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The Magic Number by Snipped Sam
Wow, smart haircut Sir, I thought when Mr Pereira my chess tutor opened the door when I arrived for my weekly chess match with him. The match began and Mr Pereira as always drilled me on how to play analysing each move that I made. It was exactly four weeks later that Mr Pereira had once again had his hair cut extremely short, I noticed how short the sides and back had been cut. In the 1970s such a short haircut was rare although not so much for gentlemen Mr Pereira’s age. I seriously wondered why at times I considered the possibility of having my own hair cut short, after all surely no other seventeen- year-old studying for his A levels would.
My chess tutoring had begun just a few weeks before and Mr Pereira would tutor me in exchange for some gardening and other odd jobs, it was a mutually beneficial arrangement although he certainly was not a pushover both in his tutoring and the jobs assigned to me. It was the half term holidays when I arrived for an afternoon tutorial, Mrs Pereira answered the door and told me that Mr Pereira was in the conservatory and with his barber. As I went through, I felt rather excited, his barber turned out to be an elderly gentleman who spoke with a strong European accent. He apologised for keeping me waiting but they had been very busy talking, Mr Pereira told me to sit down and the three of us chatted as the barber worked with his long steel scissors. After dusting down Mr Pereira’s face and head with a soft brush the barber took a small ruler from the bag on the floor and measured the back of Mr Pereira’s head.
"As always four- and three-quarter inches, just the way you like it Sir"
"Thank you, Martin"
"We call it the magic number Peter, the distance of the gap between the collar and where the hair begins, your chess master likes four and three quarters"
"Sounds like a good plan"
"Mr Kovacs has more or less retired as a barber Peter, but I am one of his lucky customers who he still visits"
"I have always thought how smart your hair always looks Sir"
"Thank you Peter"
"Just a few discerning gents who like their hair cut short in the privacy of their home"
There was something very likable about Mr Kovacs, he was a smallish man with quite sharp features and a definite twinkle in his eye. The measuring with the ruler was of course a bit quirky but I was really impressed with such attention to detail.
"I wonder what my magic number would be Mr Kovacs?"
"At the moment young man your hair is over your collar, I doubt if you would like the adjustments which I would make…but as you ask, I would say around four and a half to four and three quarters"
"That is quite as you put it an adjustment Sir"
"It’s a cold February wind out there today, so you not like the feel of the icy wind whistling around the back of your head after I had taken your hair"
"I think I could cope with that Mr Kovacs…but I have my chess lesson"
Part of me was saying to myself what the hell are you thinking of !! this is one drastic haircut and the other part was speaking above the questioning part, saying you really badly want this haircut. You think about haircuts all the time, you love looking out for new barber shops, you look up barbers in the yellow pages, you look at vintage pictures of guys with short hair. But you never do anything about it…you only ever dream…even if you hate what he is going to do, which you won’t !! you’re young… your hair will grow quickly.
"We can always set the chess board up in here…that is if you are free Martin and Peter can ponder his next move whilst you cut his hair and he can tell me how he wants the chess pieces moved and I can do them on his behalf"
"I don’t have to be anywhere this afternoon…but Peter the magic number is at least four and a half…and it will feel very cold"
"I can lend him a scarf"
"Looks like we have lift off Sir"
They both chuckled at my attempt at a joke, I went to get the chess board and pieces, on my return, Mr Pereira was off the chair. He started to set up the chess board whilst I sat down on the dining chair, Mr Kovacs fitted the cape which seemed a lot shorter than the usual barber’s cape and then rested a white cotton towel on my shoulders and tucked it into my collar. He then slowly combed my hair then bent my head forward, I felt the scissors touch my neck and they began to snip at the nape of my neck. Although my head was forward, I could see the chess board in front of me and Mr Pereira made his first move. I debated for a moment or two and as I asked him to make my move on my behalf, I was aware that the hair which covered my left ear was being cut away. Usually I would watch intently as my hair was cut and styled, but today I had a chess match to concentrate on and a barber cutting my hair who I could not watch. As the hair that covered my right ear fell Mr Pereira had made his next move.
"Perhaps if Peter makes his next move then I can take him away from the game for a bit"
"Of Course, make you move Peter"
I considered my move and made it and Mr Pereira quickly followed taking away a key chess piece, Mr Kovacs remarked that had been an unfortunate mistake on my part, I noticed that he was holding some manual hand clippers. I felt his warm hand rest on the top of my head and he started to bend my head forward.
