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A Little Trip out Together by A Recruit
It was almost five o'clock when I walked into the barbershop.
I sat down with the other customers on the long bench across the far wall of the shop. It was icy cold outside, and the warmth of the shop had caused the window to mist over, obscuring the usual view of the barbers in action available from the pavement outside. As I pushed open the shop door, I saw the opening times painted on the glass, ‘Saturday - 8am to 5pm.’ I glanced at my watch to double-check the time, and saw it was exactly five.
I walked across the shop to the far side, and took up a place on the bench behind one of the barber’s chairs. I was surprised to see that there was still quite a queue, Saturday was always a busy day in this barbershop, but in the past I’d found it much quieter in the evenings. I always preferred to be the last customer, as this meant that nobody was watching my get a haircut. I always remembered the sniggering that went on behind my back, as the barber obliged my father’s instructions and gave me a buzz. It was all the crueler as longer hair was all the fashion when I was growing up.
I was haunted by one particular occasion. My father hadn't made me get a haircut in months, I never knew the reason why, perhaps my mother had insisted, I’ll never know. So somehow, I’d managed to grow an impressive mane of hair, well by my standards it was. My thick dark hair hung down totally covering my ears, the lank back covering my collar, and the fringe in my eyes for the first time ever. For the first time I could remember I blended in with my friends, indeed my hair looked better than many of them. Slowly I became accepted into the most popular gang in our neighborhood.
Then, one Saturday morning, with no warning whatsoever, my father appeared in my bedroom, and yanked the sheets and blankets from the bed, demanding that I get up straight away, and stop lazing around in bed. Of course I got up, showered and dressed immediately, my father was not a man to be disobeyed, well not without severe consequences anyway.
I almost ran downstairs, to get my breakfast. I decided that today would be best spent away from the house. As I entered the kitchen my parents were sat eating pancakes, a place was set for me and I tucked in, ignoring my father’s expression of disgust.
As I spooned the last mouthful into my mouth, and washed it down with the remainder of a glass of orange juice, my father studied me, still showing his original look of distaste.
‘I think you and I need to take a little trip out together, Mister.’ said Dad softly.
‘Err, sorry Dad, I’m busy today’ I countered, never keen to spend time with the old fella, unless it was absolutely necessary.
Dad stood up, and disappeared into the hall, returning shortly afterwards wearing his overcoat, but worse than that he was carrying my coat over his arm. He three my coat at me, and reluctantly I put it on.
As we neared the front door, I asked where we were going. Dad, paused in front of the hall mirror, and looked deeply into it, I looked to and was horrified to see that in my rush to get downstairs and be seen to be up and about, I completely forgot about combing out my wet hair. My hair looked long and unruly, no semblance of order. I quickly tried to tidy it up with my fingers, with some success, but it was too late.
Dad smiled, ‘You need ask?’ he muttered tersely.
I climbed into the station-wagon, and sat silent and miserable as he drove me to his usual barbershop. When we arrived the shop was empty, and utilizing every bit of courage I had, I took a place in the barber’s chair. I’d noticed that there was very little hair on the floor of the shop, so the shop had not been at all busy so far that morning.
The barber exchanged pleasantries with my father, as he folded a tissue over my collar, and the tightly secured the crisp white cape around me. I maintained the pained look of misery, I’d worn throughout our silent journey to the shop.
As the barber combed my hair, I heard the shop door open, and in the mirror’s reflection I could see three or four guys my age, hanging up their jackets, and settling down on the benches. Distracted for a moment as the barber yanked heavily to split a knot in my hair, I noticed, that another two guys had come in, and my heart sank, and my blood pounded around my brain, as I realized who these lads were, they were friends from school, all members of the gang.
I was in two minds as to whether I should acknowledge them, preferring any anonymity the barber’s chair might give me, but it was not to be, Jake, one of my classmates at school, came up to the chair to say high.
I flushed red. The barber cleared his throat, and Jake took his cue and returned to his seat.
‘What'll it be today, lad,’ the barber asked.
I hadn't though how I’d get my haircut, so the question threw me for a moment. Dad had let me grow it this long, so a trim would probably suffice, rather than my usual scalping. Yes, I would ask for a trim.
However, as I cleared my dry throat, ready to instruct the barber, a voice from the back of the shop, shouted.
‘Give him the usual, Number one buzz.'
Dad had issued his cruel orders publicly, my humiliation was worsening with each passing second. A brief titter erupted around the shop from my friends.
The barber reached for his clippers, made a show out of oiling the clippers, and snapped them into life.
‘Hold still lad’ he barked, as he held the humming clippers high above the center of my forehead. I froze, focused on the horror of the vibrating teeth, which were hurtling toward me. The barber pulled the clippers across my head, back all the way to the crown, and then took more and more swipes. After half a dozen passes of the clippers the barber let go of a bundle of my brown hair he’d accumulate in his free hand, forcing it to fall down over my face, and into my lap. I heard laughter once more form behind me.
I tilted my head down, in defeat, and fixed my gaze at the long strands of luxurious hair sitting staring up at me from my lap. I wanted to cry, but couldn't break down in front of my father and friends. I bit my lip firmly, concentrating on the pain.
