On Christmas Eve, Tessa arrives at the Heads Up salon an hour before opening. Her first errand of the morning is to walk seven blocks to the patisserie and collect the savoury and sweet treats that she will offer to clients all day. As Hair Salon Assistant she does all the jobs nobody else wants. Minimum wage. Tuesdays and Sundays off.
By noon, all ten chairs in the salon are occupied. Clients arrive with gifts that the stylists hand to her to stash in their lockers in the back. No one brings anything for her and that is what she expects.
“Girl!” calls Charles from the front of the salon. When it is just the two of them he calls her by her name but in front of clients he likes to show how unimportant she is.
“Yes, sir?” She trots to his side and flashes her most obliging smile.
He nods at a large parcel on the table in front of his client.
“Dr. Hamish has brought me this lovely present.” Neither he nor Dr. Hamish even glance at Tessa as he speaks. “Please put it in my office.”
Tessa picks up the silver box up and finds it’s very heavy. Probably some sort of exotic grog. Two-hundred-year-old wine. Scotch filtered through organic peat. Rum made from sugar cane handpicked by virgins. Rich people blow their money on any manner of stuff.
She is sweeping the floor next to Charles as he sprays a cloud of style fix-it over Dr. Hamish’s golden highlights.
Dr. Hamish touches her ear. “My earring!” she gasps. She pushes her hair behind her ear as if that will make it reappear. Then she pushes the hair behind her other ear to reveal a ruby and diamond Christmas wreath, the size of a nickel.
“Girl,” Charles says quietly, “go through all the hair you’ve swept up and find Dr. Hamish’s earring.”
Tessa spends the next hour thumbing through a giant bag of floor scrapings. While she is doing that, Dr. Hamish is soothed with Crystal champagne and promises that her precious jewels will be found. Charles takes a photo of the remaining earring and helps Dr. Hamish into a cab. She is flying to Maui that night.
By the time Tessa leaves at seven, every single towel in the salon has washed and folded. The floors have been swept and re-swept. The u-bends under the sinks have been taken apart and emptied.
The hour-long bus ride home stretches into two because of heavy traffic and swirling snow. Tessa crawls up the stairs to the small apartment she shares with her sister. When she stops at the door and removes her shoes, she finds a ruby and diamond earring lodged in the tread of her thick-soled shoes.
© Maggie Bolitho
Image from Wikimedia Commons: Mosaic in Jerusalem by zeevveez from Jerusalem