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Mirror Image by A Recruit

It was ten o’clock in the morning. I’d been at Heathrow Terminal Four for several hours now. I was waiting for my identical twin brother Nico and his American wife Suzanne to arrive from LA on the overnight flight.

It had been delayed for over 2 hours by now and I began to worry about getting back into London to open up the family restaurant in time for the lunch bookings. Sure, Mama was there to keep control of things but Fridays were always frantic and it seemed unfair to leave her to manage. As I stared up at the arrivals board, at long last the flight number flashed up as having landed. Just time, I reckoned, to visit the toilets before heading off to greet my brother.

As I washed my hands I stared at myself in the mirror. For the first time I saw my late father staring back at me. Nico and I were tall and broad shouldered like him but everyone said we looked more like Mama, his English wife. Certainly we had inherited the fine bone structure of her features. She had been a catwalk model back in the 1960s before meeting and marrying my father, an Italian immigrant running a small café in Soho.

With her earnings from the modelling and under her influence, the family business had grown into the large establishment which Mama, Nico and I had jointly inherited upon his death 3 years ago. Nico had other fish to fry though and had decided to live in the States to follow his chosen career as a software designer. Now he was coming home, well for 4 weeks anyway.

But now at 28 I could see my father in me. As I looked I saw my fathers hair. Slightly curly and dark, but greying at the temples and getting thinner on top. Yes, definitely getting much thinner now. "Probably be bald by 40" I mumbled to myself, to the surprise and amusement of the bald guy at the next basin who looked at my head and chuckled. I wore mine collar length just like Papa and always neatly trimmed, unlike Nico who for years had worn his much longer, almost down to his shoulder blades and always tied back into a ponytail.

I waited for what seemed an eternity just outside the customs hall. Then I spotted Suzanne, who I’d first met when they married 18 months ago. But where was Nico? All I could see was this guy in sunglasses with his hair cropped very tight to the scalp walking just behind her wheeling a suitcase very similar to hers and with a light jacket draped around his shoulders. Very stylish I thought. Then I got the shock of my life as he removed the sunglasses and I realised that this nearly bald guy was my brother.

He must have seen my shocked expression, dropped his cases, threw back his arms in readiness for a brotherly embrace and laughed. "A bit different eh ‘G’" (his nickname for me). "Just a bit" I replied still totally stunned from this drastic change of appearance. Suzanne and I hugged and then we all strolled back to the car park. As we battled our way through the West London traffic I could not keep my eyes off Nico’s new cut and kept looking at him, sitting in the back with Suzanne, through the rear view mirror.

"Mama will go totally spare when she sees you Nico" I said. "I know Gianni but it was like this. I was losing it a bit, just like you, and decided to take control. Visited the old Italian barber in the same block where we live and got him to shave the lot off a few days ago now."

I had to admit, once I’d got used to it, that it really suited him. I just wondered what Mama would think. Nico always had been a control freak and I could just imagine the first sign of baldness having him scamper off to the barbers to take command of the situation.

Arriving back in Soho, I parked the car on a meter round the corner from the restaurant and we unloaded the cases. As we entered the premises from the street Mama was busy ordering the new chef around in her typically bossy way. "Go easy on the portions today Angelo, I’m not made of money" she yelled from the kitchen. Nico skulked in behind Suzanne and I, trying to hide from Mama’s gaze for as long as possible. Mama ran over to Suzanne and hugged her. "It’s really lovely to see you Suzy. Well what do think of the family empire then eh?" Then as she ducked around me and approached to embrace a rather nervous Nico she spotted the new haircut.

Cupping her hands over her cheeks she exclaimed, "Nico my boy, what on Earth have you done. I know I used to keep nagging you to get it cut but this is a bit drastic isn’t it?" She paused, looked at and then felt the stubble that was Nico’s hair then, after a long thoughtful pause said, "You know actually, I quite like it. Looks very stylish, just like you Nico." It wasn’t the response Nico or I were expecting. "But Mama, I thought you’d hate it" exclaimed a very surprised Nico. "Not at all, it’s well…..er… very fashionable, much better than that dreadful rat’s tail or whatever it was you used to wear. Now come upstairs and get yourselves settled in."

