At West Chirye


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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner.

I was nine-years-old while my brother, Owen, was three-years-old when our parents separated. Since dad was in the military and often toured, we continued staying with mum.

Years went by, and as I turned fifteen, dad was finally assigned as the Officer in the Military Academy at West Chirye. Since we missed him for all these years, it was decided that my brother and I would spend the two months summer holiday at West Chirye headquarters.

It was a small town, but the circumference of the academy was quite large in itself. It was like a hostel for army recruits. Now, West Chirye was quite near to a desert region, and the summer heat and humidity were unforgiving. Owen and I were so excited to visit dad that he missed out on his regular trim at the barbershop before coming to West Chirye.

After spending two days, my nine-year-old little brother was restless with his mop-top already and whined about it every few hours, annoying the hell out of me.

Did he ever wonder how I managed to keep my mid-back length chocolate hair? Of course not! Anyways, so I finally talked about it with dad at the dinner table.

“Daddy, do you know of any barbershop around the place? Owen is pestering me for his haircut.”

“Olivia, sweety, we already have a barbershop inside the academy. You saw that red building across the iron gate?” my father asked.

“Yeah.”

“Yes, the barbershop is right behind the building,” my father informed.

“Oh, thank God, Daddy. I would have hated to stroll around the town for the haircut. Plus, it’s so hot around here.”

“We have reasonably everything inside the academy.”

“So, can you take Owen for a haircut tomorrow? I don’t think he will be able to go alone.”

“Oh, no, sweety. You know I have to train the recruits from six in the morning. I can’t have these boys slacking.” Dad, as a military man was probably the most stern, fearsome officer around. Little did they know how loving my father was when he wanted to be.

“But why don’t you accompany him?” he asked.

I gave it a thought. Since Owen would keep annoying me, I wanted a quick solution anyway. “Okay, Daddy,” I agreed.

“You are a sweetheart, Olivia,” he said, kissing my knuckles, just like he did when I was a child. It instantly warmed my heart.

“I know the barbers there,” dad told me. “One is David, and there’s another one with him, William. I will inform them that you two are going to visit around ten a.m. Is that okay with you?”

I agreed with a smile.

***************

The next day, a few minutes past ten, I took Owen with me to the small barbershop behind the red building, as dad directed. It was the most basic barbershop I have ever been to, with only giant clippers hanging from the counters, shaving brushes, and straight razors. Strangely, there were one or two combs and no scissors.

What kind of a barbershop doesn’t have scissors? Didn’t military people like their hair cropped short?

The place was dominated by the two huge, barbershop chairs with vinyl-covered seats, a footrest, and backrest that may be lowered to a reclining position. A man approached us, donning a military outfit with a white barber apron on top. His age was around the late-30s, with so closely cropped hair and shaved sides, that you’d say he has no hair.

“Are you David, Sir?” I asked, with the etiquette of an army kid.

“Yes,” he replied. “And you both must be Olivia and Owen?” he asked in his firm military voice.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Your father has already informed me beforehand,” he said. The barber didn’t waste another second, spun the chair away from the mirror, and commanded. “Sit down.” Owen quickly climbed up and was caped promptly. Since there was no other waiting chair in the shop, I didn’t mind hopping onto the second barber chair, which was empty.

The man—David—walked behind Owen and tousled his chocolate locks a little (the hair color we both inherited from dad) and then began combing it back with his fingers.

This is weird, I thought. I had taken Owen previously for haircuts in a barbershop, and I was expecting the regular combing, spraying, scissors, and the usual. But absolutely nothing!

Since dad talked with David, I thought he already knew Owen’s haircut—cropped short, off the neck and ears. Simple! David reached out for his giant black clippers and splayed a large hand over my brother’s tiny head and fired it up. Before I could get a word out, the clippers ran over his head—from forehead to cowlick—mowing down everything in its path.

Owen was as shell-shocked as I was, and—I am not kidding—half the front of my brother’s head was shaved down within mere seconds.

David titled Owen’s head to the other side when the door opened and another man—same military outfit and barber apron, in his mid-30s—walked in.

“This is Officer Marcus’s kids?” he asked David, who momentarily switched off the clippers.

“Yeah, this is Owen,” he said, holding onto his head, “and that’s Olivia.” I smiled a little, half in the nervousness of what just happened.

“William,” he called out, “Can you take Olivia? I am doing Owen’s.”

“Sure.”

I had no idea what he meant by ‘take Olivia‘, but the meaning got clearer when the chair whirled around, and a white cape engulfed my body. William gripped me by my shoulders and pushed me back into the chair for his convenience—I suppose.

Beside me, David had already fired up the clippers and was busy shaving Owen to the scalp, but that was the least of my concern now. My long glossy, chocolate hair was loosely braided, and I could feel William take out the hair tie and freeing my hair.

Finally, gathering courage, I turned a little, looking between both the barbers. “Sir…I think there’s some mistake,” I stuttered over the buzz of the clippers. “It’s only my brother who is supposed—”

William wasn’t probably in a mood to listen to my stutter. He positioned me again—directing my head to glance forward—and sternly said, “Keep still, young lady. Your father already told us that you both will be coming for haircuts.” I wanted to say only one haircut, but couldn’t find my voice.

