It was a Saturday afternoon and the nail shop was as psychotic as ever. Women toiled with remote controls to their spa chairs—“How do you get it to knead and roll at the same time?” A teenager shouted on her phone that some girl was “hella stupid—ohmygod, hella stupid.” Shards of fingernails were free-flying from the tip of electric files, making mini chainsaw sounding screeches through the air, while dialogue between the Vietnamese technicians was nothing less than frantic. One of the technicians was begging a little girl to stay still so she could paint her toes, while her mother shouted in a heavy British accent: “I need to be out of here in 15 minutes—fifteen!” Fans spewed on wet nails, shiny, twinkling like diamonds, and the women getting dried sat tall and regal, just as proud as if there were indeed jewels at their fingertips.
For the last hour and a half, I’d been trying to keep a centered zen composure. But I waited forty minutes longer than quoted and when I finally got a seat, I soaked my fingertips in soapy lukewarm water while my technician, Mai, did an eyebrow wax for someone. By the time she came back, my fingertips were shriveled prunes in the cold dead liquid—and the girl next to me on the phone had—omg!—hella not shut up the entire time.
“You pay now before I paint,” Mai instructed, in her thick Vietnamese accent that I’ve come to comprehend fluently.
I shelled out the cash for my manicure. Ten bucks with tip money wasn’t much, but it also wasn’t nothing either. Especially if you do this once a week; forty bucks a month is at least a week’s worth of groceries, and here I was, applying it to the beauty at my fingertips. Today’s color was Miami Beet.
The shop went back to its normal chaos: “Mommy! I want my toes puh-pul!” the little girl began to throw a tantrum. “Is that your final coat? I really have to be leaving soon,” the mother rolled her eyes. A horrific shriek erupted from the waxing room. A lady who was old enough to be my grandmother was laughing uncontrollably as her feet were getting exfoliated. “So I was like ohmygod, really, that’s like hella whack for reals, like seriously?” “Then we’re going to a party tonight…” “Excuse me? Can I get a flower on my toe? I don’t care, just paint something pretty.” “How much longer for a wax?!” “You’re going to do my nails? I think I’ll wait for Mai, no offense.” “I need change for a ten!” “You want half hour foot massage? Twenty dollars extra.”
Mai finished the second topcoat on my nails and that’s when I looked at them for the first time. The color was stunning, the darkened fuchsia complimenting beautifully against my morena skin. I stared at them mesmerized, waiting for them to dry completely as the chaos continued to tornado all around me. The entire rest of the day, I would flash my nails in front of me at any opportune moment: pulling hairs out of my face that weren’t there, touching up my lip-gloss just to line a pretty painted finger around my lips.
Gone were the tugging hang-nails around my cuticles, gone was the roughness and jagged edges of my nails that had accumulated during my work-week. Judging by my hands, there was no sign of the stress I put on them from my bartending job that drives me more neurotic than this nail-shop, but nevertheless pays my rent, pays my bills—pays me the time to let me write while I’m waiting for my actual writing career to take off. I felt many things at that moment, but what I liked most was the feeling that I didn't feel: like a frustrated and bitter bartender who sometimes hides my calloused worked fingers in my pockets.
“You come back next week, I give you new manicure,” Mai pointed at me, once I was dry and stood to leave.
“Yes,” I promised, almost outside where the sunny afternoon I’d missed was now waning. I waved goodbye to the estrogen entropy, dazzling my fabulous Miami Beet nails. “I’ll be here! I’ll see you then.”