The only thing not messed up are my nails

Today between school lifts I found myself at the Blubird Shopping Centre in Sandton, not my usual hood. I had an hour to spare, wandered past a salon and thought – WHY NOT!

I stepped inside.

‘Hello, hi. I was just walking past, and thought, is there any way I could get a quick manicure?’

‘Doll, let me check, you know we’re so so busy, hang on, Thembi, Thembi…’

The receptionist, who I figured was the owner, flicked back her hair as she called for Thembi.


‘Thembi’s just gone to the loo,’ one of the other therapists said.  ‘She’ll be back in five, she is free.’

‘The loo? Again!  Gosh. Okay, Thembi will do you, take a seat over there.’

‘Thank you,’  I said.  ‘I’m just going to grab a coffee, I’ll be back in five.’

‘Sure doll, see you now.’

I left and made my way to the little French patisserie, right next door. It’s apparently one of the best in town.

‘Hi, a coffee to go please. Also, a cronut…’

The two women behind the counter, both with false eyelashes, taut skin and very long fingernails, looked at me. The one picked at her cuticles, the other gave a false smile.

‘Of course sweetie. Thami will do that for you right now.’

I looked around. Thami was sweating blood. All the staff were. Serving women who looked exactly like the two behind the counter. Over made-up, over-botoxed and over-dressed.

And not overly busy.

I got my coffee. It was on the tip of my tongue to say something but I held it together. I tipped Thami fairly generously and went back into the salon, suddenly very aware that everyone having their nails done looked the same.

White. Thin. And plastic.

Oh god, I thought to myself, I hope I am not one of these women.

Thembi started working on my nails. Usually I like to be quiet when having a manicure, it’s a nice time to zone out, but somehow I felt I should try and connect.

The conversation led to politics, as in this country it always does.

‘Thembi,’ I said. ‘I’m smiling, but really uncomfortably. Never have I been more aware of white privilege than in this centre. It feels awkward, a lot like the old South Africa.  White people running the show, black people working.’

Thembi looked at me.

‘White what?’ she asked.

‘White privilege.’  

I repeated myself.  ‘You know, white privilege.’

‘I have no idea what you mean,’ she replied, looking at me incredibly blankly.

And continued mindlessly buffing my nails.


14 thoughts on “The only thing not messed up are my nails

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