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Head Down, Boy Pt 2 by stopfordianstationer
‘Is the water OK for you?'
‘Yeah, fine thanks.' I was lying backwards with my head over the sink as my hair was rinsed before it would be shampooed and then rinsed again, the usual preamble to getting my hair trimmed to maintain shape and form in line with what was expected with the rules of conformity with fashionable hairstyles that were strictly enforced by my peers, any non-conformity being met by merciless teasing, at least on first viewing. After the washing was complete and I walked back over to the chair where I would get my hair cut, I reflected on the difference between the gents' hairdressing salon where I was sitting, and which I had frequented for the last couple of years or so, and the austere, almost brutal experience I had witnessed at Austin's a couple of weeks previously. The latest music was playing, I'd been offered a drink (which I always turned down after the first couple of times as it was a nice idea but the hair did tend to get in it), I had waited in a comfortable leather chair, there was no hint of any use of clippers and certainly no hint of brusqueness along the lines of ‘Head down, boy'. Although the hairdressers' was what I was used to, a slight niggly thought occurred to me that what I'd seen Jason and Carl experience was somehow more ‘manly' and was certainly simpler and involved less messing about. George often referred to things that they he thought they didn't need as "fripperies” and I couldn't help but think that most of what went on here would be filed under ‘fripperies' as far as George was concerned. When I was discussing what style I wanted with the hairdresser, I felt slightly more emboldened than usual and ask if she could maybe leave a little bit of the bottom of my ears showing as well as having the fringe just out of my eyes and taking a little bit more than she initially suggested off the length – maybe even as much as half an inch! I smiled to myself – ‘George's influence must be rubbing off,' I thought. I relaxed as the hairdresser trimmed away with the scissors, snipping a little here and there and leaving little feathery lengths of hair on the cape whilst complying exactly with my instructions and exposing just a tiny bit of ear and cutting the fringe exactly as I wanted. She then dried my hair and styled it and I was really happy with the result that I could see in the mirror and when she showed me the back. I felt I had kept ‘on trend' whilst managing to go what I thought was quite a bit shorter. Finished and out of the chair, I happily paid and sat back down in the waiting area. I didn't realise at the time that I would never have my hair cut there again.
Eddie was in one of the other chairs, with his haircut just about to begin. Eddie was my occasional companion on trips to the hairdressers' and his hair was certainly striking as it was ginger and very thick and wiry – it tended to grow further out as much as it grew longer. I could hear his conversation with the girl cutting his hair. Could you make it so it's not so, I don't know . . . big, I suppose.' I chuckled.
‘Well because your hair's so thick, I would have to take any awful lot off. I can do that if you want?'
‘No, I don't want to go too short, but maybe a bit more than normal?' It must be catching, I thought.
‘OK, I can do that,' replied the hairdresser and set to work. She lifted up the lengths of hair with her comb and snipped the ends off with great precision before moving on to another section and snipping carefully away at that. She worked around the back and sides as she had with mine before moving to the top and doing the same there. Although there seemed to be a fair amount of hair falling, it didn't seem to be making a lot of difference and even when she took some off the front. In the end, I could see that a fair bit had been cut off by normal standards, but I knew that because I'd watched. A casual observer might not have realised anything had come off at all. After we left, I mentioned what he'd said about not wanting it to be so ‘big'. ‘I thought you were after a new look there for a second,' I said. ‘You were nearly asking for a Jason and Carl special!'
‘I don't think so,' he replied. ‘Although it does get on my nerves sometimes and I almost consider getting it cut really short. Never lasts for long though. Anyway never mind me, not tempted by the Jason and Carl special yourself now?!'
‘No fear, certainly not after seeing them get it cut,' I said. I was almost guilty about my earlier thoughts of George's influence rubbing off and wanted to move myself as far away from that as I could. ‘Thankfully George isn't in control of my hair – don't think I'd just be getting a trim now and again if he was.'
When I got home, Jason and Carl were doing their homework, as they always had to as soon as they got home from school. ‘I thought you were going to get your hair cut,' said Jason.
‘What are you taking about? I have. It's shorter than I usually have it as well,' I replied.
‘Is it?' Jason laughed. ‘I don't think you've had your money's worth there, mate.'
