Just like the picture

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I sank myself on the alley bench, heaving a sigh. Fitting the cigarette between my teeth, I clicked on my lighter and ignited the stick, letting that fresh breath of menthol into me. I blew out a puff as I leaned back against the graffitied wall, taking in the sights of red-faced tourists bustling through the streets as they navigated their way through the “scenic” urban landscape.

 

Arab Street was a beauty- I’ll give them that. It was all part of a greater Kampong Glam compound that stretched multitudes of streets, with its classic Malay glamour at the essence, though modern eateries and stores littered the area. Most of them tried to capture the rustic soul that this place once was, but some places just really seemed too out of place. Nevertheless, a good stream of people still filled the streets daily, with a rough few of them deciding to drop by the cafe.

Working shifts as a barista wasn’t necessarily the most draining, but I guess some days the customers just really suck all that life out of you. I undid the top button of my blue-white striped shirt, slightly revealing my grey tank top as I let that humid Singaporean air wash over my exhausted body.

 

The back door of the cafe kitchen opened, where another girl about my age walked out. She was still donning her black chef jacket, though her curls were now loosely spilled down onto her shoulders. “Done handing over to the boys already, Mia?” I asked.

 

She gave a tired nod. “Can’t believe we actually made it through that shift. They just had to throw the solo shifts to the girls.”

 

“It’s a great year for feminism, isn’t it?” I joked, offering her a stick. She accepted it as I scooted over, giving her some room to share the bench with me.

 

“Well at least they trust you to handle the morning shift all by yourself now. You’re learning well for someone that just came in a few weeks ago. Took me a few months before I could even be left alone in the kitchen,” Mia said as she lit her cigarette.

 

“Making coffee and serving customers is a dummy’s job, honestly,” I confessed. “You, on the other hand,” I gestured to her with my cigarette-held fingers, “cook up a beautiful storm in that kitchen that I probably never will be able to.”

 

“Aww,” I could see her tanned cheeks colour slightly. “You’re starting school soon aren’t you?” she asked.

 

“Yeah, next week. University awaits, but I’ll still be working, don’t worry.”

 

“I’m not gonna see you as much then,” she pouted.

 

“You’ll see enough of me, don’t worry,” I said as I took a drag from my cigarette. “You can always come visit me at my dorm if you ever miss me too much,” I teased.

 

She chuckled, though she never declined. “What’re you up to after this? Back to dorm?” Mia inquired as she turned to look at me.

 

“Nah, not yet,” I shook my head, putting out my cigarette. “I’m gonna go cut my hair,” I shared, though oddly enough it didn’t roll off my tongue as smoothly as I thought it would.

 

“Ooh!” The topic somehow perked her up, her eyes now darting up to my dark blond hair that I wore up in a messy bun. “Just trimming it? Or doing something a little more exciting?”

 

I scoffed, taking out my phone. I opened the picture I had in mind, then showed it to her. “How’s that for exciting.”

 

Her jaw dropped, staring at the picture for a good few seconds before looking back at my face, as if trying to imagine what it would look like on me. “That’s so exciting!” She was beaming now, as if she was more hyped than I was for it. “First time going short like that?!”

 

“Yep, probably first time in my life I’m getting something genuinely short,” I confessed, putting out my cigarette. “My appointment’s in about an hour at a place just down North Bridge Road. Really had no idea where to get it done so I just yolo-ed and picked a random salon around the area.”

 

“Wah, I really wanna follow eh, but I’ve already got plans with a friend,” Mia pouted again, though this time a little more genuinely.

 

“I’ll take a before and after for you lah,” I placated her. “And we can meet after if you’re not satisfied with just a picture.”

 

“Yes!!” she clenched a fist in success. “Actually, come to think of it, I should actually be around the area by the time you’re done.”

 

“It’s a date then,” I joked, winking at her.

 

“Woohoo! I get to be the first one to see the new Lucy,” she celebrated.

 

“It’s just hair, chill,” I furrowed my brows at her, trying not to make a big deal out of it all.

 

*

 

But about half an hour later, it started to really kick in. I stood at the street, wondering why in the world I decided to arrive so early. I looked up at the second story where the salon was, wondering if I really had it in me to do this as my stomach tied itself up into the deadest of knots.

 

I found myself succumbing to another stick, lighting it up and shoving it between my teeth. I took a deep drag, and sighed out the smoke. “Fuck, Lucy, why is this so hard?” I muttered to myself.

 

As tough girl as I liked to appear, I really wasn’t strong about something so little. “It’s just hair, chill,” I ended up trying to convince myself instead, when less than an hour ago I thought Mia was overreacting.

 

I undid the bun on my head, letting my hair fall to just above my breasts. I ran a hand through my straight tresses, with little waves here and there still lingering from the time I tried a beachy look, though to not much avail.

