The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.
It was in no way queenly or royal, in fact the place had seen better days. A queer and
dilapidated sign, the paint heavily chipped. “Wig for Sale and Rent. Victoria Salon” it read. Even the grammar sounded a bit off.
I had passed “Victoria” countless times on the way to buy supplies along Libertad, in Pasay. From across the road, a figure of a lady with clown like lurid red hair sat and looked wistfully onto the dusty and busy street. No customers. I waved. And she waved back. What an infectious smile, full of swagger, I thought to myself.
Months later on the same route, a group of elderly gentlemen congregated inside the Salon. What a strange set up for a barber shop? Where was the lady with red hair? There were posters of outdated hair styles on the walls and oddly enough a number of religious statues and artifacts. They sure could use the prayers.
“Madam, gupit?” an elderly man said in a high pitched sing song voice. You could hear a tint of desperation as he tried to wave me down from the road. His manner feminine with a striking resemblance to my late grandfather; a gay version.
Did I walk in out of pity? What did I get myself into?
A black rag like cape was tied around my neck. “Do what you see fit, what’s in fashion for the summer?” I said, and tried to put on a brave smile.
“I’m Jenny, we see you walk by often, its good this time you chose to come in.”
Jenny had highly arched plucked eyebrows. His demeanor was pleasant. You could see the years of work reflected in his rough callused hands. The name had such a youthful ring to it. But to be fair, I will start referring to Jenny as her.
Victoria, in a mad, eccentric way had character. There definitely was no place like it in Manila. Carrie Talcum Powder, a stained coffee mug and worn out rubber gloves. What are the odds of having your hair styled for sixty pesos? Obviously a low rate because it is void of upgrades, basic comforts and hygiene that one takes for granted at high end salons. Ah! The elite salon. Who are you? By appointment only. Are you willing to wait? You’re sat in a chair and told yarns of gossip, the TV blaring loudly in the background. Exorbitant rates, don’t forget the hefty tip. You leave stressed, pesos lighter and invariably unhappy with your new look.
“This is Joan, and Gracia.” Jenny pointed across the room to the two slightly younger gay men. I suppose they were just as curious. A minuscule puppy lay on a chair next to me. The mutt with its curly tail and gray ruffled fur gave out a squeak. Jenny put her scissors down to pat the little dog and covered it with a towel. Content, the puppy went back to sleep and she continued to cut my hair.
My mind wandered.
What would Elizabeth Taylor do in this situation? What would she say? Talk about life and men?
I asked Jenny how many years she was in the trade. “At 19, I left San Carlos City in Negros Oriental and never looked back, 65 now and still fabulous,” she said proudly. “I cut hair in Olongapo near the U.S. Base and when they pulled out, a prostitute pushed me to travel with her to Manila. In those days we had to know it all -nails, waxing, makeup, just everything…” Jenny used a brush this time to blow dry my hair, its bristles were sharp. I felt a sudden urge to scratch my head vigorously. It looked like it had been through decades of hair.
“When do you plan to retire? Must love your job if you’re still working at 65.” I quipped. Jenny looked at me through the mirror and gave out a dirty smirk, “Lover! To support my young lover, and I’m talking 20 something dahhh-linggg” she exclaimed, and we all burst out laughing.
Like real women, the window of opportunity gets smaller as one gets older. Youth and beauty fade, and success may evade you. Has Jenny had her 15 minutes of fame?
The hair style she created was as extraordinary as she was. The curls were there. But it flipped from one side to another, giving a subtle but sensual effect. I blushed as I stared at myself in the mirror. Two women walked in and sat down next to me. It felt good to see people come.
Jenny will continue to work (unnoticed) like the rest in her community- out of necessity. No family to go back to, vague chance to marry or have children. How long can one keep the routine of work and the interest of a young man?
An urgency to feel needed and loved but just not under the right circumstances.
Fate’s tragic joke.
They are all in the same predicament at Victoria’s- old, broken, but still strong in some places. The sense of pity that brought me to their Salon was replaced with respect and admiration.
“Thank you,” I said, and slowly picked up my things to head back onto the main street.
Jenny followed me out, “Come visit us soon, maybe a change of colour next?
First, let’s see your roots.”
Victoria has since been torn down during the 2nd half of 2015.