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Out doing the Lord's work by Vegard
I looked up from studying a crack on the stairs of the house who's doorbell we'd just rang.
"What?" I asked
John was listening with his head tilted listening to sounds from within the house, while seeming to study my head.
"What is it John?" I asked. Surely it wasn't anything to do with the unmistakable russle from people with no intention of opening the door. After all that was all too common, and we were used to it.
"Your hair Michael. It's getting long!"
Running my hand carefully over my hair I privately disagreed. But John, my cousin, was my elder, and also likely to tell on me to the reverend if I didn't follow the rules.
My hair was the same as the hair of all boys and young men in our church, neat, and parted, ruler straight, on the left. Two inches on top, when cut, and cut short around the ears and in the back. It was slicked down with water, and combed so no hair was out of place, and fit well with the starched white shirt, black trousers, shoes and tie we wore, and was meant to signal modesty and clean living.
My mother had cut it with scissors only two days before John and I left in his old Honda, to spread the Word of Our Lord, to places unfortunate enough not to have a congregation of the right faith of their own. We were to spend eight weeks of my summer holidays doing this, with seven weeks still to go.
John gave up waiting, and turned to leave and walk on to the next house.
"We'll finish off the houses on this street and head back to the car. I saw a barber shop a few blocks from the motel. I'll drop you off there, and you can walk back to the motel after." he stated matter of factly, and I didn't argue.
All I could think of to mention was that I had no money. John had the purse with our funds.
"I'll give you the money. But make sure to have aunt Rachel give you a haircut before we leave next time. Ok?" he smiled at me.
It was a hot day, I was tired, and we still had eight houses to call upon, so I didn't bother correcting him about my cut. Maybe it would be a nice break as well, going to the barber, and spending an hour away from John. I guess we were both longing for a bit of time apart.
Secretly I was hoping for eight empty houses, or people pretending not to be home. Even the hostile send-off would be ok, because it was always short, with us apologising for our presens before or while the door was slammed shut in our face.
I felt guilty about dreading the type of person the reverend fawned about when calling us to service. The lonely person, often elderly, starving for company. People who were so lonely even John and I would do, and who would invite us in and serve coffee or tea and dry, sometimes stale cookies or biscuits from a tin.
Those visits were always long, and John would turn in to a bit of a reverend himself, as he talked about the Lord, and handed out leaflets and the occational magasine.
I never said much. But then again I was there to learn, and should be grateful for it.
The reverend had arranged it with my mother, saying it was time now I did my share for the Church. There was no discussion about it. No one seemed interested in asking me about it, or whether I wanted to spend my summer like this or not. It was just assumed I would, or no one cared. I don't know which.
Maybe my father would have cared, if he'd been around? He left when I was a baby, and neither my mother nor anybody else mentions him much.
It's been very hard on my mother, and she reminds me from time to time how hard it is for her to raise a son all on her own. And she's particularly upset if she finds me being selfish, and only caring about my own needs. She says I remind her of my father then, and ask if I want to break her heart like he did. I don't, and feel guilty that I have made her feel that way.
My father wasn't "born in to it", and it is acknowledged that a life in the Church is hard if you haven't grown up in it. Our ways are too different I suppose. I have known no other life, and want to do what is right, and live by His word.
And that, for my part always means I'm an outsider, except to the others in the Church. Even those who are not literally related are like my extended family, and we take care of each other. A lot of people ridicule us, and find us funny, but their lives are so corrupted with sin, they don't know any better. We worry about them, and try to help them on the right path, which is why John and I are out to spread His word.
I feel good doing it with John, and also to be doing it away from our home town, where no one knows us.
I'm sixteen, and have just done my first year of high-school. Thankfully there are two others from the Church that go there, otherwise I would be very lonely. They are not in my class though, and days can be quite hard at times.
Other kids my age laugh a lot more, and take part in all kinds of things. Like birthdays, and Halloween. Now I don't care, and I don't get invited any more anyway, but it used to be hard when I was younger and didn't understand that our way is better, because we live lives with less sin, and less temptation. No human can live without sin, but by being penitent, and by striving for a more virtuous life, we can please Him with our ways.
If it wasn't for our congregation who knows what kind of life I, or mother, would lead?
And like I said, I should be grateful. Whenever I have these thoughts wanting the houses to be empty or that we are simply shoed away I feel guilty, and I quickly ask the Lord for forgiveness. I do the same if I swear, or think unclean thoughts, which I have done quite often lately. I guess this trip with John will be really good for me, and I hope I can make them all pleased with me. I almost wrote proud there, but one should not feel pride.
With five houses to go an elderly lady opened, and we were invited in. Thinking about what I had hoped for I felt thankful that the Lord had given us the opportunity to help a lost soul, and I even volunteered some of His words to console her, since she told us she had lost her husband just a few months before. John nodded approvingly to me, and I felt happy and content.
We left the old lady with promises we would return the next day, and continued to the other houses. Two were empty, one gave us a kurt "No thanks!" as we offered the Lord's word to him. And the last one gave us a telling off, saying we should "Stop peddling our Brain Wash, and ho home!"
