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Who Cares? by A Recruit
I’d almost given up hope of finding a foster home, resigned to spending the next few years in care Life wasn’t too bad there, a little wild and violent at times, but I was tough and could survive. I worried for my younger brother and had already told our care worker, that if she couldn’t find a home for us together, then she should split us up, my brother Danny was more sensitive than me, I couldn’t always be there to protect him.
It seemed that my prayers had been answered, a middle aged couple had visited us twice recently and were due again later this morning. I had high hopes, at least for Danny, who had started to get attached to them, but we’d been this far before and it had all come to nothing.
Danny came into the room, tears in his eyes, someone had thumped him again, I gave him a brotherly hug, gently pushing his hair out of his eyes, back across from his face. His hair was greasy, unwashed for over a week, my fingers caught in a tangled knot. This was not unusual, Danny had never liked taking a shower, and the staff here just didn’t seem to care that much.
I looked at Danny, and then at myself in the mirror. We were both long overdue for a haircut. At the home we had no money of our own, so had to rely on one of the carer’s to give us a trim. This happened once every three months at most, and the woman, would literally just wallop the hair off our fringe, collar and along the bottom of our ears. We often joked that she had exactly the same haircut herself. There was no styling, no layering, she just didn’t have time, there were thirty boys to trim, and she didn’t want to be there all day.
Fortunately for us, long, thick unruly hair was quite the fashion, unfortunately we were always dressed in old fashioned clothes, scruffy old fashioned clothes, reliant on the rest of the world’s hand-me-downs.
I was looking out of the window when Wally and Margaret pulled up in their car, they asked the staff if they could take young Danny out on a trip for the afternoon, as they were leaving Margaret searched me out from the background and offered to take me too.
They drove us into the town, I hadn’t been to town for months, so it was a real treat. First we stopped at a burger bar and were allowed to choose what we wanted, another treat. Then we walked around the shops, we marvelled at the clothes shop displays, the bright colours and modern styles. Margaret ushered us into one of the shops and chose an outfit for Danny, he tried on the bright clothes and Margaret showed her delight at how he looked, and he did look good. Again I stood back, Danny was becoming very attached to the couple, I hoped they would decide to take him.
Wally, put his arm around my shoulder and ushered me deeper into the shop, he told me to try on khaki jeans, and found a rich white cotton shirt to go with it. I looked in the mirror, impressed at the fit of the clothes, my slim, yet toned frame showing them off to their best.
I was speechless, when they paid for these outfits and other stuff, for us. Our smiles the only payment they wanted in return, these were kind people.
Our shopping trip over, we drove back to their home, a small country bungalow, set amongst fields and trees. Although modest by many people’s standards, it was a palace to us. We were shown around, and I ended up in Wally’s study. The walls were covered with military photos, there was a gun cabinet in the corner, and behind the desk a display cabinet of trophies and several medals. Quiet Wally had been quite a hero. If he agreed to keep Danny he’d always be my hero.
I sat in the chair opposite the big desk, as Wally sat down opposite.
‘Well lad, the wife has taken quite a shine to young Danny. He’s a great kid. You and I get along all right too don’t we.’ he began
‘Yes sir’ I said, trying to be polite.
‘How would you lads feel about coming to live with us then. We’d expect you to do your share of the chores, work hard at school, attend church on Sundays and the like.’ he finished.
I couldn’t believe it, my prayers were being answered. Of course we’d love to. The delight on my face must have been all the convincing he needed, as he grinned and shouted to Margaret that we were stopping.
Margaret came in wiping tears of joy from her eyes, Danny and I were just too thrilled to be able to speak.
Wally was already on the telephone to the Home, who agreed to forward our few possessions in the morning, delighted that we weren’t coming back. The paperwork would follow.
We were allowed outside to explore our new world, and after tea, were shown to our new room, bunk-beds on one side of the room, and a desk. A large wardrobe extended the other length of the wall, and as Margaret opened the door we saw our new clothes hanging neatly from the rail.
Margaret took us into the bathroom, running the bath, I was not about to complain about being bathed by an adult at my age, and I could put up with sharing a bath with Danny, just this once. I didn’t want to spoil today.
