Animal was the first word out of his mouth. Animals aren't allowed in my shop. He said it as clearly as one might declare that spring had arrived; natural, comfortable, like truth.
“Animals aren't allowed in my shop.” His eyes never made contact with me, falling just short of my skin. “My scissors don't cut no injun hair.”
The silence in the shop hung heavy, like a dense fog making my skin clammy and cold. The soft, gravelly scuff of my sandal erupted in that moment adding a concussive blast to an already heavy situation. Dragging my eyes away from him left me feeling dirty, the way that stepping in fresh tar, hot and sticky, only wraps and coats your foot leaving you wishing you'd simply taken your shoe off and left it to sink in that black inky mess. His hatred and repulsion of me hung on me no differently; in fat and heavy, sticky strings.
The two women seated with their hair in foils glared at me with no less disdain than they would offer a rat in their pantry. No - perhaps with more. The boy in the shiny barber's chair was quick to mimic what he saw, another Custer in the making, Amá would say. My mother always said things like that. Washisho she called them like they called us names.
Newspaper rustled in agitation as the blind man near the door slowly rolled the periodical as if he meant to swat a disobedient dog. “I smell you looking at me, mud-puppy.” The grim antediluvian menacingly shook his paper, cruelly mustering a day's energy to threaten a little girl.
I tugged at the hem of my tattered jacket, then checked the buttons to be sure none had fallen off on my way through town. Each button was in place, although the middle one drooped as the threads started to give way. My dress and Jacket were clean, only dusted by what the winds kicked up. I was rather dusty. The town was a long walk from the reservation. During that long walk, being dusted by the old roads like powdered sugar dusts the white men's cakes, I had rehearsed every word. Over and over I had said them until I sounded confident but never proud. My people no longer had the right to be proud.
“I saw your sign, sir. It says you need someone to sweep up, keep things neat.” I ducked my head. He would think me arrogant for telling him what his own sign said. “I can use a broom.”
The words sat in the middle of the room, fat and bloated and consuming space. Whether he chose to acknowledge them for the better or worse, something need be said. The barber's nose expelled a snort of air, which made me think of my brother's horses when they shook a horse fly out of their nostril. It was not a good sound. I realized with that sound, however, that the eyes of the room were on him now. I wondered if their stares felt as heavy and sticky to him.
“Oh, the little squaw wants to sweep up for me,” he announced laughingly, as though the others had not heard. “And how would I pay you? In whiskey or do you want casino chips?”
“Little girl- probably wants beads!” one of the women cackled.
I straightened as tall as I could. I was not so little. “I am almost thirteen soon...Sir....and I would like money, sir, so I can go to a real school.”
Another dense silence fell on the room. This time, I felt dizzy somehow forgetting to breathe as he lowered his scissors and turned to face me. Suddenly I was not so sure that I wanted him to really look at me.
“You have a name? A real name, not some Yazhi name.”
“Speak up, girl!”
“Sitsi, Sir. My name is Sitsi.” It was a Navajo name. A Yazhi name.
He snorted again, this time shaking his head too like Cheveyo's horses. Deep lines formed on his face, lines that made his jowls fat and his forehead rigid like a washboard. “Fifty cents a week. You're here every day at seven am and you leave when I say so.”
“I catch you so much as sniffing at my antiseptic wash and you can go back to the Savage Ranch to weave blankets, understand me? I won't have no Chuggers in my shop!” Spittle leapt from his mouth as he bent over me, his hands propped on his hips, the scissors jutting ominously from one fist.
“Now go take a bath. You smell like corn, you little maize-muncher.” I nearly turned and ran from his store, my footsteps falling hard toward the shiny handle that would free me out onto the street, to the fresh air with a jingle of bells.
“And Girl--” His voice froze me like a spotlight on an escaping convict. I turned and met his eyes.
“Tomorrow. Seven am.”
Some verbal acknowledgment passed over my lips akin to a breeze through reeds which faintly tricks the ear into thinking there were words spoken. I darted then, afraid he would take back his offer.
Amá would call me names. A Washisho-whore, a Radish or a Ki Yi. Every name would hurt, like a little piece taken out of my belly and no matter what she called me, Amá would take my fifty cents. I would be filthy for earning a white man's money, but the money would not be too dirty for her to take. She would put it in the rusted tin under our mattress and when there was enough, exchange it for bill money. One day those bills would fill an envelope and Amá would take me to the school in town. Someday I would be called Sitsi.