 

Having both Asian and Australian blood was a blessing yet a curse- some in-betweens, especially my hair, ended up giving me not much room to experiment. The colour was all my mom’s, but my dad’s thick and coarse hair ran deep in my roots. Wearing it down always took so much work, so I ended up doing lots of updos every day. And then eventually, I just decided “fuck it”.

 

It seemed like a good time: a new chapter of my life starting university and moving in all by myself seemed appropriate for a change. I’d spent the past few weeks looking up pictures everywhere, trying to find the right one.

 

I stared at the picture I finally decided on that flashed on the screen. It was short- so, so short- but God, there was something about that just spoke to me, that just vibed. Was it the model? Was it the way she carried it? Was it just how drastic it would seem overall?

 

I took another drag, letting the smoke fill my lungs as I tried to purge the nerves. “You know you want this, you know you want to do it,” I kept reminding myself.

 

I peered at the time; only 20 minutes before my appointment. Maybe I should just show up earlier- have a seat in the waiting area and just take the time to calm my nerves in the place. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.

 

I put out my cigarette and held my head up. Crossing the road, I headed straight for the door that led to the upper floors. It was a narrow stairwell up which led to a little corridor with a few doors on either side that led to a different store.

 

First one on the right seemed familiar- a barbershop that catered to both men and women that I researched a while back, though I decided I wasn’t that crazy or ready enough to go for something like that yet. A little down the corridor on the left was the salon, and my heart was beating faster the closer I got.

 

I stopped just before the door, inching my head forward to have a little peak. The door immediately led to a cozy little waiting area with a couch and a coffee table right in front of it, and a little counter the cash register stood. Deeper inside was the salon itself, with about 3 salon chairs on either side of the wall, though only a couple of them were occupied at the time. A rather young-looking woman sat in the chair closest to the door, fiddling with the tools that sat on the dresser right beside the chair.

 

I guess she was going to be my stylist, and maybe having another girl would give me the confidence I needed for this. I sighed, wishing I could take one last drag of a cigarette before I walked into the belly of the beast. Glancing down, I grabbed a handful of my dark blonde tresses that still hung close to my chest. I sniffed a handful of it, taking a whiff of the coconut scent my shampoo had. “I’m gonna miss you,” I said a little too sentimentally, even though it was clear as day I was the only person to hear it in that corridor.

 

I heaved a huge breath as I gripped the handle of the salon door, then pushed it down to enter. A cool wave of air conditioning was the first thing to hit me, calming my nerves a little. The woman got up, turning to face the opened door.

 

“Hello! Do you have an appointment for tonight?” she asked cheerily.

 

“Yeah! 6pm, an appointment under ‘Lucy’?” I shot back, a little worried now wondering if I had accidentally booked the wrong day.

 

“Oh yes, the last one for the day,” she said, a smile on her face as she got up from her own seat “You’re an early bird, but I’ve got all the chair all ready for you,” she patted the back of the chair, gesturing me to come sit in it.

 

“Dear Lord,” I casually whispered under my breath, beating myself up deep inside for coming so early. If I had known there wasn’t anyone before I would’ve held myself to the last minute, but I guess there was no turning back now. “That’s great,” I tried to cheerily reply, though a hint of my nervousness definitely flashed in my voice. I ambled towards the chair, slowly accepting that my fate was to come.

 

I took a seat as she turned the chair back to face the mirror, viewing my reflection in all its meekness in that chair while the lady towered over me behind the chair. “I’m Suzanne, by the way. It’s nice to meet you,” she extended a hand to me.

 

“I’m Lucille!” I introduced as I took her hand with my own that was starting to sweat, cautiously giving a warm shake. “But you can call me Lucy.”

 

“Are you local?” she said as she began inspecting my dark blonde tresses, a colour that wasn’t native to most Asian countries.

 

“Well, I was born here, though my parents are Australian. We lived here for most of my life, though we moved back to Australia a few years back when they got job offers back at home, but I loved it here so I decided to move back while I do university,” I explained as she laid my hair behind the chair, running a brush through the little waves here and there.

 

“Can definitely tell you’re born and bred- you don’t speak with that strong an accent,” she calmly remarked an observation. “We hardly get any blonde hair in here, it’s refreshing to see a different natural hair colour once in a while.”

 

“Well, it’s your lucky day, cos quite a lot of it might be coming off,” I somehow managed to announce it confidently, although deep inside my heart was screaming ‘what the fuck are you doing’. Suzanne stopped the moment she realised what I implied, now looking right at me with a raised brow.

 

“And just how short are we planning to go for tonight, darling?” she played along with my confidence, which only pumped the anxiety and adrenaline through me even more. I unlocked my phone, then showed it to her.

 

I heard a gasp of amusement escape her lips. “That looks like a lot of fun. How long have you been thinking about it?” she probed further on the topic as she motherly placed her hands on my shoulders.  