Margaret washed my hair, gently but firmly massaging she rubbed my scalp creating a fine silky lather. She poured warm water over my hair to rinse it off, and the shampooed me again. I liked the feeling of her mothering hands running through my mop of hair. She then set to work on Danny.
Out of the bath both wrapped in a towel, she gently combed our hair, carefully removing each tangle. She produced clean underwear, no cast offs, they were brand new. Our thick hair was drying quickly in the warm air of the late afternoon. It felt so soft. I looked in the mirror admiring the shine, and noticed it had started to look a little frizzy without its normal grease.
We went downstairs and were allowed to watch the television, Wally came in from the yard, and as he sat in the kitchen removing his boots, I heard Margaret tell him that the boys were ready for him.
Wally disappeared into his study, and I began to concentrate on the television once again. Suddenly Margaret appeared with a glass of milk for Danny, and told me that Wally was waiting for me in his study. I went at once.
I knocked politely on the door, and when he answered, walked in. Wally was unpacking the contents of a small cardboard box onto his desk. He pointed to the chair I’d sat on earlier that day, only now it had moved further to the centre of the room. Still wearing only my boxer shorts I obeyed.
Wally began ‘Lad, there are some rules of the house, I’d better fill you in on, I expect you to be polite and courteous at all times, to work hard at school, to be up by seven every morning. Are we agreed?’ I nodded, and he continued. ‘I also expect you to look clean and smart at all times, understood.’ I nodded again, as I watched him pick up something from the desk, and walk out of view behind me.
‘So lad, let’s start by getting rid of this mess on your head’ he said, almost angrily. As he spoke he reached out and grabbed a handful of long hair, lifting in from my neck. A long haunting crunch of scissors followed, as his tight grip slowly lessened, and the hair came away in his hands. He threw it on the floor in front of me, and nine inches of my blonde hair was gone. Wally paused, allowing me to recover from the shock, before reaching for his second handful. I was used to women giving me haircuts, gentle fingers and modest cuts. It appeared to me that Wally was just hacking indiscriminately at each lock of hair.
I flinched occasionally when he pulled too hard, but received no sympathy from Wally, who just carried on with fresh vigour. As the pile of hair in front of me grew larger, I expected Wally to stop, but he just carried on and on, where was all this hair coming from I wondered. I guessed by now I must be completely bald.
Finally he reached in front of my eyes, and yanked up the long fringe, off it came, and at last the scissors stopped clicking, my haircut over I reached up with my hands to feel my head, but Wally had other ideas, and pushed my hands away. He playfully ruffled the spikey locks, like you’d praise a young puppy.
Wally returned to the desk, and fumbled with an electric flex.
I could hear a loud humming behind me, perhaps more of a buzz as it neared my head. Wally’s left hand pushed my head over, but I must have moved, as he pushed it back again, more forcefully this time. The buzzing tone changed, and it ran up behind my ear, after several passes, I began to feels hair falling down onto my bare shoulders, as they bit around my head, they severed hair began to fall onto my chest and down onto my legs, I could see now inch long pieces of blonde hair every where around me. I wasn’t bald after all, I thought.
The blades felt cold on the first pass, but had heated up fast. The cutting speed intensified and the clippers warmed up. As unfamiliar as I was to the vibrating cutters, I did not find the sensation unwelcoming at all.
Wally drove the teeth around my ears, holding each ear tightly as he went. He blew away the stray hairs, and I enjoyed the cool sensation that fell across the back of my head. Wally turned off the machine, and replaced something, a piece of black plastic on the end, and then was back,, efficiently mowing the top of my head, over and over again.
He stood back, and ran his fingers down the back of my head. It felt strange, almost abrasive. Another change to his machine, and tiny hairs started to fly onto my chest, as the back hairline was tapered even shorter. I was flattered by the attention he was paying to me, no one had ever taken time with my hair before. I felt lucky.
Wally stood back, to admire his work. He looked satisfied at last, and with a small brush began dusting away the loose hairs onto the floor. He told me to stand up and knock them onto the floor myself, and I was happy to oblige. As I brushed the hair off my shoulders, I moved my hand to the back hairline, marvelling at the sensation, tiny stubble grew a little longer as my fingers moved up my head. I touched my ears, tracing out the hairline high above them. I couldn’t hide the fact that I liked the feel of this.