By now it was past 5 and we walked back to the Honda. I grabbed my bottle of water, and drank greedily, although it was really warm from being in the car. Grateful that the day was over, I was looking forward to the cool of our shared room at the motel.
I didn't remember about the haircut until John slowed down, and stopped, outside the barber, and said "Here it is!"
Looking at the unassuming front, and my cousin looking expectantly at me to get out, I felt a bit disappointed. I was still really warm, and the airconditioning in the car hadn't really kicked in yet. Giving me a 20 dollar bill he told me to just continue down the same street when I was done, to get back to the motel, and he drove off.
So, there I was, back out in the heat away from John for the first time in seven days, and with orders to get my hair cut.
It was so hot, my shirt was reduced to a wet rag, and I loosened my tie and the top button at the collar, then decided to take the tie off completely, and put it in my pocket before I entered. It helped a bit, but it was still so hot out. Thankfully the shop was cooler, and I drew in the chill air as I walked in.
The place was empty, except for a woman in her thirties, who sat thumbing her cellphone in one of what appeared to be her very own barber chairs. She was kind of plump, and had a tattoo coming up the side of her neck. It looked like some kind of tribal thing, snaking it's way up all the way to her ear. I tried not to stare, and in stead I diverted my look to the pictures on the wall.
I was intrigued. There were many different cuts. Some looked modest enough, but there were also some really strange ones.
"Hi, I'm Trish! Can I help you?" the woman barber said, cheerfully.
"Uh, yes please. I n..., I'm here for a haircut," I said, looking at her again.
"Take a seat!" she said, and clapped the back of one of her chairs.
"What's your name?" she asked with a warm, radiant smile, and I answered.
"Pleased to meet you Michael. What can I do for you today?"
"A short back and sides please," I stated, and went back to looking at the pictures.
She caped me, and pumped the chair up, before running a hand through my hair. For some reason it felt good when she did that.
"Do you always part it here?" she asked.
I nodded as she sprayed my hair, combed it and secured it with clips. Two holding it away from my immaculate parting and one holding the hair to the front of my crown a bit forward. She seemed to have created a kind of parting there across the whirly bit as well.
"And you want it short, back and sides yeah?"
I nodded again, now studying the various equipment on the counter as she started the clippers and ran it up the back of my head. All the way up to the crown, while pushing my head down gently.
Taking her hand away, I looked back up, at myself with the strange looking clips in my hair. This was not how mother does it.
The barber now stood in front of me, and said, "Now keep absolutely still. We don't want to get this wrong." And with that she started the clippers again, while spreading the fingers on her left hand and holding my head in place with it. Her thumb resting right above my parting. Since she was standing in front of me now, she was blocking my view of the mirror. But I was used to not seeing. Mother would always cut it in the kitchen, and I couldn't look until she was done, and I went to the bathroom to clean up, and wash away the stray hairs. It was never much to look at either. Always the same. A boy in my class in elementary school had said I looked like a "LEGO-man", and maybe he was right.
Trish moved the clippers from a little bit above my left temple, making contact right below the part, and moved the machine backwards in a continuous motion towards the back of my head. How absolutely odd this felt. I began wondering what she was doing, as she repeated the prosess pass after pass above my ear. I could swear it felt cooler and lighter on that side of my head, and I suddenly began to worry. Switching directions she now ran the clippers in an upward motion. From my ear towards the parting.
And when she was done with this, she lowered her right hand and I could see the clippers had what appeared to be a very short guard on it. How short was it?
As she stepped to the side and I craned my neck sideways so that I could see myself in the mirror, my jaw dropped.
Below my parting my hair was a uniform stubble. So short it was only visible as a darkish, blond fuzz. Turning my head slightly, it seemed I was just as pealed in the back.
Gawping at myself, I couldn't make a sound, and I barely noticed the barber's rapid change of expression from a bright smile to a look of concern as she saw me staring at my own reflection.
I slowly lifted my hand from under the cape, and felt the side of my shorn head. The area was as wide as my hand, and I have quite big hands. The stubble made a rusling sound as I rubbed it. The back of my head was the same.
The barber seemed as lost for words as I was, but finally she said, "Not what you wanted?"
I shook my head.
She looked genuinly upset, and despite my predicament I felt sorry for her.
"You didn't want it cut that short?" she asked, stating what I thought must be fairly obvious.
Finally able to talk I said, "No", and added, "I just wanted a short back and sides, like my mother cuts it"
"Oh." she said. And we both looked at my head. Me in the mirror, and she from the side.
"So, what do we do now?" she asked, almost sounding like she was about to cry. I thought I should try and comfort her, but couldn't think of anything good to say.
"Can you fix it?" I asked, almost pleading. Thinking about what John and the reverend would say to this. And mother.
"I thought, you know, since you came in here, you wanted a modern cut, you know?" she sounded apologetic.
"This is modern?" I asked. Before it dawned on me that this was the cut some of the cooler kids in school were going for. The last year or so many had started sporting haircuts where the back and sides were really short. And they had sort of floppy, longer hair on top. Much longer than mine.