I was a bit annoyed now. ‘You don't need to look like you've just joined the army to have had a haircut,' I shot back. I'm just glad I don't get dragged to the barbers and shaved like you two. I don't know how you put up with it.'
‘Don't have a choice do we, so there's no point worrying about it. Dad says it's character building.'
I cut him off – ‘Dad says . . .' I said mockingly. ‘Maybe you should try thinking for yourself a bit more.' I was trying to wind Jason up, but as he always did, he stayed annoyingly calm and it irritated me that although he was a year younger than me, Jason seemed much more in control than I ever did and had an answer for everything. Sure enough, he carried on.
‘It's not all bad having short hair anyway. When we do PE or games or we're getting ready to go out, its shower, quick towel and off we go. We're not poncing about for ages trying to get it to look just right like you with the hairdryer and combing this bit and combing that bit.'
‘I don't ponce about,' I said ‘I just take a bit of time to get ready. Get stuffed.' With that, I stomped off.
This was the first row I'd had of any kind with either Carl or Jason. Although I felt quite happy at home, things at school had been niggling a little bit as two or three snidey lads in my class had been going on and on at me about ‘my new dad and brothers'. I should have just left it, but I rose to the bait once and snapped back and they immediately saw they'd hit a sensitive spot so on it went. This had led to me reacting, running my smart mouth more than normal and generally misbehaving and it was not escaping the attention of the teachers. I had that to put up with there, so I didn't need Jason taking the mickey at home as well. I still felt strangely bad about snapping at him though. ‘Get a grip,' I thought. ‘Don't take it out on everyone else.' The teasing at school went on though and it was getting me down. As the first half term went on, my marks went down and I ended up in detention a few times. My form teacher even spoke to mum a couple of times and she made it clear she wasn't happy about it. I compensated by mouthing off more to let off steam and being snappy a lot, which didn't really endear me to anybody. All the time, the teasing escalated because the bastards could see they were getting to me. I was relieved to get to half term at the end of October as it gave me a week free of it all and I got to spend time with Eddie (who was the only person I told about what was going on) as well as Jason and Carl. I was in a better frame of mind when I went back to school for the start of the half term leading up to Christmas, but the stuff there was back to normal and things at home got a bit strained again as a result.
A week into that half term, George was on nights again and we were getting a lift home from school. On the Monday night he said that Carl and Jason would be having their hair cut again the next day and asked if I still wanted a lift or if I'd rather get the bus and not spend the time waiting. Having found myself vaguely interested by what I'd seen the last time, I was happy to go and have another look. After school the following day we all trooped into Austin's again but this time there was more of a wait as there was a man in the chair and another man waiting with a boy of probably late primary school age. Both had the typical long hair of the time. I remembered that Mr Austin was not one to take too long so I thought it would not be too bad and I picked up a magazine to pass the time while I waited. When the first customer was finished and the traditional call of ‘Next in the chair please' went up, the man went to sit in the barber's chair. Mr Austin eventually returned and applied the towel, neck strip and cape in the usual way. ‘How would you like it cut,' he asked. The man sighed. ‘Short back and sides please,' he replied. That was apparently not enough for Mr Austin and he asked ‘with clippers, sir?'
‘I suppose so, number three please.' The man's response was still less than enthusiastic. Mr Austin turned on the clippers and ran them up the back of the man's head at the back until only short hair remained, although I noted it was slightly longer than Carl and Jason's had been when they had it cut before, so obviously the higher the number, the longer the hair. The back and sides were soon uniformly clipped and blended and Mr Austin sprayed the top as usual ready to set about it. ‘How would you like the top, sir?' he asked ‘Parted or not?'
‘Parted please' he replied. ‘And enough off the top to blend, but not too short.'
