I swing through the door, slightly nervous. Half expectant. Half wishing that I could run away and not think about what it could do for me, as I battle with myself over how desperately I think need it.
It’s always like this, isn’t it?
I enter. No one’s noticed. It doesn’t matter. As long as he-who-I-seek is here... I look around for a few panic-stricken moments across a roomful of unfamiliar faces. I hope he hasn’t left this place. I should have given him my number. Damn.
Just as I’m about to turn around to leave, I see him. He sees me. His eyes light up as do mine. And immediately, he scans my face for signs of any change since we last met.
He wants to know why I haven’t visited in such a long time. I tell him shyly that I’ve left my job; that I have my own office now, somewhere else. Then in a moment of unnecessary intimacy I tell him that now I have to make these trips halfway across the city especially for him. Perhaps I’m doing this to impress S, my visiting friend from Patel-town, who I’ve dragged along.
He smiles at me sweetly in response and then without another word he reaches out and touches my hair tenderly. He softly engages his fingers, brushing gentle tips on my scalp, asking a million questions with one little touch.
Sartaj. The man who has the longest affair yet with my tresses. The only person I’ve met who understands and appreciates the texture, weight, colour, and exact measure of straightness of my hair. The only person yet who knows how to tame it with the slightest touch of the razor. The only one who knows how to make my hair respond to a cut, and not misbehave even forty thousand washes down.
My friend S and I settle back for the full treatment. Sartaj is very finicky. He doesn’t care if you’ve scrubbed your scalp with acid that very morning, but he will not cut if you don’t get a shampoo right then and there.
Now S and I go back a long way. All the way to school. She’s actually my sibling’s classmate, but over the years we’ve become close. S, The Sibling and I have spent all our growing years scoffing at girls who went to beauty salons at the burst of a pimple. We’ve prided ourselves in being Virginia-Beauvoir daughters [well before we knew who they were] – self-professed amazons who’d rather arm-wrestle boys in class during recess, than sit with the girls and gad about pretty things. Salons were something we avoided like other kids avoided homework.
A decade and more down, I think we’ve changed. Quite. Two young boys set to work on our hair, as we lean back on twin basins side by side. This is soooo going to be fun. Tea or coffee Madam? Nothing. Is the temperature of the water fine? Yes. Please relax madam. Mmm hmmmm. And then everything fades, as our eyes shut. We’re back in school. The gossip factory is in motion. Things emerge from cranial corners that are orgasming on gentle massages. We talk about everything. Career decisions. Exes and post-exes. Things that should have been and things that could have been. We have months of catching up to do. And it’s all happening here and now… very fluidly. Despite our tight-arsed selves we talk and talk and talk over gently gushing water and rhythmic massaging hands, oblivious to other ears.
Shampoo over, big white towels are wrapped around our heads. I feel grand. Exactly like the posh women they show in movies who stick their heads in big towels and driers before ‘the big make-over’.
Just as I’m beginning to really like myself in this turban-from-Durban look, Sartaj bustles over from another customer, and unwraps it. He takes one professional, raised-eyebrow look at my head. I squirm. Freshly washed, uncombed hair looks particularly unflattering and clumpy.
Umm, Sartaj, as always, just give me something that doesn’t need combing or ironing or starching or primping. Low maintenance eh? I laugh nervously. I know he knows the drill… but years of habit force me to verbalise this customary preamble.
Without a word, he whips out his comb, his special, magic razor-clad-tress-kisser and sets to work.
Soft curls fall like black rain around satin clad shoulders.
When I was younger, I’d feel inexplicably sad to see glistening crescents of my hair lying limply on the floor.
Just as I begin to zone out, thinking of things I should best leave alone, he speaks. Done madam. I snap out of futile fantasy.
Can you go a little shorter at the back? Snip. Snip. Shhhhzzzick.
Good decision madam. I smile. This boy is a born lady-flatterer.
But I think the admiration is mutual. I’m probably his only customer that he doesn’t use the ghastly blow-drier on, that too of his own accord. It's surprising how many people don't seem to know this, but a hot blow dry is your worst enemy. It dries out your hair, makes it straggly and hay-like and one wash later your hair looks like something that came out of shock-absorbent casing for heavy electricals.
I shake my head. Run my fingers through unfamiliar hair-length. Flip it this way and that way. I turn to S for approval. She’s impressed.
So, who’s it this time?
So what if I can’t sing. At least I look like a rockstar.
Sartaj smiles, and then sets to work on S’s hair.
I construct reactions from quarters close and far. I pull my hair down over my eyes, I push it back. I curl it round my fingers. And I let it go. I spend a few more minutes in front of the mirror.
I can feel it coming on. But I resist it. Not just yet. Please. No. I continue to smile, this time it’s forced. I turn away, hoping it’ll hold off.
But something familiar has crept right back in. Two moments of a wonderful high… are gone.
I think I’m bored again.
That’s the thing with haircuts. Transient euphoria like a rush of blood to the head. And now it’s all settled back in my toes. Poopy.