After some small talk about the stars on TV, Keti begins to open up and tell me about herself.
“They married me off too young, my family. I was only 15, a child. A year later my son was born. And then suddenly my family, my brothers and parents, were convinced I should leave him. They insisted that we separate. I went back to live with my family. Ever since, my brothers and their wives have made me their target practice. I am beaten by my brothers often.”
These words avalanche in my direction, as though breaking through a dam, a powerful river of venomous stories. A river that can no longer be held back, bringing cold and abrasive water, with streams that seem to carry all the rocks along its path.
“What upsets and worries me is my son. Growing up in such an environment he’ll become exactly like them. My younger brother controls me in a scary way. I don’t dare keep my phone on because he checks it. I have to come home before 8:30 in the evening; otherwise I will be considered a street walker and useless whore.”
I have the impression my hair is being straightened now not by her actions but by these austere stories.
Although I am told I am a source of shame for them, Keti says, I keep them with the money I make working at this rented beauty salon.
As my loyal curls give in easily I notice for the first time that the girl I had thought authoritative, sprightly and adept is turning into a fragile creature.
She sets down the hot iron and asks me to forgive her tears.
Please, I want to say, that is the last thing you need to do, ask forgiveness for your tears.
I tell her that it is better to face difficulties that still give you hope rather than endure miserable comforts. Look for another apartment and live free of pressure, of controls, without the influence of your brothers over your son.
It is easier for me to see a way out since my parents did not force me to make choices against my will. I was fortunate to have an education that opened roads unavailable to Keti.
Still, I cannot help telling her to run out of there.
Keti nods but tells me that it is not so easy. If she leaves she will be called names, names that have the power to destroy her and the life of her son.
She believes her only solution is to leave Albania altogether. This way her family’s reputation will be protected. She can appear to leave for opportunity rather than mistreatment.
A deep sigh on her part is followed by mine, and she has finished. I leave an extra 200 lek ($2) and go out into the cold thinking that for the first time leaving a hair salon, I don’t care what I look like.