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A Nudge... Or A Push? by A Recruit
My father grabbed me by my hair, gripping tightly at a long handful of my bleached hair. Angrily he pulled me down the wooden steps leading to the basement. This was where my father had set up his study. He thrust the padded desk chair into the middle of the room and pushed me down onto it. He’d just arrived back from a business trip, and was obviously tired and irritable.
‘I’ve tolerated your long hair for long enough young man,’ he snapped, ‘but you’ve pushed me too far.’
If I’m honest I hadn’t expected him to be overjoyed, at my transformation, but the guys at school had dared me to color my long locks blonde. Although not keen initially once some of the other lads had taken the plunge, it didn’t seem such a big deal.
‘You look like a tart, son. I can’t believe it’s fashionable to look like a girl.’ he continued to rant.
I’d had a few weeks to get used to the look now, so was less shocked than I had been at first, though I had to confess I much preferred my natural brown hair, it suited me more.
I sat quietly on the chair, I knew that the best way to deal with my father when he was this angry was to say nothing, and just do as I was told. He had a nasty temper, and I didn’t want to incite him into violence. Although it was a few years since he’d last caned my backside, I knew that I wasn’t yet old enough to stop him from doing in again.
‘It’s time you sorted out your hair.’ he boomed.
I froze, humbled and embarrassed. I was starting to sense the direction in which this dressing down was headed. I could still remember the day when he’d shaved my brother’s head bald because he had refused to visit the barber when ordered.
‘In fact you can go and visit Jack’s now - if you run you’ll make it before he shuts his shop.’ he ordered.
‘Yes sir.’ I replied, trying not to sound to miserable, relieved that I was about to leave my father’s study unscathed.
Jack’s was the barber shop my father frequented every month, indeed he’d taken me along there until I was fifteen, and had convinced my parents that I should be able to have longer, more fashionable hair. It would be about two years since I last visited Jack’s.
I sprinted from our house, around the corner and down into the High Street. Jack’s shop was at the far end of the street, nestled into a small arcade. The red and white striped lantern was still turning as I arrived. Out of breath I reluctantly pushed the door and stepped inside the small shop.
I wasn’t sure what I had expected to find, but I was quite taken aback to find that the shop hadn’t changed at all over the last two years. The same old black and white photographs hung inside their frames on the walls, the paint was still peeling across patches of the ceiling, the white lino held the same worn hole in a circle around the same barber chair. Even Jack looked just the same.
I took a familiar seat, relieved to see there was not going to be a long wait. A middle aged guy was sat waiting, studying his newspaper, his face frowning with concentration. In the chair was a lad, my kind of age, his face deep red with embarrassment or anger. I couldn’t distinguish which. Jack was concentrating with the clippers, and didn’t look up at all, as he worked his way around the lad’s head, each hair neatly trimmed to under a quarter inch.
As I sat, I studied the lad in the chair, there was plenty of long locks of blonde hair resting around the lad’s shoulders, and yet more lying in piles at the foot of the chair. I realised that this poor guy was receiving one of Jack’s more radical haircuts. I knew how he felt, my father had instructed Jack to give me a number of radical summer buzzes in the past.
The guy did look good though, as I watched him slink out from the chair, and cross the room toward the door. He gave me a shy smile, and I nodded back sympathetically.
The lad ran his hand over his freshly gelled crew-cut, and looked at me for reassurance.
‘What do you think?’ he asked timidly.
As he spoke, I realised why he seemed so familiar, it was Tim, one of the lad’s at school who’d bleached his hair at the same time as the rest of us. The man rose from his seat, and paid the barber.
‘Much better son.’ he replied, assuming Tim had been addressing him.
Horrified I just stared, and Tim’s face reddened more, as he followed his father out of the shop.
‘Next!’ Jack shouted, regaining my attention. I crossed the floor, careful not to tread on any of Tim’s beautiful hair. He was a friend after all.
With the efficiency I remembered, Jack draped me with a gray cape, tucking it into my collar at the back of my neck. He placed his hands on my shoulders.
‘It’s been a while young man.’ he ventured.
I grinned back, faintly embarrassed. After all it wasn’t like I’d switched to another barber, I had rejected barbers all together.
I confronted my image in the mirror, and once more wished I hadn’t allowed the guys to bleach my hair. Too late. I winced as Jack began combing out my hair, he ruthlessly dealt with the knots that had formed during the day. Running to the shop hadn’t helped, as my sweat had matted yet more locks of hair together.
‘My father doesn’t like the bleached look.’ I spoke assertively, ‘He’s sent me to get it sorted out.’
Jack smiled at me sympathetically. ‘What did you have in mind?’ he asked.
I couldn’t think what to say, with the pace of the afternoons events I hadn’t given any consideration to what I would actually do with my hair.