I could not go for something like that. It would be "so not me" as some of the other kids would say. And I actually think it looks kind of stupid.
I looked at her, and asked again, "Can you fix it? I mean, make it look more conservative or something? More modest?"
Without saying anything she nodded and started combing it out, and it looked awful as she combed it down over the shaved area. Like a thatched roof, with much too long straws sticking out. Taking her scissors out, she began snipping away at it, taking the length down on top, and around my head. I stared at myself in the mirror as she worked.
"I suppose we'll need to use the clippers on the other side you know?" she said, biting her lower lip, and adding, "But maybe not quite as high up?"
I nodded, keeping my eyes fixed at my image in the mirror. Soon the right side of my head was shorn equally short, but not quite as high up. Trish would angle the clippers out as it neared the top, creating a taper which looked pretty good.
"How short do you want it on top?" she asked as the right side had shaped up nicely.
"Long enough to still comb to the side I guess" I answered, wondering what it would look like having been taken down to half it's length.
"Ok, I think I'll just leave it like this then." Trish said apologetically.
And with that she simply combed my hair to the side. There really was no parting any more, so a quick sweep to the side was really all it needed. And there I sat, with the shortest hair I had ever had in my life. With short stubble all around my head, and a bare inch of hair covering the top of my head.
"You know what? If you ask me it really looks good on you!" Trish said.
"It's just so drastic," I managed, and almost stuttered, "I'm not supposed to have my hair "fancy". Just plain, and normal"
"How old are you Michael?"
"Well, lots of 16-year-olds have it cut like this Mike."
"Lots of?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
Finally she smiled a bit again, and said, "Ok, maybe not lots of, but some. Ok?"
I didn't answer.
With a look of concern she asked, "Will you be in some kind of trouble over this?"
I sighed, "I don't know"
"Are you serious?" she looked quizzical, and I didn't feel like answering.
I could sense she wanted to ask me more, but I didn't want her to, so I muttered, "I should go now."
She used her brush around my head, uncaped me, and brushed me some more. Before using a razor to get at the fuzz at my hairline in the back and around my ears.
As I got up I couldn't stop looking at myself.
"Listen Michael. I'm really sorry you know. Off course I won't charge you either, and please come back when it grows out, and I can fix it for you the way you want."
I gave her a small smile, not wanting her to feel to bad about it, and I left. Stepping back in to the heat of the evening.
It was still humid and hot, but my head felt cooler as I walked than it would have felt before my drastic new cut.
Walking slowly towards the motel I couldn't stop rubbing the back and sides of my head. It felt so good, but I knew it shouldn't. Maybe this is why we all keep it like we do? So as not to get too occupied with it. Dreading what John would say, I stopped outside the entrance to the parking lot of the motel and dug my tie out of my pocket. At least he needn't see that I had taken that off.
Steeling myself I walked up to the door, and entered. John was sitting in bed, watching TV, but quickly turned it off as I came in. As if he had been watching something he wasn't supposed to. Like a comedy with profanity or something.
"Hi Mi..." he managed before his mouth stopped in open position as he stared at me.
I bent my head, embarrassed, and said, "It was an accident".
He found his words. "An accident?" he said, incredulously.
I nodded, still looking down. "I asked for a short back and sides, and before I realised what was happening she had sheared me".
John had gotten out of bed, and was circling me, looking closely at the damage.
"I asked her if she could fix it," I mumbled, "But there wasn't much she could do."
"Oh my," John said, which for him was quite strong. "Are you sure you didn't ask for it?"
I nodded, and putting my hand in my pocket I took out the 20, and gave it to him. "She didn't charge me, since she made a mistake" I explained. And this made John believe me.
He was real nice about it, consoling me that it would grow back. And in seven weeks it would be almost like before. "I'll get some scissors though, and cut it myself next time." he said. And I felt a portion of regret at that.
We cooked a simple meal together, and ate in silence. I kept wanting to rub my head, but didn't. After supper was reading time, and I must admit I rested my hand at the back of my head almost the whole time. Thinking this would look innocent enough. Then we said our prayers together, thanking the Lord for the opportunity to do His work, before getting ready for bed. I asked John to hit the shower first, saying I wanted to read a bit more. In stead of reading though I went over to the mirror by the door and stared at my own reflection again. Hurrying over to sit on the bed as I heard John finishing up in the bathroom.
"Your turn!" he said cheerfully as he came out.
The shower felt good, and I let the water run over me, washing away the sweat, and feeling how it ran over my scalp while I kept rubbing it. Towelling after, I stepped in front of the mirror, and had to grin at the sight of my hair sticking up and the bare, almost naked skin below it. Combing it straight down it still looked funny, and I amused myself with combing it this way and that for a bit, before just sweeping it to the right like Trish had done. She was right, it did look good.
Finally coming out of the bathroom I found John already asleep, and I crept under the covers of the other bed, still stroking my head. Finally I made myself stop, and I folded my hands to say my last prayers for the day. And I thanked Him for being with us, and asked forgiveness for my vanity. Asking that He help me keep my mind on what matters rather than frivolities like haircuts.