by Fatema Al Darii
When I lost my favorite hat to the James River, I went into mourning for a time, and then decided to get a haircut.
That’s what brought me to Tight Cuts Unisex Barbershop on First Street in Jackson Ward on a chilly Tuesday afternoon in April. Tight Cuts was relatively empty that day. The sounds of the TV mixed with the buzz of clippers, filling the place with a happy, tranquil noise.
Everyone struggled with my name.
“Say it again?”
Fits of laughter. Yes, it’s awkward to be called Fat-Ma, but I always appreciate the effort people make to pronounce my name correctly. Michael, the barber, tried until he got it right.
Originally from Church Hill a few miles away, Michael B. Lemon, the shop’s owner and lead barber, is a native of Richmond who moved to Jackson Ward years ago to open this business.
“Actually my father is a barber,” he said casually. “I picked up the trade from him.”
Including Michael, there are four people who work at Tight Cuts: A man in a bright orange shirt with a white barber coat, whom I first met outside the shop, sitting on a stool smoking a cigarette; a friendly looking women in a black apron; and another lady who was absent at that moment.
After Michael cut my hair, I struck up a conversation with the woman with the black apron, who was sitting on the far side of the shop.
“How do you spell it?” I asked.
“K-I-A, like the car,” she answered.
Kia has been working at the barbershop for about a year. It’s not a long, drawn-out story, how she got here.
“I walked by one day and saw that they needed some help. I lent them a hand and that’s how I ended up working here.”
Along with her female colleague, who hadn’t yet returned, Kia’s services are what makes the barbershop “Unisex.”
“I did Michael’s braids,” she said.
“The barbershop is a community,” she went on. “It gets crazy but everyone who comes in here is friendly. You know, they’re here to get their hair done.”
It was a peaceful afternoon, with Michael and Kia and stool man and the woman who never came back, and the TV and the electric clippers.
Today I noticed that my sideburns are uneven. I’m thinking to go back to get them done.