Mr Austin snipped away with the scissors and chatted away happily with the man, not at all the miserable, silent figure he had been with Jason and Carl. Obviously he took the view that boys were to be seen and not heard. It turned out that the dad had wanted the son to get his hair cut short and had promised that he would get the same cut to show that it wasn't so bad. Huge chunks of hair were being cut off, much more so even than Carl's last haircut and I was actually fascinated by the transformation. I had never seen anyone with long hair like mine have it cut remotely short at the hairdressers' – dyeing and perming were far more likely there. I was seized by wondering what it would be like to sit there watching my hair fall and for a split second it was me in the chair being given a short and smart haircut. I shivered and came to my senses. ‘Idiot,' I thought to myself. ‘Why would I think that was smart anyway?' The man was more relaxed now as he had obviously decided he was quite happy with how his new look was shaping up and his hair was soon blended in and short before being parted and greased into place. After the neck shave and showing his customer the back with the mirror and the final cut being approved, the man was released and stood up. ‘Next in the chair please.' Mr Austin was looking at the boy, with what I thought was a glint in his eye at imposing a short haircut on an unwilling boy. ‘Come on then, James,' said his dad. ‘I've kept my promise so it's your turn now. The boy rose and trudged to the chair where he was lifted by his dad onto the plank that Mr Austin had put over the chair arms in anticipation of his next victim. After the boy had been caped, Mr Austin asked his father ‘Same again then?'
‘Absolutely,' the father replied.
The clippers then fired up and the command of ‘Head down, boy' was issued before Mr Austin ploughed the clippers up into young James's hair. About 15 minutes later, he stepped down rubbing his neck and looking like a carbon copy of his father, the only difference being that James was spared the neck shave, presumably being deemed too young. Mr Austin removed the plank, walked to the till and said ‘Next in the chair please'.
This time George sent Carl to the chair first. Carl was a trooper and kept calm and took it in his stride as he sat looking straight ahead while his few weeks' growth was removed, first by the clippers and then the scissors until he was back to his original severely short back and sides. I gave him a smile of encouragement as he came back to sit down in the waiting area. Jason followed and was soon done and dusted, being well used to the routine by now. When Jason stood up, Mr Austin, as he had last time, looked at me and said ‘Next in the chair please.' Instead of leaving it to George this time and in keeping with my current need to behave like a little s**t, I sniggered and said ‘I don't think so, mate,' and stood up to leave. Mr Austin looked with fury at me and I saw Carl and Jason exchange a quick glance before they followed me out of the door while George went to pay. We didn't chat as we were waiting outside and when George came out, he looked at Jason and Carl, gave Jason his car keys and said ‘You two go and wait in the car please.' They both walked off towards where George had parked and I was left alone with George. George gave me a look he had never given me before and I knew instantly I was in trouble. ‘Daniel, do not ever speak to an adult like that again in my presence,' he said. Still he didn't raise his voice but I could hear the hard edge to it. ‘I know it's not my place to tell you off, but I cannot accept rudeness like that.' Even as argumentative as I'd become, I knew not to talk back this time. ‘OK, sorry,' I muttered sullenly. ‘Can we go now please?' George sighed and nodded and we set off towards the car where Jason and Carl were waiting, but I knew I'd been told.
Life carried on in much the same way until the Monday of the last week at school in the run up to Christmas. That Monday was, quite simply, the worst day of my life. I was already in a foul mood as I'd missed an open goal playing for the school football team on the previous Saturday and we ended up losing a game we should really have won and I took quite a bit of stick for that. By lunchtime I was almost at the end of my tether and when the wind up merchants started on at me again about George, I'd had enough. Frankie Green, the ringleader of my tormentors, said something, I can't even remember what, once again something to do with ‘my new dad'. I walked slowly up to Frankie, put my face right in his and hissed ‘I am going to say this one last time. He is NOT my f***ing dad.' Frankie just smiled his usual smug smile, which totally pushed me over the edge and I headbutted him right on the bridge of the nose. There was blood everywhere and I managed to get another couple of good punches in before I was dragged off by a passing teacher. It turned out I'd broken his nose. I was sent straight to Mr Phillips, the headmaster, who was a man to be avoided even when he wasn't furious and I had obviously made him furious. I was called into the office and it was made very clear I was in deep this time. Mr Phillips shouted about how my behaviour was totally unacceptable and shameful and how he had barely seen such a violent attack in all his years as a teacher. He did calm down a bit in the end and asked for my side of the story, which I gave (possibly not quite apologetically enough as it turned out) and then told me that he would need to talk to Frankie and his parents, other witnesses and also my mother before he decided what to do. ‘You will wait outside my office, Watson, until school finishes at four o'clock and I will deal with you then. Don't doubt that this is extremely serious and I am considering all my available options, including expulsion.' That woke me up swiftly. ‘Expelled? S**t,' I thought. He said some other stuff as well, but it was all a blur until I was dismissed to wait outside. I was then left to stew over my fate all afternoon and I was only cheered up slightly when Eddie sneaked past a bit later and asked what was going on. ‘Don't know yet, I've got to wait until four and I'll find out then.' He said he'd wait for me outside the gates after school.
