Against the Rules by Zero
As they walked through the school corridor, Stan heard his little brother monologue behind him with a wrinkled copy of a script in his hand and a huge grin in his face.
"And the character I play, he’s this very chill guy, very into Buddhism and it’s hilarious how when everyone’s freaking out he’s just like trying to get a mediation session going. He just gets on everyone else’s nerves, over and over again! And the production team are really outdoing themselves with their ideas! I can’t tell you more, but I can’t wait for you and Mom to see it!"
Out of the two of them, Stan was the extroverted one. The famous of the pair, as some said. And Alex, his two years younger brother had always been the shy, the wallflower, but every time he was excited about a play or a short film he was involved in he transformed into a chatter mouth and his eyes sparkled with energy and adrenaline and he could see the fire beneath them.
His brother had found something he was passionate about. And when the play’s director had jokingly suggested that he should shave his head for the character, Alex didn’t give it another thought and Stan couldn’t recall a moment when he was prouder (or happier) of his baby brother than the moment he saw him return home with his blond hair buzzed down to an quarter of an inch.
He had to give one to his mom for letting both of them do anything they wanted with their hair. At seventeen, Stan had grown his almost down to his shoulders. He had straight light brown hair, that used to be lighter when he was a kid.
"I know. I can’t wait either!" he held his algebra textbook underneath his arm and smiled at his baby brother.
Alex took off the baseball cap he had been wearing to cover his recently buzzed head and fingered his bristly nape nervously "I kind of hope cutting off all my hair wasn’t a mistake".
"You know what? I think you look really cool" Stan patted him on the shoulder.
His brother just flashed him a smile and went off to his own classroom.
It must have been about an hour later when Stan left his first class after a test and he saw Alex again in the hall with his back pack on as he walked past him without exchanging a word or a glance with him. His brow was furrowed and his face was a lively shade of red.
"Alex!" he called him "Hey! What’s going on? Where are you going?"
"Home" Alex didn’t stop.
"What? What do you mean home?" Stan tried to get him to slow down "What happened?"
"I’m suspended" Alex raised a paper to his eye level.
He took it from his brother’s hand and read it with his heart racing for answers "Due to violation of the school’s dress code, the student Alexander Calgary is suspended from this institution and must remain home for the following… THREE WEEKS?" he shouted "Without the right to amend for any evaluations he misses in that period of time…" Stan took a step back "Whoa. What violation of the dress code?" he eyed his brother up and down.
His brother bit his lip and casted down his eyes "Apparently, it’s against school rules to cut my hair shorter than a number three. I just found out this morning, and I have to stay home until it grows back, at least to that length".
"Okay" Stan lowered the suspension order and huffed "That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever f***ing heard. Seriously? All this over a f***ing haircut?".
"Hey, it’s okay…" Alex put his right hand around his opposite arm, like he was hugging himself "I broke a rule. That’s it. I guess I’ll have to talk with the guys from the play and maybe just drop it altogether".
"Matthew Smith wore his hair in a mohawk for football season and no one said anything to him because he’s the quarterback! I’m talking to Mr. Hirsch about this!".
"Mr. Hirsch signed that paper!" his brother told him "Stan, please…".
"Go home, Alex" Stan ordered him and handed the paper back.
At the end of the day, Stan was sitting outside of Mr. Hirsch’s office. The principal’s assistant, a middle-aged woman without children of her own who seemed to always be eating a never-ending piece of cake, had greeted him with a warm smile when she saw him come in.
In a row of bullies and other students who were called for misconduct, Stan felt out of place when a kid with a bloodied nose walked out the office’s door.
"Alex was here earlier" she finally commented in a half-whisper.
Stan decided to play along "Really?".
"Oh, yes. Why did he do that to his beautiful hair?" she adjusted her glasses and wrinkled her brow "I hope you’re keeping an eye on him and making sure he’s not in bad steps, Stan!".
"Trust me, he’s not" he couldn’t help but sound defensive of him.
"Stanley Galloway?" the principal peeked out of his office door.
"I’m here" he got up from the chair and picked his backpack.
"Come in" Mr. Hirsch motioned him inside. Stan followed him to his desk.
Mr. Hirsch took a seat right in front of him, with his back to the window. He was a tall, slender man with graying dark hair that was almost completely silver on his temples and huge expressive eyes behind a pair of black rimmed glasses. He was conservative to the very core and only wore dress shirts and trousers to the school, usually paired with a tie and a suit.
