celebrity gossip; the supposedly cautionary tales of women with fortune, fame, and beauty still falling prey to no good men.
Christy listens half-heartedly to the television. She’s heard all these yarns before. Instead of Rihanna, Kelis, and Fantasia being the heroines in the stories, she’s witnessed the lives of Trisha, Fatima, and Mercedes: her mother, aunt, and sister. Her mother was abandoned by her husband, her aunt raped by a childhood friend, and her sister was in an abusive relationship. The struggle against men from the women in her family had taught her to depend on no man. But still she feels the urge to find the one man that walked out on her. The one she shares blood and DNA with. If only to ask him, Why?
The end of the work day slithers closer, hiding in the shadows of the sinking sun. Meagan finally re-emerges from her office to tidy things up so her employees can go home at a decent hour. The “open” sign dims. The money in the register gets counted.
As she cleans her chair and work area, Tonya says to Maria, “Have you heard from Tajo yet? Or is he still ditching your child support?”
“No, mami, I haven’t seen his old ass. And that punta is still three months behind on payments. You know how these men be.”
“Dogs, every last one of them.” Tonya shakes her head. “That’s why you gotta use them before they use you. We gotta use the power of the pussy to our advantage.”
“I agree,” says Sandy. “That’s why I don’t give it up on the first night. Make him work for it.” A horn honks outside. “Ooo, that must be my ride.” She wiggles her booty.
Before Sandy can gather her purse and jacket, a man appears at the shop’s door and raps upon it. He is nearly as tall as the door, with skin the color of chocolate. He is handsome and built like a man two decades younger. His salt-and-pepper hair, cut low, betrays his age. He wears an emerald suit specifically tailored to match his frame.
Sandy, Tonya, Maria, and Christy all turn to see who is at the door. They simultaneously say:
Author Bio: A. Jarrell Hayes is a poet and fiction writer. “Four Women” is from his short story collection, Popular Television, coming summer 2012. He invites you to visit his website at http://www.ajhayes.com.
Words = Life.