A portrait of flowers hangs askew on the bright pink wall. Two women sit waiting in an endless sigh that seems to breathe in the bustle of Fordsburg, Johannesburg.
And then the exhalation once Mina Patel (43) walks in. Suddenly there’s a rush of movement that breaks the stillness, and voices fill the small room as the women converse in Gujarati.
A wall separates the waiting room from the beauty room – a place of pain and cleansing.
“There’s a mirror, you can check yourself, take the selfie,” Mina says, tongue-in-cheek.
She moved to South Africa years ago, following in her husband’s footsteps once he found work here – but she’d never planned on spending her days hunched over clients, shaping their brows with a string of thread.
That came after their baby was born.
Born prematurely at six months and two weeks, their daughter was tiny, with only 900g of flesh, bone and muscle to help her survive.
With skin so thin her bones were visible, Patel was too scared to touch her, and instead gently drew circles on her baby’s back with her fingertips.
The 25-year-old Patel had to find work to help her husband earn a living. Seeing the potential of an old practice she knew from her home in Gujarat, India, she decided to learn how to thread eyebrows.
Sixteen years later, the doors to Mina’s salon still remain open.
Her success has bought her two homes in Gujarat and an education for her daughter – who, at 18, is taller than her mother.
She sees women from different walks of life: a Somali refugee, a doctor, a student. “My customers are my daughters, too. There’s no difference,” Mina says.