USE VIGOROUS ENGLISH
The sign in the window read: Full set nails £15.
It was a busy shop.
The lights that ran around the sign seemed to dance in a kind of Morse code; all dots and dashes. Bian Cai sat at the desk next to the window answering phones all day. It was dark and dull outside. It had been all day. The blinking lights began to hurt her eyes. Still, she felt this was much better than having to wear the face mask. The shop had an acidic smell to it but she did not have to worry sitting at the reception desk. It was not as strong there.
Bian Cai was glad that she did not have to use drills or electric files today either. She would not be shouted at if the drill slipped and cut a cuticle of some guileless, bland girl. She would not have to concentrate so hard when she looked down at the countless hands, shaping and filing pale nails of these insipid women who just stared at her, not saying a word.
And she was happy not to have to touch the customer’s hands.
They had soft, pink hands. They looked so clean. Soft and pink and clean. They had never known hard work. They had never known what it was like to climb or grasp or pull. They had never hit at men’s chests.
“Can you tell me anything about the procedure or the product?” The voice on the phone was harsh and almost sing-song. It was definitely British but not like the people that usually come into the shop.
“You come in. You can see. I book you in. Ok?” Bian Cai hated when they asked questions. She let Sang Ngu answer those kinds of questions. She was older and had been there longer. She was Big Mother to all the girls.
The voice on the phone asked about someone working there. She asked about a student doing work experience. Bian Cai said yes. The voice asked about liability insurance number and if she would answer health and safety questions.
“Who is this?” asked Bian Cai
“Siobhan Grainger. From the college. Asking after your work experience student, Mel Gray. I need to fill in the Health and Safety Vetting before she can work there,” said the voice.
“Oh no. We don’t need any vetting. We are ok.”
“No, WE need to do the vetting. Mel listed that you had agreed to take her on for work experience and we need the information to ensure that she is protected…” the voice kept going and Bian Cai looked around the shop. She saw all the girls she knew in the world diligently filing and painting away. No one looked like they would carry a name like Mel Gray. She became fearful. Was this a trick? Was this police seeking to shut the nail bar down? Bian Cai could not go back to being under old, sweaty men again. She could not endure nights of walking in next to nothing down the city streets and being made to do things to fat, old men.
“No, we do not need work experience students. We do not have them here. Thank you. Good-bye.” Bian Cai replaced the phone. She heard Kieu advise a client that she would need a new set of nails. Not infills. She even offered her the special price of £10 instead of £15.
They would all sleep well tonight. They would all be safe tomorrow.