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there’s a Vietnamese guy
at the nail salon
The Vietnamese guy at the nail salon asks me how my day’s going. I sit down and smile politely answering proudly in flawless German “alles gut, und dir?” My language certificate being not even a year old, it still feels weird to be fluent, so I flaunt it. He smiles politely behind his mask, nods. He doesn’t answer so I talk about the weather, the pandemic, the moody clouds that come and go in this late-winter almost-spring March. I choose a red nail polish and try to lose the tension while he works. His hands are sloppy.
he paints, corrects, restarts
— hypnotic hands
Not batting an eye if a guy paints my nails is such a big city girl move; I’m a true Berliner now. His hands dance on mine; I lose myself in the textile sensation. His hands are warm, firm, he’s trying to be gentle but his grip is male. He only asks questions, answers mine in monosyllables. I say “work has been busy lately” and “I’m stressed” to answer his “why you here?” He probably wanted compliments on his place of employment. Shoot. He nods. He says “work is good,” and “I didn’t work for four months.” I say “sorry,” and I mean it but now I don’t know what else to talk about.
he cleans mistakes on clients’ skin
with his skin
The girls at the entrance mentioned he is a trainee. The employees at the salon seem to all be Vietnamese; is it safe to assume all the Asians employed here are Vietnamese? There might be some Germans with Vietnamese parents. If he is a trainee, that explains the trial-and-error approach to my nails: paint, correct, restart. Most of the red nail polish he uses is on his hands and not mine. I wonder how he looks like behind his mask. He seems young. I ask. Age: 20 years. He asks me to be polite in return. I say “I’m 29”; naturally he asks if I have children. I say “no, only a fiancé.”
his hands are hoarders
they steal colors
I bet the numbers of fiancés has gone up in the last year. How many weddings have been postponed? I need to re-book a room for Nina & André’s wedding in July. My hands are cosily getting toasted in the little lamps at the nail salon. My aunt had one of those; I haven’t seen her since last summer. Now I’m sad; I’m not supposed to be sad. I concentrate on his hands: paint, correct, restart. Two steps ahead and one back, a solid way to learn. I ask if he has family here; he says “a wife and two children.”
he goes home every night
with rainbow hands
I was enquiring actually about his parents. It didn’t occur to me a guy so young could be a father. Now my story — the story I’ll tell my older friends from my hometown — changed: there’s a Vietnamese father working at my nail salon. We’re both foreign to this country but our worlds are universes apart. He asks if I have family here; I say “no, I have no family in Germany.” He looks sad now; “I’m sorry” he says to me. The Vietnamese guy at the nail salon, 20 years old, married with two children, who hasn’t been working for four months is sorry about me. The big city girl doesn’t know what do with her privilege now.
his kids know dad
plays with colors all day
At the end of our session his hands are bloody red with nail polish where nail polish shouldn’t be. My hands are carefully cared for and the nail polish obediently remains within the confines of my nails.
I pay, I leave, sad again.
Two steps ahead, one back, repeat.
Francesca Ferrauto‘s poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in Gravitas, Beyond Words, From Whispers to Roars, Berlino Magazine, Il Mitte, and other journals. Born by the Mediterranean, she lived in London, Kyoto, and is now based in Berlin, where she is a Digital Editor, and a Communications Coordinator for SAND.