The barber wasn't wasting anytime, already I the back of my head felt lighter, and I could feel the breeze of the room on my neck. I sank my head lower.
The barber didn't relent, until he stopped to answer the telephone. Curious I lifted my head, to study my image, my nightmare compounded by what I saw, the barber hadn't yet started to clear away the hair covering my ears, and as a result my shaven head, contrasted with the bushy hair on the sides, to give my the look of bozo the clown. As I looked at myself and cringed, the rest of the shop laughed louder.
I dropped my head again, unable to laugh along with them. I prayed that I was dreaming, but the pain from my lip was evidence enough that I was not.
At last the barber came back, and this time he pulled my head up, before finishing the scalping, another heavy load of hair fell onto each shoulder, and with one final run of the clippers all over my head I was done. The barber brushed away the loose hairs with a large dusting brush, finishing up by blowing strongly to dislodge the remaining loyal hairs still clinging to my ears.
The cape removed, I rose from the chair, and immediately reached up to run my fingers over my grainy scalp. I tried to avoid eye contact with everyone, desperate to get out of the shop as quickly as I could. My friends had other ideas, and started joking, me being the butt of each joke.
My father took ages paying the barber, almost deliberately. I was already feeling the coldness in the air against my scalp. I braved a casual glimpse in the mirror, mortified by the shaved head that met my eyes. I stood by the door, as Jake got into the barber’s chair, and loudly announced he wanted just a modest trim, and jealously overcame me as the barber reached for a pair of scissors, kicking a large pile of my thick dark hair out of the way as he stepped towards the counter.
Thankfully things were different now, I’d left home and had rediscovered my confidence, except that I remained terrified of walking into a barber shop. I’d often hover outside for an hour or more to ensure I was the last person to enter.
The shop was manned by two young barbers in their early twenties. My last few haircuts had been by John, and I had got used to the way he cut my hair, I trusted him not to go to short.
As ever, I sat trying to work out whether the queue would fall right, with John’s chair becoming free for my turn. The other guy was finishing the haircut of small boy, and his mother and father rose to leave with him. The benches looked much emptier. The boy was replaced by a youth with a grown out flattop which he asked to be renewed. The barber speedily clipped away the excess hairs.
John’s chair became free, and a guy my age, early thirties stepped up. He exchanged a nervous last grin with his partner who’d been sitting next to him close to the door.
John was instructed to cut his hair much shorter on top and blend it into a number three back and sides. John nodded his understanding and began combing the guy’s hair. He reached for clippers, and before using the around the guys left ear, he checked that he wanted a number three. The guy nodded.
John worked carefully, which was the main reason I liked him to cut my hair. He used the clippers to remove a couple of inches of the guys sandy hair, before taking a comb and brushing the guys hair forward, cut the top down to an inch or so. He meticulously ensured each hair was cut to the same length.
Meanwhile the other barber was starting his next customer, a middle aged guy with a shaggy crewcut he wanted sharpening up. Whilst John carefully checked each length he cut, the hair was falling to the ground with rapid ease in the other chair.
John worked on a meticulous blend, forming a great haircut for the guy, leaving him with the desired short haircut, but not making it look to clipped or bare. The guy was delighted with the look, judging by the wide smile he met his partner with as he left the chair.
The next guy in John’s chair was an older guy, who ordered a number four all over, and John patiently went to work, retracing the clipper path over an over to ensure a quality result.
In the other chair, the production line was much faster, and only seconds after John had begun, the other barber was also working on an old guys white hair.
My heart began to pound, for I was next, there was no one else waiting. I prayed that John would hurry up, aware that the other barber worked much much faster.
As the haircuts were nearing completion I breathed a sigh of relief, into the shop walked another customer, a god send I decided as the shop shut at five, and it was now after half past. He was quickly followed by teenage lad.
I was relieved to see John showing his customer the view of the back of his head in the mirror, and assumed that things were working out, until, the guy asked him to take it shorter, perhaps a number three. John reached for the clippers once more, and my heart sank.
The other barber had an empty chair, so I gestured to the middle aged man who'd just come into the shop, to take the chair. He seemed very grateful, but he was doing me the favor. He was thinning seriously on top, so it didn't take long for the barber to take the back and sides down to a number one and quickly trim the spare strands on top. He was finished already, and John was still working hard.
Once more I declined my turn in the chair, to the embarrassment of the other barber, who asked if everything was all right. This lad, asked for a number two back and sides, but longer on top into the fringe.
At last John’s chair was empty and I sat down in it in triumph. I was embarrassed about having made it so obvious that I wanted him to cut my hair, but he seemed flattered. I asked his to cut it a little shorter than before, I’d try a grade three back and sides.
This would be the shortest I’d ever had my haircut since that fateful day as a lad, taken to the barber by his father, and for some reason I was looking forward to the clippers humming into life. As he tied the cape I looked up at the mirror, and could make out a sign.
‘Customers are respectfully reminded that they may wait for the barber of their choice.’
Relieved that my actions were probably not that uncommon, I settled back into the chair. I wanted to enjoy this haircut, and with my new found confidence in John, I would exorcise some of those demons too!