‘Can you get it back to it’s original color.’ I half pleaded.
‘You need one of them fancy salons for that lad.’ was the dismissive reply.
I winced, as I realised my options, either I faced my father’s wrath, or I said good-bye to my beloved hair.
‘It’s only hair lad, you won’t miss it, I should think you’ll thank me for this.’
I gulped, Jack too had already realised the dilemma I faced, and the only bearable option I faced. He knew my Dad well.
‘You ready?’ he teased. I wasn’t and he patiently allowed me a little time to gather my thoughts. I squirmed slightly in the chair, aware that I was becoming hot and clammy underneath the nylon cape. My face looked red.
Defeated, my surrender came with a slight nod of my head. My voice had deserted me. I felt like I was ten again, visiting the barber and having no control over the way I was to look.
I stared back at my reflection in the mirror, fixing my gaze and gritting my teeth while Jack began.
Jack stood immediately behind me, brandishing his scissors above my head, he lifted an impressive length of blonde, pulling it taut high above my head, and thrust the blades across it. As the pulling ceased, Jack was left holding his trophy.
Strangely I didn’t feel sick, at the thought of what was to come, everything was happening so fast that afternoon, that there wasn’t time to reflect on events. I was kind of enjoying the experience.
‘No going back now.’ joked Jack, dropping the clump of hair down into my lap.
I concentrated hard upon my reflection, intending to show no reaction to the obvious teasing.
Jack set about my hair like a man possessed, with well rehearsed precision he stripped me of every long length of blond hair, all to a length of about an inch. Each spared tuft of hair half brown and half blond. It didn’t take Jack long to crop all the hair on top of my head, and then he was ready to tackle the back and sides, well prepared for the challenge he faced.
I stared intently at my reflection, desperately trying to imagine myself without my long hair, I couldn’t picture myself at all. I knew I should be able to visualize myself, but it’d been close to two years since my ears had seen the light of day, I had actually forgotten the shape of my head.
As the clippers snapped into life with a sharp buzz, I watched myself closely, intrigued.
As the buzzing metal blades move toward the left side of my head, I instinctively tilted my head slightly to assist. Jack took his free hand and laid it on the top of my head, it was strange to feel his fingers pushing into my skull, now that the cushioning of hair had been taken.
The clippers moved into position, and swept up in front of my ear, as quickly as the clipper teeth disappeared under the blond, they emerged at the top. For a brief moment, nothing seemed to have changed, and then as Jack gently tilted the clippers to one side, long strands of hair dropped from the clipper guard, slowly coming to rest across my shoulder.
Another sweep of the clippers followed, this time Jack was pulling on the top of my ear, to ease the access for the bulky clippers. The buzzing was loud and intense now. The clippers moved back a little, and the vibrating head rested for a brief moment on the bone behind my ear, sending a resonating quiver down through my neck, a not too unpleasant feeling, that was gone too soon. My ear was free once more, and the buzzing was now unmuffled.
Jack lifted his hand, and instinct took over again as I gently tilted my head forward. Jack’s guiding hand returned to the top of my head, gently forcing it onto a yet steeper tilt. The clippers whirring grew muffled again as it forced it way up under the hair hanging over my neck. The tone of the clippers seemed to labor as they fought their way through the hair, the incessant humming returning as the clippers found air once more.
The experience was becoming more and more liberating, Jack having dealt with the hair at back of my head, lifted his hand once more, and stepped around to the remaining side. The telephone rang, and he cursed as he switched off the clippers and stepped to the corner of the shop. I seized the opportunity to lift my head and familiarize myself with the emerging metamorphosis.
Hair was now festooned all around me, strands clumped together in layers around my shoulders, gently falling down across my chest to meet with the already severed locks accumulating on my lap. I tried to subtly knock the bulk of the hair down on its way to my lap by wriggling my shoulders, with some success, staring in horror at the size of the blonde pile growing before me.
Twisting my head to display the clipped side of my head in the mirror, I began to gain some idea as to how things were turning out. It looked short indeed. I couldn’t resist it any longer, and pulled my hand from below the cape, and ran my finger across the stubble. I wasn’t disappointed to find it was less than a finger’s width in length.
Jack soon returned, and the clippers completed their work around the other ear, with their now obvious exactness. Then he concentrated removing the last traces of blonde from on top, leaving a mere quarter inch of brown hair, just short enough to ruffle.
Wow, this sure felt good, how many experiences had I missed out on like this I thought to myself as the barber tidied up the cut with a razor? And why?
Somehow the terror of cutting my hair short had disappeared, I’d seen Tim, he looked great, and so did I. I was confident the other guys at school would follow our lead, and if they didn’t – well their loss. There comes a time when you need to lead rather than follow, and I emerged from that shop a leader that day.