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The Winner by A Recruit


At last it was six o’clock—closing time at the barber shop where I work. Jake, the Barber, went rummaged around in his pocket looking for the key to the shop door. Just as he found them, the shop door opened and in walked two young guys. Hovering by the door, they seemed reluctant to come all the way into the shop.

Jake ushered them in to the empty shop. I sighed. I’d just swept the floor, and had been looking forward to a prompt finish for once, but Jake owned the shop, and he called the shots.

The two guys sat down on the waiting bench, one clearly nervous, rubbing his clammy hands together, staring at the floor. The other guy picked up a newspaper and began studying the sport pages. I couldn’t remember either guy being in the shop before.

Jake looked over at me, and I knew he wanted to leave. He had two young kids at home, so as usual I nodded and he’d gone, locking the door behind him. It was a good working arrangement we had, I’d stay late for him and he’d overlook me oversleeping several times a week.

I unfolded the cape and waited for one of the guys to climb into the chair, I coughed to attract their attention. The guy reading the newspaper nudged his mate, who reluctantly rose to his feet. He exchanged one last look with the other guy, and then reluctantly sat down in my chair.

I wrapped the pinstripe cape around him, securing the tissue collar I’d neatly folded into place. I stood back catching his eyes in the mirror.

‘What’ll it be?’ I asked.

The guy looked round at the guy sat on the bench. His eyes speaking volumes as they beckoned mercy.

‘He lost a bet, so I get to choose his haircut. Give him something radically short,’ said the guy on the bench, pointing to a photograph of a Marine high and tight, with shaved sides, that was hanging on the far wall of the shop.

The guy in the chair span round to look, his eyes widening as he studied the picture.

I gently turned his head to face the mirror.

‘That all right by you?’ I asked

He tried to speak but his dry throat just let out a strange grunting noise. I waited for a nod or other gesture of agreement but none came, so I set to work. The guy sighed, expelling a burst of breath, that moved his fringe from his eyes.

This guys hair was much shorter than his mates, a smart public schoolboy look, modest length at the back, not overhanging the collar, hair at the sides combed back up over the ear, and longer lengths on top pulled back but with a few locks allowed to tumble gently over his face. I thought it suited his image, suit and all.

I reached for the scissors and comb, I needed to cut the longer locks down in length, in order to make it easier for the clippers. I pulled the long hair up from over his eyes, and savagely lopped it off, leaving perhaps half an inch of hair, standing erect in the air. I gripped the fringe in my hand, and with great ceremony dropped it passed the guys eyes onto his lap. A heard the guy on the bench laughing.

I returned my attention to my customer, who was no doubt wondering why he had agreed to such an ordeal. He obviously prided himself on his appearance, his hair was clean and in wonderful condition, yet here he was letting me send it all to the floor.

I started cutting away the remaining locks on top of his head to a regulation half inch, the result looked untidy, as I wasn’t being too careful as I cut. A few minutes later and this guy had the makings of a crew-cut, and I had reduced his expensive haircut to a bargain basement chop. I ruffled the top of his head with my hand to make the hairs stand on end. I could tell this guy wasn’t happy.

The preparation in place, I selected a set of clippers, oiled the head, and let them buzz into life. I though I saw the guy shudder, whilst the guy on the chair, put down his paper, mesmerised by the humming blades. The blades were set close, and I steadied the guys trembling head, I gripped the clippers tightly and forced them into the hair on the back of his head, they whined as they fought against the thick hair, but the tone steadily rose in pitch as it severed more and more hair, leaving behind a trail of white skin, flecked with a hint of his former glorious brown hair.

Seconds later there was more hair falling onto his shoulders, each pass of the clippers biting deep into his scalp. shearing away all but a faint trace of hair. I worked slowly, keen not to repeat Jake’s accident of a few weeks before, which left a young man with a small gash on the back of his neck, that just wouldn’t stop bleeding.

The guy in the chair, started to take an interest I what was going on as I positioned the clippers to the front of his left ear. The transformation was taking effect. The soft flicked back locks fell to the cape, it was a shame to watch such lovely hair meet its end so quickly.

