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Austria Sends its Regards (AMOHW Extra) by Zero


I

Of all the impasses his lack of fluency in English had caused him, this was by far the worst.

The young Austrian touched the bristle on his nape, still shell-shocked 24 hours later and silently wondering how the hell had it happened.

Looking back, adventuring for a haircut in a city that wasn´t his own and where he wasn´t fluent with the language, had probably been a terrible idea to begin with.

The moment he had stepped inside that barbershop, he had expected to get just an inch or two off his fringe which was starting to become a bother.

He didn´t expect the barber to hack off all his hair with scissors.

Well, his war with his bangs was over now that his shoulder-length mane had been reduced to a centimeter at most.

He didn´t really blame the barber about what happened, though. Maybe he had misread the tiny amount he spaced between his thumb and index fingers to how short he wanted his hair to be and only realized what he had meant after it was done, and his blond hair covered the floor. He felt really bad about that barber, he had trouble following his words, but he could see how embarrassed he was about the whole incident in his face.

He wasn´t proud of the fact he couldn´t keep himself from crying when he was in the chair either.

He still was ashamed of walking out without paying that man, despite his insistence that he didn´t owe him anything.

One thing was clear: He really needed to work on his English.

That was the whole reason he was in New York City to begin with, really, in an English summer program for foreign students and as he stepped inside the classroom the next morning, he had been bombarded with the same question repeatedly about his new haircut and to his surprise, a couple of compliments from classmates.

Friends his age that told him things like ´nice haircut´ and female classmates that would make him blush saying he looked ´cute´ with short hair. He only smiled and thanked them.

Then there was the French. Mathieu. He. Wouldn´t. Stop. Staring.

And it made him more self-conscious and uncomfortable. He had been trying to tell himself that it really wasn´t that bad and thinking of the advantages of his close-cropped hair, but every time he found that French´s eyes on him, he was reminded of the centuries it would take him to regrow his hair.

He was walking out of a test he hoped he didn´t flunk when he encountered him once more at the door. He just put on his Yankees baseball cap and adjusted his hand around his backpack when he saw him and tried to ignore him.

"Hey" the French called him "Otto, right?"
He stopped in his tracks "Yeah".
"Can I ask you something?" he let Mathieu continue and turned to see him "Where did you get that haircut?".


II

"I swear, Enzo. When I die, I want you to be the one who styles my hair and my beard for my funeral. You have to promise me you will!".
Enzo let a light-hearted laughter out when he heard the comment of one of his eldest customers "I promise, Mr. Graves".
"Good! I know you´re a man of your word! I’ll see you at my funeral, then!" he pointed at the barber with his finger after he paid for his haircut.
"Of course you will, Mr. Graves" he nodded at the silver-haired man and watched him leave.
"Enzo, how in the world is Mr. Graves going to see you in his funeral, when he´s already dead?" his colleague Antonio raised an eyebrow at him.
"I have no idea, Tony" he shrugged.

Enzo went back to tidy his place with a smile on his face. It gave him a profound satisfaction, to feel loved by his customers, that they trusted him with their appearance. There were faces that he always enjoyed seeing back at his shop…

"Good afternoon".
He heard the bell behind his barbershop´s door clink and turned around "Good after…".

He saw a young teenager wearing a very familiar black Yankees baseball cap with a bristly blond fuzz underneath. He felt the blood drain from his face and a knot on his throat as a deep embarrassment crept up through every single fiber of his body.

The Austrian boy from yesterday.

Why was he back?

Enzo couldn´t think of a single answer, but his brain sent a panic signal anyway.

He was certain that his patron saint, St. Martin De Porres had sent him to remind him of his unworthiness and dishonorable actions.

He noticed he was followed by another teenager with very light skin and very thick and abundant light brown hair that reached the base of his neck. The boy looked around with fascination in his eyes.

He exchanged a glance with Antonio, who looked as surprised as he was. His colleague seemed to deliberately ignore what was going on and swiftly occupy himself trimming another customer´s bangs as slowly and methodically as possible.

His other work companion, Douglas had left early because his mother was sick. So, there was no way for Enzo to just throw this upcoming mess at anyone else.

"Hi, mister" the Austrian flashed his kind, warm smile at him "Um, this is a Freund, can you, um, cut his hair?" he mimicked scissors with his fingers.
"Are you sure?" that was the only thing Enzo could manage to say.

What if this kid didn´t speak English fluently either? What if he also made a mistake with him?

"He wants it like mine but less" the boy replied.

Now Enzo was even more confused.

Less what? What in God´s name did he mean by less? To cut it less? To leave less hair?

