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Heads or Tails: Heads by f35h
I settled uncomfortably onto my seat on the bus, certain that everyone was staring at me. The bus driver had definitely given me a funny look, and a couple of old ladies had nudged each other as I walked past.
I caught my reflection in the window. I certainly didn’t look like you average teenage boy. I supposed that I was going to have to get used to it. The part of me that wanted this felt a little thrill, knowing that very soon, this was going to be a permanent state of affairs. The other part felt a little sick inside, for precisely the same reason.
My eyes had followed the spinning 10p as it hit the floor, bounced and rolled before finally coming to a stop. I stared, not quite willing to believe what I saw. It had come up heads.
So, I had to do it. I’d promised myself I’d do whatever the coin said. I was going to walk into Harvey’s, with my floppy, vaguely centre parted hair, hanging over my ears and collar, and walk out with a severe, old-fashioned short back and sides tightly clippered over my ears, crisply side parted and slicked with Brylcreem.
I crossed the room and eyed my reflection critically. OK, I had only just got up, but I looked a mess, and it came to me, belatedly, that this was probably how Mum saw me; a scruffy, loutish teenager, who simply couldn’t be bothered to dress properly, or use soap and water, never mind a comb.
I realised that I had to do something about this. I couldn’t just wander into Harvey’s looking like I normally did. I had to make more of an effort than that. I could hear Mum’s voice in my head.
You’re a disgrace! Go and scrub that face, and don’t forget behind your ears! Make sure your tie is done up properly, and put a comb through your hair! I want to see a nice, straight parting in it for once!
I went to the bathroom, soaped up a flannel, and gave my face a good wash, even scrubbing hard at the back of my neck and behind my ears. I pushed my hair pack out of my face with my wet hands, thinking briefly that I wouldn’t be needing to do that again after today.
Mum had left freshly washed and ironed shirt and trousers hanging up for me. I put them on with more care than usual, actually fastening my top button for once, and tying my tie neatly and tightly. It felt strange and uncomfortable, but a glance in the mirror showed me that I looked much smarter than normal. That just left my hair. The scruffy mop looked even worse than before, perched above my newly scrubbed face and tight collar and tie.
My uneasiness reached new heights. Part of me was longing to take a comb to the mess on my head, force it into a side parting and slick it back as neatly as I could, ready to walk into Harvey’s for my long overdue short back and sides.
The other part was terrified of being seen in public like that, and desperately trying to find a way out. Best of three? The thought floated through my mind, but I knew that was a cop out. I’d told myself that I would let the coin decide, and I had to see it through.
I told you to go and comb that hair! Mum’s voice echoed in my head again, and I returned to the bathroom.
I ran my hands under the tap, rubbed them through my hair until it was wet enough to behave and picked up my comb. Under normal circumstances, I just shoved my hair out of the way with my fingers. I didn’t actually comb it unless Mum nagged me into it, and even then, it was a cursory swipe or two to get her off my back.
Today though, I was going to do it properly. I slowly raised the comb and dragged it through my unkempt hair, fighting through knots. Combed straight down, it came over my eyes, almost to the bridge of my nose. Peering through the damp strands, I turned the comb sideways, and forced my unruly locks into a parting down the left, combing the hair firmly away to either side.
I looked in the mirror critically, but somewhat to my surprise, I’d done a pretty good job. I tried to remember the last time I had looked this smart, and had a flashback to last summer.
It had been a week before my grandparent’s Golden wedding anniversary. Mum was adamant that I needed a ‘proper’ haircut, and had been threatening to take me to Harvey’s. I’d eventually persuaded her to let me go to the unisex place, without her, by promising that I’d ask them to cut it ‘short and smart’.
The hairdressers had been busy, and I sat there waiting my turn, hoping I’d get one of the younger women.
I looked around, realising that I was at the head of the queue. The woman looking impatiently at me was at least as old as Mum, her neat and tidy short haircut showing a few strands of grey.
"So, what are we doing today?" She asked, wrapping a cape tightly around my neck.
"I, um, I need it, er, short and smart." I stumbled out, already regretting my promise. "But not too short!" I added hastily.
She laughed. "I bet your mum told you you had to say that!" I flushed, embarrassed.
"Don’t worry," she reassured me. "I won’t be too hard on you, but we’d better keep Mum happy, eh?" She wet my hair down with a spray bottle and dragged her comb through it.
"Do you want clippers on the back?" She asked with a hint of a smirk.
"No!" I caught myself. "Er, no thank you. Just er, scissors."
"Right, so just a good tidy up, off your ears and collar then." It was a statement, not a question.
I nodded, glumly, though she didn’t seem to require a response from me.
I sat, miserably as she combed and snipped, reducing my hair from a length I’d been quite happy with to something that Mum would find acceptable. The mirror showed me that this was a lot shorter than I normally had it, but I consoled myself that it wasn’t nearly as bad as if Mum had taken me to Harvey’s.
She finished off by snipping my fringe well clear of my eyes and combing in a clean, straight side parting, my hair swept neatly back from my forehead.
"There you are. Nice and smart for Mum."
I couldn’t argue with that, but I didn’t want Mum to start getting ideas. I’d mess it up a bit before I got home, try to make it look not quite so perfect. Just as that thought crossed my mind, the hairdresser picked up a big red can and held her hand over my eyes.
"We’ll just make sure it stays tidy for you." She gave me a couple of long blasts of hairspray, and patted my hair into place. So much for making it look a bit more casual.
I eyed myself in the mirror as she whipped the cape off. There was no doubt Mum would be happy. Hair right off my ears, neatly combed and parted, just the way she liked it. Just what I didn’t want, of course, but looking back, I wonder if there was a little bit of me that had just started to realise that a short smart haircut actually looked better than my usual scruffy mop.
