I usually cut Mikias's hair. Jemby has been wearing his hair 'big', no haircuts required. Last week, Jemby decided he wanted a haircut. I knew we needed professional help. We went to a barber shop in a nearby city that knows what to do with black boys' hair.
It is rare that we are anywhere that most everyone looks like the boys. Everyone in the barber shop was black. Mikias walked over to his barber, who shook his hand in a 'soul brother handshake' (yes, I googled that). and said "Hey Brother". Mikias nodded his head and said "Hey Man." He looked over at me, with only his eyes, and gave me a quick nod. He was telling me he liked being there and begging me not to do anything stupid, like take a picture. No problem. I'll just take pictures of Jem.
Jemby initiated small talk the way he usually does. Unexpectedly and inappropriately. "Hey! You got a lot of graffiti in your neighborhood, huh?"
Before his barber could respond, Jemby pointed to the television and asked if he could watch Sponge Bob. As his barber changed the channel, Mikias looked at his barber and rolled his eyes toward Jem, in a way that said, 'little kids, huh?"
Mikias was done before Jemby. Instead of sitting with me, he walked over to the other side of the shop. He watched some hair braiding and chatted with some of the other people in the shop. I could see that Mikias was enjoying being there in the same way he loves going out for Ethiopian food. It's not just about the food. Or the haircut.
When Jemby was done, Mikias went over to say goodbye to his barber. Another handshake that ended with a back slap half hug. "Later, Brother." "Later, Man." Mikias tried hard not to smile until we got outside.
I think I'll retire my clippers.