I held his ear back, running the clippers firmly along the skull, leaving it in isolated splendour. I paused to take a sip of soda, allowing the guy to inspect his shorn side, before I raced back into action and took the hair from the remaining side. The guy had a well shaped scull, though now his ears were no longer surrounded by hair, it was evident that they pointed out a little too far.

Resetting the clipper length, I buzzed the top down to a more accommodating length, and proceeded to trim the edges. I asked if it was short enough, expecting nothing more than the nod I received back.

All that remained was the finishing touches. I began to lather some shaving cream, and as I leant against the counter, curiosity got the better of me, I asked what the bet had been about, but the guy didn’t reply, still too overcome to speak.

I placed a towel around the guys shoulders, knocking piles of discarded hair onto the cape, and lathered up his scalp. He seemed to enjoy the feel of the cold cream against his scalp, gently massaged in by my fingers. His fear soon returned as a opened the cut throat razor, ready for action. Slowly I scraped away at the coarse skin, smoothing it as I went. Once finished I stood back and ran my fingers over the bare skin, and decided to go over it once more, this time shaving against the grain.

When I’d finished, his scalp was very red, so I applied some talcum powder, to cool the burning. I stood back to admire my work, these days it was all too rare to be allowed to give such a short haircut. I’d really enjoyed the opportunity.

I showed him the result, holding up the hand mirror for a view of the back and sides. The guy instinctively sighed, like he had when he’d first sat down in the chair, but this time there was no fringe left to blow away. He looked fine, and his mate came across to marvel at the cut, the smoothness of the shave, and the damage he had inflicted.

I asked once more what the bet had been about, and this time they told me.

‘We were at work and bet on the result of this afternoon’s big race. He convinced me to back it, a dead cert. he said.’ said the waiting guy. ‘Trouble is he backed it to win, and it came in second.’

‘What was the horse,’ I asked

‘High’n’tight!’

Of course I thought, that made sense, I could see how the bet had gone! I’d listened to the race on the radio, Jake being a big racing pundit, had had it on.

I looked at the guy with the sharp high and tight, and grinned. ‘You should have told me this before you know, there was an appeal after the race, and the winner was disqualified. High’n’tight was named the winner after all.’

The guy looked at himself in the mirror, shrugged and began to laugh. He was obviously glad that he hadn’t told me. His friend, however, had lost his smile.

‘High’n’tight won you say,’ shouted the guy in delight. ‘I guess that means my friend here would like to get a haircut.’

The guys exchanged glances, my intended customer stood to his feet, trying to pass of his friend’s comments as a joke, whilst wandering toward the door. He fumbled with the door, forgetting that he’d seen Jake lock it before he left.

‘In the chair!’ shouted his mate.

By this time, I had picked up the cape and was waiting expectantly for my next customer. This guys thick blonde mane was mine now, all mine. His blonde hair would lend itself beautifully to an ultra-short high and tight.
As my scissors attacked his thick locks, I savoured every moment, as did his mate, who was sat in Jake’s chair admiring himself in the large wall mirror. My customer closed his eyes, knowing the fate that lay ahead of him. He obviously wished he’d let his mate off the bet, but it was too late now!

As I wiped away the last traces of shaving cream from his head, the guy opened his eyes. It took a few seconds for the full effect to register in his brain, realising that he was looking back at himself almost bald, his mouth dropped, and he just stared speechless.

His mate laughed loudly, coming across to the chair, he picked up two large handful of limp blonde hair from off the cape, and laid them on my customer’s head.

‘A little of the top sir,’ he mimicked, dropping the hair over his face as he spoke.

I was pleased that this managed to break the tension, and we all laughed together. The guys had grown a bond, a bond I’d seen a hundred times before, a bond they would only ever achieve by getting a man’s haircut together, tonight they would face the world together.

They guys left the shop, joking as they went. I wondered how the second guy would react when he realised that I had lied about the race result. It was High’n’Tight that has been disqualified. I was a barber, so had remembered the name.

That night I recognized the two guys in a local bar, each with an attractive girl on their arm. I tried to avoid them in the doorway, worried how the second guy may react. As he passed by he grinned and then winked at me, and I knew I had done the right thing.



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