"Well that’s a bit better!" Mum had conceded when I got home. "I can see your ears, at least, and a proper parting for once. Grandma will be pleased to see you looking smart."
"Could have been shorter at the back, mind." She muttered, peering closely. "Harvey’s would have given you a proper clipping."
I had said nothing, not wanting to start an argument that might end up with me visiting Harvey’s after all, but had there, perhaps, been a hint of satisfaction that for, once, Mum seemed proud of me.
I hadn’t even kicked up too much fuss when, a week later, collar buttoned and tie fastened for the party, Mum had produced a tub of Brylcreem and a comb.
"I want you looking as smart as possible today." She had declared, rubbing a big blob into my hair and forcing into a perfect parting.
I had grimaced, but had reluctantly admitted to myself that it did look very smart. And Mum was right again, Grandma was very pleased with how I looked, and yes, looking back, there had been some satisfaction in making my family proud of me.
The bus pulled over, and I made my way out onto the pavement. Harvey’s was just across the street. I’d loitered at this bus stop a couple of times, eyeing up the shop front, and wondering if I’d ever work up the nerve to go in. Well, it was now or never.
"So, what are we going to do with you, then?"
The shop had been empty, fortunately, and I had been ushered into the chair with only a slightly puzzled look from the old barber.
I froze. I knew what I wanted to say, but it wouldn’t come out.
"Cat got your tongue? Let me guess. Mother sent you to get smartened up for speech day?"
"Er. yes." I managed to get out, my heart pounding.
"Well, not before time, if you ask me." He was dragging his comb roughly through my overgrown hair. "You might have had a comb put through this mop, but it’s far too long for a boy your age."
"Well," he continued. "I know exactly what’s needed. Mothers who bring their boys here know what they want, and it’s not a scruffy mop like this. You’ll be having a short back and sides."
"And I don’t want any nonsense from you. You keep your head still, unless I tell you to move, and you don’t speak unless I ask you a question. Understood?"
"Er, yes. Er, SIr,"
"Very good. Right. Head down."
I didn’t really have much choice in this, as his hand pushed firmly on the top of my head until my chin was touching my chest. There was a loud buzzing noise as he flicked on the clippers, and I felt his comb run up the back of my head, followed by the clippers. A large hank of hair slid down my shoulder and onto my lap.
Oh God! What am I doing? The sane, normal, part of me that really didn’t want this haircut was screaming. Even the other part, the part that desperately wanted to be smartened up, to look presentable and make my family proud, was wondering if this really was a good idea.
More hair rained down as the clippers stripped the back of my head. I felt the comb and clippers working their way higher, and around my ears. I desperately wanted to see what it looked like, but my chin was firmly on my chest, and I couldn’t see a thing.
Eventually, the harsh buzzing stopped. The back of my head felt very different, exposed to the cool air of the shop.
I lifted my head to find the barber right in front of me, blocking my view of the mirror. I still had no idea what I looked like. He started lifting and slicing, consigning even more of my hair to the shop floor. My mind drifted, wondering just how I was going to get through the rest of the day, and how long it would take my hair to get back to something like normal again.
"There." He grunted, slicing through my overgrown fringe at a sharp angle. I jolted back to reality and I felt him comb a sharp side parting into what was left of my hair, forcing it back and away from my face.
He stepped aside, and I could finally see in the mirror. My eyes widened.
It was exactly what I’d been imagining for the past weeks, clipped severely high over my ears, and the heavily reduced hair on top slicked firmly back, exposing my forehead. At the same time, it didn’t look like I’d been expecting. The cut was pretty much what Mum had insisted on when I was younger, but now, I thought that it made me look older, more grown up. Not a scruffy teenager any more, but responsible, mature. Perhaps I could live with this.
Part of me was still worried about what my mates would say, but the other part, that had wanted this cut, was delighted. This had worked out better than I could have hoped.
The barber turned back to me, a red and white tub in his hand. He scooped out a big blob of sticky white stuff, returned the tub to the counter and rubbed it firmly into my hair. Even though I’d been expecting it, I shied away slightly as the cream touched my hair.
"It’s a funny thing." He said thoughtfully. "Teenage boys all hate having Brylcreem in their hair. Mothers of teenage boys, though, they love it."
He combed my hair again, restoring the ramrod straight parting down the left side, and ensuring that every single hair was in place.
"It stops the boys messing their hair up, you see. You’re going to look just as smart at the end of the day as you do now. And that is why your mother sent you here."
"Andrew, isn’t it?" The stern looking lady at the desk addressed me.
"Oh, er, yes. I, er, I’m here to meet Mum. Er. Mrs. Mitchell. She, er."
"Yes, your mother told me to look out for you." She eyed me critically. "Turn around, please."
I did as I was told, nervously.
"Very smart. Your mother told me you were supposed to go to the barbers. Looks like he did a good job."
"Oh, er, thank you." I blushed a little, but it was a nice feeling, having this formidable looking lady smiling approvingly at me.
"I’ll go and let your mum know that you’re here. And that you’re looking nice and smart for speech day."
I looked up to see Mum smiling and looking a little surprised.
"You look very smart. Well done."
"Er, thanks." I didn’t know where to look.
"You, er, went to Harvey’s?"
"Yes Mum. Just like you said."
"So, this is what happens when I put my foot down, is it? A proper short back and sides, side parting, Brylcreem?"
"Er, yes." I allowed a small, bashful smile to slip through my embarrassment.
Mum examined me, eyes narrowed. I wondered just how much she guessed of what had been going through my mind. She seemed to reach a conclusion.
"Well. In that case, my foot is going to be staying down. I want you back in Harvey’s every three weeks, for a short back and sides. No arguments. Clear?" She raised her eyebrows at me
"Yes, Mum." I replied quietly, my smile still just visible.