I began to wonder if I’d get the same reaction if I went that short. Nico had always been Mama’s favourite, or so I thought. He was the first born by some 30 minutes just over 28 years previously and it seemed to make all the difference. Somehow he was the premier son and could do no wrong, even by shaving his head. Or perhaps it was just my imagination. Well I guess there was one way to test it out.

Friday lunchtime was, as usual, very hectic but by 3 O’clock the restaurant had closed and I’d prepared for the evening opening at six. "I’m just off out for a haircut, Mama" I yelled back into the kitchen but got no response. Mama was accustomed to me getting my monthly trim at Gino’s barber shop on a Friday afternoon.

"Gianni, wait, I’ll join you" shouted Nico from the top of the stairs, "But you hardly need a cut, do you."

"No, but it’ll be good to see Joe again after all this time." Joe was an old school buddy of ours who had, like me, taken over his father Gino’s business a few hundred yards down the street. Joe had updated it a little in the past 5 years but essentially it was much the same as when Papa used to take Nico and I for our regular cuts as youngsters. A bit faded and rather cramped inside but a very typical London Italian barber shop.

As we entered the shop, Joe spotted Nico, walked over and embraced him. "Good to see you again Nico, what’s with the hair then. Looks good my man." Nico in turn rubbed the fuzz on top of Joe’s head. Joe had worn his hair in a half inch crewcut for the past couple of years. It was thick, straight and jet black and stood perfectly to attention without any help from gel or styling cream. I had always slightly envied Joe his hair texture.

"Joe, it needs tidying up again I think" replied Nico. "Sure thing my man, take a seat. You don’t mind waiting Gianni do you, while I catch up on what your brother has been up to these past 3 years?" "No, I’ve got all day" I replied, a little sarcastically. Typical! Nico gets priority treatment yet again. I loved him in a way only identical twins could ever begin to understand. I would have died for him willingly if the need ever arose. But there were times when he would infuriate me beyond measure.

Joe wrapped the cape around Nico, swung the chair away from the mirror to give him more room to work, and took the chrome clippers off their hook by the sink. It didn’t look to me as though there was much hair left to buzz, but Joe took several minutes repeatedly running the clippers over Nico’s head, taking the remaining stubble even closer. He chatted to Nico during this process, catching up on all his experiences of living and working in the United States. Joe then switched off the clippers, wandered over to the shelf and picked up the can of shaving foam.

He squirted some on to his hand and began spreading it over Nico’s buzzed scalp. Leaving it for a minute or so to soften up the stubble, he then stropped the straight razor and began gently working it across the top and down the back and sides, slowly but surely, until Nico’s scalp was baby smooth. I’d seen Joe and his dad skilfully perform many face shaves in all the years I had been going to the shop but never before had I witnessed a head shave and certainly not on my own brother. Wiping the residue foam with a clean towel, Joe then got some cream, rubbed it in his hands and then vigorously massaged Nico’s head.

"Right Nico, that’s you done, now my friend it’s your turn." Nico climbed out of the chair. "All yours brother" he said as grabbed the cape and beckoned me over, rather like a matador tempting the bull. He then went and sat in the spare barbers chair to watch the action. We had nearly always watched each other getting cuts since childhood, at first accompanied by Papa, then in our teens going with each other for moral support. I sat back into the chair and the red and white striped cape was placed around me.

"Well, what’s it to be Gianni my friend, the usual?" enquired Joe, expecting me to say just that.

I had intended to say just a trim but much shorter than normal. Instead what came out of my mouth surprised not only Joe and Nico but also myself.

"I’ll have the same as Nico please Joe."