One accident with a foreign teenager was enough for him and this sounded like another catastrophe waiting to happen because of a language barrier.

"Otto, I´ll do it, mon ami" the other boy spoke with a guttural accent "Good afternoon, sir. I would like a haircut, please" he said in a friendly tone.
This other kid could actually express clearly himself in English. Enzo felt relief wash over him. Thank God. "Sure, take a seat, young man".
"Thank you".

He saw the Austrian sit down on the sofa behind them out of the corner of his eye, to wait for the other and pick up a magazine.

Quickly Enzo caped him and began to rake his comb through his hair and struggled to detangle it. He really had a lot. Light brown with waves and sun highlights and incredibly dense and unruly. He would probably had to thin it out a little or razor it to give it a better texture. It didn´t look back the way it was by any means, but he could make it more manageable.

"So, what´s it going to be? Just a trim?" he asked him.
He didn’t hesitate "I want it shaved off".
"Hold on" Enzo put up his hand "Do you know what you´re asking for, young man?".

This had to be another customer struggling with English.

"Yes" a grin spread across the teenager´s face. There was a wild spark in his eyes as he said it.
"Are you really sure?" Enzo decided to pry on, he didn’t dare to anything until he was sure they were understanding each other.
"Listen, sir" he looked him in the eye "My name is Mathieu Bouvier and I´ve wanted to shave my head for a while now, and my parents always say no, that I can´t do it" he paused "But I’m here in New York City on my own for the summer, I’m turning eighteen next year, and they’re back at France. So…" he shrugged innocently.
"You´re going to do it behind their back" Enzo laughed as he placed his comb back on the counter.
"As the Americans say, f*** them" he smirked with mischief.

Enzo studied the mass of light brown hair on top of the teenager´s head. It was truly like a lion´s mane, untamable, and he understood that this French boy was probably itching for something that he wouldn’t have to battle every day to keep under control.

Not that his parents would listen to his account and let him wear it shorter. They probably were conservative and thought a buzz cut was not fit for their son. On the other hand, Enzo had always been a firm believer that young men should be free to experiment with their hair however they wanted to, long or short, because after all, they might lose it one day when they grow older.

Also, he guessed that an unsupervised seventeen-year-old could be doing a lot of worst things. This was rather harmless, really.

"So, all off?" he picked up his hair clippers.
"Yes!" Mathieu said without a trace of hesitation.

With a clicking noise, his hair clippers growled and came to life. Before Enzo could begin, the teenager asked him to wait and took his phone from his pocket. He pointed the camera towards the mirror with a wide and smug smile on his face.

"You taking pictures?" the Austrian asked him.
"I’m filming for my parents to see" Mathieu answered.

Enzo uncovered the French’s ear and made a first pass across his sideburn. Long glossy hair began to shower down as the clipper’s metallic teeth crept towards the top of his head. The teenager stared into the mirror ecstatic as the first locks came off. He stopped filming and fiddled with his phone with a huge grin in his face as the barber continued working his was around the side of his head.

A few seconds later, his phone was exploding with messages from his family´s chat all in caps and swears to accompany their indignation. He laughed and put it away to return his attention to the mirror. Enzo had already finished buzzing the hair on his right temple and moved towards the back of his head.

Mathieu couldn´t believe he was finally doing this.

At long last he was getting rid of all of it.

He welcomed the vibration and the buzzing sound of the hair clippers as they mowed down to stubble the hair his parents had never allowed him to cut shorter and sent it falling down to the floor. It was so liberating to see it coming off in huge waves and feel the breeze on his neck, how light his head felt.

Quickly, the barber had already shaved off everything and slid his razor behind his ears, neck and across his sideburns. As he removed his cape, Mathieu immediately touched his head with both hands, marveling at the bristle he felt under his fingertips.

"Thank you!" he paid him with the most excited grin he had ever seen.

The French was so energized when he jumped out of the chair, that for a second, Enzo thought he was going to wrap his arms around him and kiss him on both cheeks European style in gratitude.

"You´re welcome, young man".
"Come on, Otto. You have to give it a try!" Mathieu tried to encourage his classmate "I mean, you already cut off a lot, what´s the difference?".
"No, thanks" the Austrian replied with a soft smile "I think I like my hair the way it is right now" he brushed his fingers against the back of his head.
Enzo couldn´t keep himself from saying it again as he saw the blond teenager "Kid, I´m so sorry about yesterday".
"It´s okay, mister!" he laughed "Really!".

He looked at him and supposed he had to thank him for bringing him another customer today. They both left the shop and Enzo thought that so far this summer had been a rather busy one. Maybe next year he should just go visit his daughter in Rome instead.






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