Stan reclined in the chair with his arms crossed.
"So, how are you preparing for the prize ceremony tomorrow? You must be proud of yourself! Gold medal in the Math Olympics! You’ll be going to compete in DC with the rest of the country!" Mr. Hirsch smiled at him widely "With your academic record and your gift for math, you can’t set for anything less that NASA or MIT, Stan!".
Stan would be lying if he said that his compliments didn’t do anything for his ego and that he didn’t pride himself in his academic achievement, but he didn’t come here today to hear about his genius.
"Thank you, Mr. Hirsch" he gave him the courtesy of accepting his praise.
"You have to teach Alex, try to pass some of that magnificent brain of yours to him. I told him that just this morning, he has to work harder to get grades like yours!".
"My brother has his own interests and I find it hard for him to improve his grades if he’s going to be suspended for almost a month" Stan said.
"He’s suspended until his hair grows back".
"Matthew Smith wasn’t suspended when he shaved his hair into a mohawk a couple months ago".
"He’s an athlete. Students are not allowed to wear their hair shorter than an inch. It’s against school rules. Alexander shaved his head" the man emphasized.
"What if a student suffers from alopecia? What if their hair is falling out and they have bald patches? They can’t shave it because of some stupid rule?".
"It’s not your brother’s case, is it?".
"He just buzzed his hair" he retorted "Come on, Mr. Hirsch. He did it for a play he’s in. He’ll grow it back as soon as he’s done with it… you can go watch him this Friday night if you don’t believe me! I’ll get you tickets!".
"It’s not an excuse, and he should have his priorities straight".
"Mr. Hirsch, for once, my mom and I are happy to see my brother involved in something that he really likes and seeing him enjoy himself! Maybe acting is his priority!" he yelled at him, his blood boiling at his words.
"You’ve always had your priorities straight, Stan. Maybe you should talk to him".
Stan looked at the man and knew it was pointless to press any further. The principal was not going to yield "Yes, Mr. Hirsch. I will. I promise".
"Very well then, now that that’s over with, remember that we’re expected tomorrow at the prize ceremony. If you have a spare minute, I suggest you go get a haircut, Stan. You should look your best tomorrow" he smiled at him.
"Yeah, sure" he ran his hand through his long bangs as he heard him, feeling defeated "See you tomorrow, Mr. Hirsch".
Stan got up and closed the door behind him. He exchanged a quick smile with the principal’s assistant and a curt nod as a goodbye gesture. He whipped out his phone and texted his brother, making sure everything was alright back at home. He hoped his mom hadn’t freak out about the incident.
He felt his long hair falling over his face and moving back and forth with the rest of his body. He was still pissed. How could this school be so ridiculous and suspend his brother over a buzz cut?
And Mr. Hirsch had asked him to get his cut right after he had sent Alex home for doing that. Just unbelievable…
A thought formed into his mind as he left the school building.
Alex asked him if he was coming home right away. He replied a single word: no.
He turned on his phone’s GPS and checked for the nearest barbershop.
If Hirsch wanted him to get a haircut, then that’s what he was going to do.
Stan hadn’t stepped into a barbershop in a couple years. Ever since his mom had allowed him to decide over his own hairstyle when he turned thirteen. He saw the pole spinning blue and white and red outside it and entered without a second thought.
It was a modern shop with a vintage flair in the décor, and as soon as he opened the door, one of the young barber’s eyes went towards him.
"Good afternoon. How can we help you?" the man looked twenty-something maybe thirty.
"I want a haircut" Stan said right away.
"Okay, take a seat".
He climbed into the first chair and felt the barber gather his hair in his hand to lift it and securing a paper towel around his neck. Stan looked straight ahead the whole time. He still felt his blood boil inside him. The young barber caped him with great care and started combing his almost shoulder-length hair.
"So, what’s it going to be?"
"All off" Stan replied "I want it shaved, really close".
He seemed taken aback by his request "What number? One?".
"Shorter than that" he didn’t hesitate "Triple zero".
"Okay" the barber didn’t question him "If that’s what you want".
Stan felt the man lift his hair with the comb and expose his right ear. Then, he saw him turn on the hair clippers with a quick movement of his fingers. The whirring teeth approached his sideburn, buzzing loudly. Then, they touched his hair and Stan felt their cold steel diving inside his long locks and shaving them off completely.