 

I shrugged. “It’s really a spur-of-the-moment impulse kinda thing. I just got so sick of all this hair, especially in this weather here. I don’t know how I put up with it before I moved back to Australia, but I guess I’m ready to just go for it.”

 

“I see,” she said as she turned to the dresser beside the chair, looking for something. I saw through the reflection as she picked up a rubber band and a pair of scissors. She started brushing my hair again, but this time pulling it all back together in a bundle. “I guess we better start before you change your mind,” she teased as she fitted the band through my hair into a ponytail.

 

“Huh,” I let out, rather confused as to what was about to transpire, looking at her as she wore a wry smile. She brought the pair of scissors up to the back of my head, opening and closing them as she paid me one last glance.

 

“We’ll get the hard part over and done with first, darling,” was all she said before my eyes widened in realisation. But before I could even say anything, she dove in.

 

Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch.

My hands instinctively grabbed on the handles of the seat, but I tried to keep my face as neutral as possible as it all played out. My heart raced, only getting faster each time the scissors closed in on my ponytail. With each scrunch I could feel my the ponytail getting less taut, slipping away from my head.

 

Scrunch, scrunch, snip!

 

I heard the metal blades of the scissors close in on itself as the last bit came loose, my locks now falling to my chin rather than flowing past my back. I watched in a shock as Suzanne raised the ponytail like a trophy, her face beaming as she held that bundle of blonde hair. “Hard part’s over- no turning back now!” she declared as she set the ponytail on the dresser beside the chair.

 

“Whoa,” was all I could let out as I carefully reached up to touch what was left that I saw in the mirror- a rough sort of bob that hung a little past my chin. It was so weird running my hands through something that short, considering the shortest I ever had it was probably an inch or more longer than what I was seeing right now.

 

“Changing your mind already?” Suzanne cut in my reverie, ruffling the back of my head a little. “A bob would definitely suit you, if you asked me.”

 

I considered the thought.

 

“No,” I resolutely declined, unsure where this confidence in me came from. “Cut it shorter, just like the picture.”

 

“As you wish,” Suzanne gave a shrug, still grinning from ear to ear. “Come, let’s get you shampooed up,” she lightly squeezed my shoulders to invite me.

 

I slowly got up, the unexpected lightness of my head throwing me off-guard as I turned to go follow her to the back. On the way to the wash basin I couldn’t help but to steal glimpses of myself in the mirrors I passed by. Short hair was such a foreign concept to me, and seeing my dark blonde locks way above my shoulders for the first time was terrifying, yet oddly satisfying.

 

Noticing how distracted I was at my new self, Suzanne had to gently sit me down on the chair before I realised we’d reach the shampoo area. With her hand on my neck, I carefully leaned back into the basin, letting my hair fall backwards as she switched on the warm water. It was serene- feeling that warmth trickle all over my scalp as she began massaging my head of hair with shampoo. Her hands were soft but firm, having controlled strokes all over my head while making sure the shampoo never got close to my eyes.

 

Just as I was about to fall into a peaceful trance I heard the flow of water turning off, and I instinctively pouted a little too obviously. I felt her drying my hair gently with a towel before wrapping it around my head, raising me to sit up as I reopened my eyes. She slowly helped me up before we walked back to the same chair, my dark blonde ponytail still lying lifelessly on the little dresser beside it.

 

I sank myself back in the chair, faced with my reflection as she gave my hair a final round of drying before taking off the towel. Seeing my head of hair all wet was a lot different than what it was before- it seemed slightly longer, though I knew the illusion wet hair always gave off with regards to length. Suzanne fetched a white cape from behind her before flicking it majestically above my body, letting it settle as she clipped the ends behind my neck.

 

“You want it short at the sides and back, then gradually getting longer towards the top, yeah?” she asked, her hands on either side of my  temples.

 

“Err, yeah,” I answered, a little unsure as to what she truly meant.

 

“Right then, let’s get to work,” Suzanne announced gleefully. For the next minute or so she began sectioning out the back, the sides, and the top with her comb, using the clips to secure them into place.

 

I steadied my breathing, trying to tame butterflies fluttering nonstop in my stomach. “It’s just hair, it’ll grow back,” I whispered to myself, though everyone knew hair was so much more than ‘just hair’. My eyes darted back to the dresser beside the chair, eyeing my poor, severed ponytail. At least a year of growth all gone with a chop- there was something so sinister, yet so thrilling about the idea of it.

 

Suzanne soon got out her scissors, gently pushing my head forward so that she could get a good view of the back of my head. I could feel the teeth of the comb passing down from nape to neck, straightening down the locks. I suppressed a shiver as the scissors were placed on my neck, the chilling steel takings its aim somewhere near the base of the nape.

 

Snip, snip, snip, snip. Suzanne went in without much ado, sweeping away severed locks of hair that I could feel just lying loosely on my neck with her comb. She took her time with a few more snips, perhaps attempting to get the edges done right