The time crawled past until four o'clock finally came. A couple of minute later the office door opened and Mr Phillip's voice boomed out ‘In here now, Watson, and close the door.' I complied and stood in front of the desk. ‘I've talked to a lot of people this afternoon, Watson,' he began. ‘I've heard plenty from your teachers about your deteriorating work this term and your appalling attitude. Your mother, it goes without saying, is very upset.' I was thinking that this was a very bad start. ‘I have also heard that you are a very bright boy and have always been popular with the staff and generally well behaved if a little cheeky. I will concede that what happened earlier was not entirely without provocation – Green and his friends have admitted to what has been going on and I will see that they are punished for that appropriately.' I relaxed slightly, this sounded a bit better. ‘Green's parents have agreed not to involve the police, so you should thank them for that. Taking these things into account, I've decided that you do deserve a final chance, so I'm not going to expel you.' Inward sigh of relief. ‘Be in no doubt though that any further instances remotely like this and you will be out of the door so quickly your feet will not touch the ground. You will be suspended for the rest of this week and when you come back after Christmas you will be moved to a different form group away from Green. You shouldn't think suspension will mean you miss having to do a week's work either. I'll be sending that and more besides home with you and you will complete it and send it in to school before the end of the week. You will not play for any school sports team until further notice and you will not take part in any games or PE lessons after Christmas until I say so. You will come here and study instead. These are all privileges that must be earned and your behaviour has barred you from that.' That was a bitter blow – I loved playing sport of all kinds and now wouldn't be allowed. ‘Finally,' said Mr Phillips, ‘although it is my practice not to use corporal punishment if I can possibly avoid it, I feel your behaviour has left me no choice, so you will now receive six strokes of the cane.' I felt all the blood drain from my face and I thought briefly that I might be sick. Mr Phillips very rarely caned anybody, but when he did, he had a reputation for making a proper job of it. He reached under his desk and took out a long whippy-looking cane with a crooked handle. He gestured towards the arm of one of the large leather chairs in the office reserved for important visitors and said ‘Stand facing the chair arm and bend over it with your hands on the seat cushion.' I did as I was told and closed my eyes.
I only had time to wonder briefly how on earth I had allowed myself to end up in this position before I heard Mr Phillips move behind me and I felt a couple of taps as he sized up the target and range. A brief pause. Crack. My ears heard it before the rest of my body felt it, but my body soon caught up with a brief dull ache followed by a fiery line of pain. It took my breath away. Crack. The fire was spreading and my whole body was now trembling. Crack. Burning, burning. I tried to choke back a sob. ‘Come on,' I thought, ‘Half way. Try to hang on.' Crack. The whole area was filled with intense burning pain and there was no stopping the sobs now. Crack. ‘Aaahh'. I couldn't help crying out. One more to endure. Crack. The pain went to a whole other level and I could have sworn the last one was the hardest of the lot. I howled with agony. I was trying to keep my sobs as quiet as possible but I could feel tears streaming down my face. I became dimly aware of Mr Phillips's voice. ‘You can stand up now, Watson.' I did, although I held on to the back of the chair as I wasn't sure my legs weren't going to give way beneath me. I had never known pain like it. ‘I need to collect the final bit of work I'm going to give you for this week now,' said Mr Phillips as I stood quietly sobbing. ‘I will be back in ten minutes, so I'll leave you to compose yourself. You can go to the toilets to wash your face if you like as long as you're back here in ten minutes,' he added, not wholly unsympathetically. I looked at the clock on the wall, which said 4.05. A few minutes had seemed like a lifetime. I did go to wash my face (although my red eyes left no doubt I'd been crying) and went back to the office where I was given five essays of 1000 words to do on various subjects plus a three hour maths paper. A fun week ahead indeed. I was then dismissed and walked off to meet Eddie. Every step was a new world of pain.