"You absolutely sure mate, there’s no going back once it’s off you know?" replied Joe, his mouth wide open with astonishment.

"Yes Joe, I’m quite sure."

I wasn’t, but there was no going back now. I couldn’t back out now with Nico sitting there. He would have teased me mercilessly. No, I’d made my decision and would stick to it.

Joe swung the chair round, away from the mirror again and picked up the clippers. My eyes were firmly fixed on them as he approached my forehead quite slowly, I think expecting me to have second thoughts. My stomach was churning and yet I was actually quite excited with the prospect of getting such a bold new image. Then with one clean sweep he ploughed a deep furrow straight down the middle of my head.

I couldn’t see the result, being faced away from the mirror, but saw the startled look on my brothers face. He had always thought of me as a rather conservative sort of guy and was, I think, more than a little astonished to see me getting such a radical new look. "No turning back now Joe," I said, chuckling rather nervously. "You could say that" replied Joe, with a detectable tremor in his voice as he continued to mow the rest of my hair down to the scalp. I think, if anything, he was more nervous than me.

As the clippers worked around and across my head, long swathes of hair, about three or four inches cascaded down over the cape and on to the floor. At that moment, the cool draught from the open door caught the top of my head and I began to realise the full implications of what I had done. Actually it felt rather good. This summer had been very warm and the restaurant had been unbearably hot during peak dining hours. At least it would help me keep cool.

Joe continued to run the clippers over my head for what seemed an eternity. A fine spray of stubble passed my eyes and came to rest on the cape. The cool feel of the bare blades made my scalp tingle. At last the buzzing sound stopped and he placed the clippers back on the hook. Joe then took a hot towel from the cabinet and wrapped it around my head.

I sat there for a few minutes as the heat from the towel began to soften what I presumed was the remaining stubble. Next, Joe got the shaving foam again, squirted out a much larger amount than he’d used on Nico and began to spread it with his hands across my head carefully working it in with a gentle massaging action. He then took hold of the razor and began to remove what was left of my already tightly buzzed hair, working the razor in small movements in the same direction as the hair growth.

This continued for at least five minutes until he’d covered every inch of my scalp two or three times. He then lathered my head again and this time seemed to be going against the grain. "Just to get it nice and baby smooth like Nico’s" Joe said.

After Joe finished with the razor he got the cream and began rubbing some of it into my scalp, which, by now, was feeling just a little sore. Joe had very gentle hands and I felt my scalp and neck relax as he gently massaged away in small circular motions. He then stopped, swung round the chair and I once again faced the mirror. I gulped hard as I saw for the first time my shining scalp.

"Well Gianni, that’s it my friend. You and Nico are now like two peas in a pod."

I looked at myself in the mirror again. Apart from the small goatee worn by Nico which distinguished us from each other, we looked identical again. I was shocked, but I liked what I saw. The shaved head suited me more far more than I could have imagined it would, although having already seen Nico with it I was, perhaps, less nervous than I would otherwise have been about taking such a drastic step. I stroked my head several times and couldn’t believe just how smooth and soft it felt.

It seemed to be de-sensitised and didn’t actually feel like my scalp. The skin was slightly paler than the rest of my head but my olive skin seemed to help it blend in well. The hot sun and a few hours sunbathing in St James’s Park on Sunday would soon tan my scalp to match the rest of my head and body.

Nico came over to me and felt my head, jokingly snatching his fingers away suddenly as if he’d just touched a hotplate.

"Ouch! Wow ‘G’, even smoother than mine I reckon." We laughed as Nico reached into his pocket for some English currency and handed it over to Joe.

"Here you are my good friend." Turning to me he pushed the £10 note I’d got back into my trouser pocket. It’s OK ‘G’, this one’s on me."

"See you in a few days guys." Nico and I looked at each other. Somehow we knew we’d be making a repeat visit after the weekend for a repeat shave down. This was the look we’d both be keeping for a good while. Like two peas in a pod!

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