There were two small upright tents at the entrance to the public park in Nanyuki. “John’s Nail Arts and Gel Polish,” said the poster. I couldn’t resist going inside the tent to see what was going on.
Anna, a waitress at a local hotel restaurant, was sitting with her legs stretched out, resting on a stool between John’s knees. He was busy with a file, scouring her toenails and poking back the cuticles. I introduced myself, sat beside her and asked if I could watch. I felt like a voyeur, peeking at an intimate act.
“Wow, those toenails are very long,” I said. “Perhaps he should clip them for you.”
“No, I want them long,” she replied.
“I can see why you would like long fingernails, but toenails? Do you think it is attractive to have long toenails?” I asked.
“Yes, a man might notice them, might like them,” she said.
“Hmm, I am a man, and I would not be attracted to them,” I said. “Maybe you can use them as claws to entrap a man!”
Anna burst out laughing. “No, I cannot use them as claws.”
By now, John had buffed up and primed the nails so that the nail polish would hold. “What colour do you want?” he asked.
Interestingly, she wanted green. I want green nail polish to apply traffic light colours to our plasticised dashboard sheets. No marker pens will do, it has to be varnish. Red means failed to achieve the target, gold means target partially achieved and green means fully achieved.
There was no green.
They chatted in Kiswahili for a minute or so and finally, she picked out fluorescent pink. “Good choice,” I said.
As he worked his way painting her pinkies with lacquer, I noticed John had a bracelet on his wrist which said, “Azab”. I asked him what it meant and he said it was his name. “Not John, then?” I asked. “That’s my business name. I am called Azab,” he replied.
Azab had a very steady hand. He wasn’t going over the lines. When the nails were dry, he applied a second coat. On top of this, he used a fine brush from a small white bottle to draw the same design on each nail. It looked like he was using Typex correction fluid.
The whole pedicure and nail art cost Kenya shillings 100/-, about a US dollar. Azab wasn’t going to get rich in this game. I told him that in my country this work would usually be done by women. “Why?” he asked. “I’m not sure,” I replied. “Maybe men are not experienced at doing it, or they might feel it is not manly. Or perhaps women would not want men to be touching their feet. It seems a bit pervy.”
“What’s that? Pervy?” he asked me. “Perhaps some men might find handling women’s feet erotic, sexually exciting and women would not want that,” I replied.
He burst out laughing at how preposterous this idea was. “No, here in Kenya, this is man’s work. We do the best nail art.”
Anna was very pleased with the result. We both left the tent and I noticed the tent opposite was also manned by a male pedicure/manicure artist. His poster said that he did nail extensions, facials and eyebrow shaping as well as applying and removing nail gel.
He was holding a tool like a Microplane grater. “It’s for removing hard skin from the bottom of the foot,” he told me. Having grated the tips of my fingers several times with my own Microplane grater (they are expensive, but they are the best), I could see how effective it would be.
As I walked away, it dawned on me that both young men were very handsome.