In a second, a huge chunk of light brown hair was falling down on the floor. His right sideburn was obliterated. The barber shook the long strands off his comb and raked it through another section and continued shaving his temple. Stan watched him work and he didn’t think about how long it would take him to grow back his hair or how there was not turning back, all he could think of was Mr. Hirsch’s utterly ridiculous reason for suspending Alex and how mad he was about everything he had said.
F*** him and his rules.
Quickly, his right side was shaved down to the skin and Stan could see his naked scalp. The trace of his hairline was gone and his right shoulder was covered with long, glossy locks of his hair. The barber turned the chair around to the side and pushed his head down. He could no longer see the mirror. The man placed the clippers on his neck and the pushed them up to his crown steadily, they denuded the back of his head swiftly, effortlessly with a low, angry pitch and Stan could only see his hair pooling in his lap and feel the cold air against his exposed scalp.
In a moment, he had finished the back and turned to his left side. The barber pushed his head softly to the right and plowed the clippers through his temple, sending more hair pouring down to the floor, cascading. He could tell the man was very skilled, he worked fast and didn’t return a second or third time over the paths he had already shaven.
"Do you want the same on top?" the barber asked him as he cleaned around his ear.
Stan only nodded and muttered ‘yes’ as he felt his bangs falling to his lip.
Without another word, the man turned him back to the mirror. With his hand he made him raise his chin and keep his head straight as he combed his bangs back. Then, he made a first pass across the right side of the top of his head and the locks rained down, brushing his ear and face. A couple of strands got caught behind his earlobe and the barber dropped them away.
He made another pass right next to the other and Stan watched with intent as his scalp revealed underneath each time. He blinked only when he felt the locks falling over his face. Finally, in what felt like a minute at most, the barber finished shaving what was left of his hair off. Once he made sure he didn’t have any dark patches and it was all even, he used a straight razor and shaved the place where his sideburns used to be and his nape.
He unclipped the cape and dusted him off. Stan ran his hand across his shaved head repeatedly as he did and saw all the remains of his shoulder-length hair fall on the floor. The barber hadn’t shaved him with a razor, but he was basically bald.
His scalp seemed very pale and maybe his nose seemed too big for his face now, but Stan was satisfied with the result and left the shop after paying feeling pretty good about it all.
Besides, it was sort of exciting: doing something against the rules.
Once he was at home, his brother couldn’t believe what he had done and his mom either. He explained that the principal asked him to cut his hair for the Math Olympics prize ceremony. Alex rubbed his shaved head and declared that he had to get a #000 as well for his character, since he wasn’t allowed inside school for a while anyway. His mom had given him a disparaging look at the idea, but didn’t openly oppose to it and Stan saw her rolling her eyes.
The next day at the ceremony. His shaved head set him apart from the rest of the students from the state and Mr. Hirsch didn’t say anything at first. After he had received his gold medal and relaxed rolling up his sleeves and had almost died when his mom hugged him tightly (almost breaking his ribs in the process) and kissed him with pride in top of his head, the man approached him.
Behind the crystal of his glasses, he could see his pupils going up to his shaved head in shock and disapproval.
"What the hell happened to your hair?" Mr. Hirsch finally asked him.
"You told me to get a haircut, Mr. Hirsch. So I did" he answered matter-of-factly "The barber may have slipped and misunderstood my instructions, though" he shrugged innocently "So, I guess I’m also suspended for a month now, right?".
The principal pressed his lips into a thin line and took a deep breath "Stanley Galloway, you’re our star student. I can’t suspend you for this" he crossed his arms.
"What a relief... That’s good to know! Thanks, Mr. Hirsch!" Stan grinned triumphantly "So, about Alex… I have tickets for his play, he’s really good, you know?" he looked his brother’s way.
"You must really love your brother, Stan" the principal put his hands in his pockets "I guess, since you shaved your head and I’m allowing you in the school looking like that, I’ll have to revoke Alex’s suspension order as well".
"Thank you, Mr. Hirsch!".
"But only this once" he clarified "And you better grow your hair back soon, winter is right around the corner".
He just laughed in response.
A couple weeks later, an update was made to his school’s dress code. There were no longer restrictions concerning hairstyles and while his younger brother had grown his hair out once he was done with the play, Stan decided to keep his buzzed to a quarter of an inch for a while, just for the sake of it, knowing he had accomplished something outside academics that year.