“So you are not getting up from this chair without a proper haircut,” he ordered so firmly in that hard, military voice that I had no option but to comply. By now, Owen’s head was pushed down, and David was buzzing the back. Nothing but stubble was left on his head.

On the other side, William pulled out a comb from his apron’s pocket and began brushing my hair. He didn’t have the lightest hand, but thankfully he didn’t tug my hair. Once he put the comb down, he absent-mindedly commented, “That’s a lot of hair, Missy.”

I had no idea what haircut military people gave to the girls and hoped to god, it’s something like a blunt bob. Yes, a short bob haircut—I can live with that, I told myself.

I felt William gripped the mass of hair at the back with one hand, and the whirling sound came alive. “Lean forward,” came the sharp, crisp command that instantly made me bent forward. Soon, the noise changed, I felt a slight sensation, and finally, my hair wasn’t taut anymore. Within ten seconds—yes, I was counting—the clippers went into silence, and I saw the barber drop the severed length of hair—almost one and a half feet—on to the floor. The sight made me numb.

One, I had no idea how short the bob was going to be—if it was a bob at all. Two, I had never undergone a haircut by a strict barber, where I couldn’t utter a word. And lastly, I couldn’t see the mirror as well! I turned my head to the side and saw that Owen was completely bald now, and David was scraping the fuzzy sideburns.

“I said no squirming, young lady!” William scolded, and maneuvered my head straight ahead again.

“Sorry, Sir,” I replied meekly.

He came to stand by my side, cupped the back of my head in one of his large palms, and suddenly switched on that scary giant clipper with the other hand.

No, no, no, no!

My head was pushed forward, surprisingly gently, to meet my forehead with the buzzing clipper and instantly ran over the top from front to back. Once the first long swipe was made—he did the second, third and so on. And I could only helplessly sit there—feeling the vibration against my scalp. Next, he folded my ears with the free hand, ran the clippers all around the curve. The same process was repeated on the other side.

“Now, put your head down,” he said and cupped my nape. “Yes, all the way down.”

I did, with my chin pressed down, and I felt the longish hair in the back caressing down my cheeks. It felt overwhelming but also made me sad knowing the outcome. And right on cue, William’s hand was gripping top as I sensed the clipper running wild against the back of my head. The long, dry severed locks rained down all around me and heaped on the floor.

To my utter surprise, I couldn’t cry. My insides were in flames, but not a drop of tear fell down my eyes. Resignedly, I sat under the powerful hold of the barber and accepted my shorn fate.

My head was eventually pulled up, as he checked if he missed out anything. Next, came the straight razor, and I panicked a little. As if reading my mind, William assured, “Relax, I won’t nick you. Just sit very still.”

He didn’t have to tell me twice. I felt the fine peach fuzz scraped down from the temple to the cheeks and also around the hairline. The rasping sound of the razor and small strokes were oddly calming as against those clippers.

“There you go, all done,” William announced, after brushing me down. Finally, the whole ordeal was over, and I was glad.

Once he freed me from the cape and helped me stepping down the chair—a little higher for me—the first thing I did was look at the mirror. I stood staring in stunned silence for a couple of seconds. The reflection staring back at me was a fifteen-year-old with a shaved head. It was me, but I couldn’t recognize myself.

“Officer Marcus’s girl is a trooper,” I heard David say, and then he ran a hand over my shaved head as well.

“Keep it like this, girl,” said William.

I quietly thanked them both, took Owen’s hand, and headed back home. To this day, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t cry, even after coming home. When dad came back, he was a little surprised and explained the miscommunication, although he didn’t mind his teenage daughter shaved to the skin. To make me feel better, he underwent the same clipper shaving too the next day.

“Why couldn’t they just give me a short haircut?” I whined a little over dinner.

Dad chuckled and told me, “There’s no short haircut in military barbershop, sweetheart. Everything is shaved down—scalped completely. No hair, no fuss.”

Two months later, when we returned to mum’s, she made a big deal out of my haircut. But by now, I was used to the short crop, so I didn’t pay much heed.

A year later, we again went to West Chirye to stay with dad. This time, Owen didn’t need a haircut. But I decided that I do. My hair was grown into a short bob, and I wanted nothing but to get rid of the length.

I asked dad to accompany me this time to the barbershop, and he did take a little break to come with me. And as expected, David and William shaved both of us completely—down to the wood—as dad would say.

And this became a ritual—every year, every summer. And finally, when I decided to join the army, like my dad, there was no question of growing out my hair (even though female cadets were allowed). Every week, without fail, I visited the barbershop and maintained the shaved look.

*****************************

I have been thinking of doing a military haircut story for a long time and suddenly came up with this father-daughter duo storyline. Hope you guys liked the story. 🙂 

6 responses to “At West Chirye

  1. Another great story, Roy. I’ve always found it nice to read a story about the first time a girl/woman gets a short haircut, or in the case of your story, a shaved head. I loved how Oliva was nervous before and during her shearing, but ended up loving her new haircut. Part of me thinks that her dad thought he was doing her a favor by sending her to the base barbershop after Oliva’s comment about the weather being so hot.

    Keep the great stories coming, Roy. I will look forward to reading them.

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