Eddie was leaning against the wall near the gates as I limped towards him. ‘Well?' he asked.
‘The bastard caned me,' I replied. ‘And I'm suspended for the rest of term. And I'm not allowed to play for the football team or do games. And he's given me a load of work to do this week.' As the details tumbled out, I felt myself becoming angrier and angrier at what I saw as the injustice of it all.
‘The cane?!' exclaimed Eddie. ‘Did it hurt?'
‘Yes it did, it hurt like hell and it still does. My arse is on fire.' At that moment, Jason came around the corner towards us and I saw red. Nice boy Jason who had come along with his dad and brother and been the root cause of my pain and humiliation.
‘Oh, look who's here now,' I almost shouted, ‘It's the perfect f***ing son. Has daddy sent you to spy on me? I'm surprised he's not told you to keep away from me!'
Instead of snapping back, Jason was as infuriatingly placid as ever. ‘I wanted to see if you we're OK,' he said. Dad's actually very big on sticking with your friends, even if they are in trouble.'
‘Oh, I'm in trouble then am I?' I was on a roll now and laughed bitterly. ‘Well no, I'm not OK, you'll be pleased to know. I've been caned, suspended and banned from football forever. I was fine until your dad came along with you and his other little clone, but now I'm all f***ed up so thanks for that, thanks very much.'
Jason opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again without speaking and I could see I'd really upset him. As it turned out, it wasn't Jason who spoke but Eddie. ‘Don't talk to him like that,' he snapped. He's waited for you and come to see if you're OK and you come out with that lot. You little turd.'
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. ‘You what? You're supposed to be my best mate and you're taking his side?! He's not even your mate,' I said to Eddie.
‘Yeah well, being your mate has been pretty bloody difficult this last couple of months,' he replied. I know you've had some s**t going on but I told you over and over again to tell somebody, do something about, but no, you just carried on, snapping at everybody and being a bastard and feeling sorry for yourself. And now it's everybody else's fault except yours as usual. Well guess what, Danny, s**t happens and we've all got to deal with it.'
My mouth was wide open with outrage. ‘Oh well I'll leave you to it then and you can have a nice chat with your new best friend,' I said. ‘I'm sure you'll be very happy together!'
‘Just get lost, Danny, I've had it with you,' said Eddie. ‘Come back if you ever grow up.'
That hurt. Tears were welling up in my eyes again and I turned and walked away to get the bus home.
When I got home, I hoped to avoid mum and get straight up to my room as I didn't think I could cope with another confrontation on top of everything else. Of course she was waiting for me though and tore into me like she never had before. ‘I know all about what's been going on, why couldn't you just ignore it?' she asked. ‘You've been in trouble before but you've never done anything like this and now I find out I've raised a nasty, violent little thug. I practically had to beg Mr Phillips not to expel you when he rang me this afternoon. Have you any idea how that made me feel? It breaks my heart.' She was crying now, which made me feel even worse. And then the killer line. ‘Why can't you be more like Carl and Jason?'
‘I'm not even good enough for you then now,' I said. ‘You carry on with your nice new family. I know none of you ever really wanted me here.
‘Oh honestly, Danny, I just can't stand it anymore.' Mum was shouting through the tears now. I'm sure the whole neighbourhood must have heard her. ‘I can't even bear to look at you never mind hear you talking like that. Get upstairs to your room and stay there. I don't want to see you again until tomorrow.'
I sloped off upstairs, took my shoes off and threw myself down on my bed, which had the unfortunate effect of reawakening the burning pain in my arse. As I lay there, I realised what I'd done and what had happened in a few short hours. I'd beaten somebody up, been caned, been thrown out of school for a week, fallen out with my best mate, upset someone I actually cared about and made my mum cry. Rock bottom. I'd never felt as bad as this. The emotion overwhelmed me and I lost it. Huge sobs heaved through my whole body as I lay there and it seemed to go on and on before they subsided into more gentle weeping until the exhaustion of everything took over and I finally cried myself to sleep.