"Down we go my young friend, nothing to worry about, just remember that this is the haircut that you wanted"
With my chin now almost touching my chest, I felt the cold metal of the clippers touch the back of my head and then heard the clicking sound of the clippers. I could actually feel the hair falling away, the clippers really seemed to be going high. Having my head down so far down did seem quite uncomfortable but it had to be, this was a completely new experience for me. I had seen manual clippers on the side in barbers and in pet shops but no one had ever cut my hair with them. I knew that part of me should be thinking of my next move in the game of chess, Mr Pereira was a fierce opponent and it had originally been my Uncle who had introduced him to me so I learned to play with skill. Mr Pereira had now lit his pipe and he sat with his legs crossed watching the proceedings, there was no conversation between him and Mr Kovacs just the click click of the clippers. When my head was tilted to the right and Mr Kovacs began clipping above my left ear, I saw the first clump of blond hair fall onto the maroon nylon cape. It might have just been my imagination but I was aware of how bare my head now felt, with both ears having been attended to my head was brushed down.
"You may raise your head for a moment and tell your chess master what you would like your next move to be Peter"
I lifted up my head and contemplated the board, Mr Kovacs was sorting out something on the table beside us, glancing to look I noticed that he was applying shaving soap from a pot to a shaving brush. He began to apply it to the lower and middle part of the back of my head and then above my ears it was cold but then he was using cold water from a shaving mug.
"I didn’t realise you were going to shave me Sir"
"For a perfect smooth finish Peter, and now I must hurry you"
I told Mr Pereira the move I would like and he made it as on my behalf as my head once again was positioned down. Mr Kovacs smoothly shaved with cut throat razor, and I was aware that Mr Pereira was moving a chess piece on the board, then telling me his move. Mr Pereira was clearly ahead in this game but in fairness I was very preoccupied with my haircut, especially as Mr Kovacs now shaved above my ears. I wondered how I would look with bare skin; I had of course seen photographs of gentlemen with their hair cut this short and of course Mr Pereira’s hair. This style would have been very popular at an earlier part of the century especially in some parts of Europe. Once this had been completed, he wiped my head with a small piece of towel.
"Not one single nick, Peter"
"The boy is so polite Walter, it’s very refreshing"
"He is a good boy, and one day he may be a good chess player too, but I think today his mind is more on his haircut"
Mr Kovacs was now cutting my remaining hair with the scissors as I asked Mr Pereira to make my next move.
"Sorry Mr Pereira, I am not doing my best today"
"No Peter, certainly not a good day with your chess, but a very good haircut day, saying goodbye to all that unnecessary hair"
"Yes, a good day Sir"
We carried on a couple more moves each whilst Mr Kovacs continued to cut my hair, on completion of this he applied some hair oil to my hair and combed it in. He then took the small ruler and I felt really excited that he was now going to measure the gap between my collar and where my hair now started. My heart was slightly racing as he pressed the ruler against the back of my head and he then announced the magic number.
"And the magic number Peter is….. almost five which means it is almost a five inch gap"
He then handed me a hand held mirror and I was able to see the finished result, I immediately noticed the lack of hair immediately above my ears and the extreme side parting combed on the left-hand side of my head. Whilst part of me felt very self-conscious of just how short it was, I knew that I thought this was the best haircut I had ever had or probably ever would have again. The cape was loosened and dusting powder applied down my collar, once the cape had been removed Mr Pereira sent me to fetch the dustpan and brush and the small kitchen bin from Mrs Pereira who was in the kitchen. She was in the middle of making some chutney when I went in, she immediately spotted my haircut not that you could fail to notice.
"So, he’s cut off all your lovely hair Peter"
"Yes, but I’ve still got some on top"
"Did Mr Pereira make you have it cut"
"No...it just sort of happened"
"Mmm very convenient"
I returned to the conservatory mulling over her reaction but the task was to sweep up mine and Mr Pereira’s hair without delay as Mr Kovacs packed his bag. When I got home, I had a really good look in the bathroom mirror with the aid of a hand mirror to see just how short my hair was, he had gone way up the back of my head and really cleaned away the hair that was above my ears. Over the next few days and on my return to sixth form the following week my hair received very mixed reactions but mostly shock and surprise. It was three weeks later when I was having my chess tutorial Mr Pereira told me that Mr Kovacs was coming the following Tuesday if I would like to join them after school.
"I was wondering about my next haircut Sir"
"You can be here for four fifteen?"
"Yes Sir…that’s not a problem"
"Jolly good….and I think we will encourage him to work towards five and a quarter as your magic number"
"Gosh Mr Pereira that’s very short"
"Just the way we like Peter"
"That’s right Sir"