Wally shouted for Danny, who shot into the room quickly not bothering to knock. He was cute enough not to need too many manners at his age. He came in and froze as he looked at me, this unnerved me as I hadn’t yet seen what I looked like, I realised I was keen to see.
Wally pointed to the chair, several stray locks of blonde hair still resting on the seat, and Danny reluctantly sat down. I gave him a reassuring smile and rubbed my new cut in support. This seemed to be enough, as he sat back. I stood watching Danny’s hair divestiture, Wally proceeded in the same brutal manner as he had with me, Danny’s long dark hair spilling over onto my lighter blonde locks. Several times I thought Danny was going to burst into tears, but he was a brave little soul and held on.
Handful after handful met the same barbaric fate, no sympathy being shown to Danny’s younger age. Without the mass of hair covering Danny’s head, he already looked younger. His small, perfectly formed ears, nestling amongst thick tufts of hair.
Wally paused for a brief rest, I looked at Danny, his hair rough lt cropped all over, except for his fringe, as ever still falling over his eyes, but for how long?
The answer came in the next flurry of activity, as Wally took firm action snipping each lock to the required inch, the scissors guided across Danny’s forehead, leaving a faint red mark after each cut, which quickly faded away.
Now it looked like he’d been cutting his own hair, uncombed but not unruly, stray locks stood up from his head, whilst other lay flat. Wally ran his hands back though Danny’s hair, making more hair stand up. I winced for Danny as the clippers sprang into life.
As the hair clippers roared into action, I winked at Danny, dispelling the terror I’d felt earlier. It was sad to watch all of that clean, soft, freshly shampooed hair falling on to the floor. Margaret had so lovingly massaged it earlier, but Wally wasn’t going to stop know until it had all gone.
I imagined myself sitting back in the chair, realising I had really enjoyed the experience. Danny still looked humiliated, as the clippers sheared his locks to below a quarter inch on top, and yet shorter on the sides. He didn’t look like my little Danny any more, and I found that sad also. Hair piling up all over his bare shoulders and chest. It felt uncomfortable, I knew, and he began to wriggle, but Wally’s left hand soon reasserted discipline once more.
As the clippers outline the shape of Danny’s head, I admired the radical transformation, and I became increasingly desperate to see my own. I’d never seen anyone have their haircut like this before, not ever. ,A few boys at school, would get their hair cut this short, when it got really hot, and I’d always envied them the opportunity to shed their hair for the summer, never imagining I would get the chance myself.
Wally fussed over the fine detail, a stray hair here and their, but eventually he was finished, and Wally packed away his kit back into the cardboard box, I began cleaning up all of the hair, and he looked impressed, before telling us to go back to the lounge he’d clear up.
So we left the study, the study we were to return to every three weeks on a Sunday night for the coming years, the only room in the house we were not allowed to go in except for a proper haircut. Wally would never allow a mirror in the study, saying it was vain to sit looking at your hair, but there really was no need, as he always cut my hair the same way and the same length.
Margaret liked our new smart look, and I asked her if she had a mirror. She took us to our bedroom and opened the wardrobe door, revealing a mirror on the inside. I noticed a smart young man standing next to the newly shorn Danny, and second later realised it was me. I had never imagined having a haircut like this, no one had ever cared enough about my appearance, so I guess I’d stopped caring too. Now, finally, someone cared.
I looked taller, I certainly looked fitter, I was definitely happier. I looked at Danny and then back to myself, there was no mistaking we were brothers now, we had an uncanny family resemblance, and that was comforting.
Wally came in and put an arm around my shoulder, his arm tickling the short hairs at the back of my neck, and in that brief moment, I was aware, that not only had Wally become our father, but more importantly for us, we had become his sons, forever. Danny reached out to hold Wally’s hand, just like he’d used to do to me.
I’ve two boys of my own now, and am proud to have them call Wally their Granddad, Danny’s eighteen now, and still lives and works with Wally. I’ve moved away now, but still visit from time to time, and every time I take the boys we all leave with the same clipped look that Danny still gets on every third Sunday night.