Jamel is a small man with rough, brown skin and a charcoaled five o'clock shadow. His long curly hair is dark at the roots, but graduates to a warm yellow at the tips. I'd guess he's in his late forties. I studied abroad in Italy two years ago. I told him once, and we compared the language and culture there to the language and culture of his home, Crete. You are a beautiful woman. He tells me in his thick mediterranean accent. You get it from your beautiful mather. He also cuts and styles my mother's hair once every three months.
I think if I saw Jamel on the street somewhere and he told me I was a beautiful woman, I'd probably walk a little faster and pretend to be on my cell phone with a very important person who could rescue me if needed. But in this setting--the Toni and Guy hair salon setting--Jamel is okay. Just below his white rolled up sleeves are a pair of poised and accurate hands. I watch as he angles his scissors at my hair to sculpt precise layers.
The last time Jamel cut my hair, I was at home for the summer--what is called home for me. Home is a place where the television mumbles in the background of every conversation, where people who once were friends to me are not anymore, where I have three brothers and three sisters-in-law that I see maybe once in those seven weeks out of the entire year, and where I feel as though I have no purpose. To me, this haircut was me making up for those things, taking care of myself.
Jamel sat me down and began to ask me the same questions as always, the answers to which he had been told each visit before since the time I was eighteen. I sold a painting yesterday. I said. Oh, you paint?! I didn't know that. He said. Yes, Jamel, I paint, and I've told you this before. It was okay though. Jamel is okay.
I remember most things Jamel tells me. I remember that Jamel is Greek. I remember that he has had the same exact hair style for the past four years. I remember that he is great friends with Adolf, the colorist, and they go boating on the weekends in the Texas summer heat. I remember that he drinks, he does not have a wife, and does not ever want one. I remember that he owns a house in the Mediterranean.
You know. He said, pausing from straightening some strands to look at me. God loves you. You do the right things, and he will bless you. I never knew Jamel knew God. For a small moment at Toni and Guy, I felt at home.