A First Time

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Your heart flutters a little as you turn the corner and see the iconic red white and blue pole. This is the place. You hesitate and your walk slows slightly, and you gently run a hand over your long hair where it covers your neck, feeling its softness. You reach the front of the shop, place a hand on the barbershop door, take a breath, and open it. A bell announces your presence to the lone barber sitting waiting for customers. The shop is empty and the barber catches your eye as you stand in the doorway for a moment, stomach doing somersaults. He invites you in with a slightly surprised tone, it must have been a long time since he’s seen a girl come to his shop, especially one with hair as long as yours, but he doesn’t comment on it. Instead he leads you to the large barber chair and prompts you to sit down. The chair is still a little warm from the barber himself sitting in it, and you sink into the black leather seat, feeling at once both comforted and nervous. The barber covers you with a cape, white with dark blue pinstripes, in one smooth flourish. He fastens it at the back of your neck, not tight enough to be uncomfortable but just tight enough to send a nervous shiver down your spine. A few short pumps of the pedal raise you up to a comfortable height. You’re here, in the chair. You’re totally at the barber’s mercy.

The barber strokes his hand down your hair, feeling its softness. There’s silence between you as he takes a comb and starts to comb through your long locks, all the way from the root, down to the very tips at your mid back. You close your eyes, the rhythmic motion is helping to calm your nerves, and you feel like you could maybe fall asleep when he asks what you want to do with your hair. You open your eyes and look at yourself in the mirror, hair flowing around your face. You pause to swallow, and manage to squeak out that you want something short. Something very short. The barber doesn’t seem surprised at this. You think you might even have seen a smirk, but if you did it was only for a fraction of a second. He gathers your hair into a ponytail and fastens it close to your nape. You realise what this means, and your heart starts racing. As you hear the first crunch of the scissors cutting through at the base of your ponytail reaches, the racing of your heart intensifies. You can hear only two things: the scissors cutting away years of growth, and your own breathing. After what feels like forever, you feel a sudden release of pressure on your nape, and some longer strands of hair swing forwards into your face. The barber asks if you’d like to keep your ponytail, and although words are too hard right now, you manage to nod, feeling the air on the back of your neck as you do.

He starts to comb your hair again, this time with a pragmatic purpose, as he parts your hair in the centre, combs down one side and with a flick of his wrist, twists it up and clips it to the top of your head, exposing the side. He does the same on the other side. You stare at your reflection in the mirror, already looking so different with hair that only falls to about your chin, it feels so short, but you know that soon even that will feel long. You feel a warm hand on your crown that pushes your head gently down so your chin touches your chest. Then a hum, and the blood rushes to your cheeks. The plastic guard is pressed gently against your nape, and it lingers for just a moment before the barber pushes the clippers up, making the first pass up the back of your head, from nape to crown. The tone of the clippers changes as they are pushed into your hair, and you can hear the crackle of individual hairs being clipped uniformly down to a fraction of an inch. You don’t know how long it will be yet, but you know that it will be shorter than you have ever had before. The barber continues to clip away at the back, and with your head still pointed downwards you can’t see much of what is happening, beyond the occasional clump of long hair floating down onto the cape. It seems like the barber is almost making sure that some falls in front of you and onto your lap just so you know how much you’re losing.

The barber tells you to bring your head back up. You can’t see any difference in the mirror, but you can feel it, the cool air of the barbershop ever so slightly tickles the back of your head, your scalp having a sensitivity you never imagined. The barber’s warm fingers brush across your cheek, lifting the lock in front of your ear to reveal the hairline. He places the clippers there, and slowly moves them upwards, clipping up to your temple in one smooth pass. He lets the hair drop onto the cape, and for the first time you see just how short the back has been cut. You can just about see your scalp through the short uniform pelt left by the clippers. This is really it. There’s no going back, you’re being buzzed. And the thought leaves you equal parts excited and nervous. The barber finishes clipping down one side, and as he takes a step to move to your other side, you try to take the oppportunity to turn your head and see the cut from a different angle. You’re stopped by his hand on your head again, turning you back to face the mirror straight on, and watch as the hair in front of your other ear is clipped down to dark fuzz.

You’re almost disappointed when he’s done, and he unclips the top, as it tumbles down and covers the freshly buzzed sides, leaving you with something that resembles a rough overgrown bowl cut. Having already felt the clippers, you find yourself desperate for more. This feeling is made worse as the barber returns with the comb. He parts your hair on the left, combing it so it swoops across your face. Then re-parts it in the centre. Then again on the right, this time completely off your forehead. You see his expression in the mirror as if he can’t decide what to do with it. He parts it in the centre one last time, then reaches for the clippers again. You take a deep breath. He switches the guard, although it still looks very short, and places them on your forehead. A pop. A hum. He holds them there, buzzing. You catch his eye in the mirror, your cheeks blushing furiously and heart going at a million miles an hour. You are going to get a buzzcut. You see a small glint in his eye, and the tiniest smile, as he slowly plunges the clippers into the top of your hair. The hair falls on both sides. It hits another lock resting on the cape, and the momentum makes both tumble to the floor. When the barber lifts the clippers, you can see the first strip of buzzed hair on top. Even though it’s a little longer than the sides, on top it just looks shorter. The barber clips another path alongside the first, reducing more of your hair to dark brown fuzz. Soon only one strip of long hair is left. He runs the clippers along this last strip of long hair. Now used to the feeling, you can just close your eyes and enjoy the vibrations on your scalp. Once the last remnant of your long hair has fallen to your lap, joining the others, he quickly runs the clippers all over the top of your head, looking for any stray hairs that escaped the clipping.

A brief bit of blending where the sides meet the top, and you feel like you’re almost done. The barber retrieves a second smaller set of clippers, and carefully cleans up the edge of your sideburns, trimming them to a slight diagonal. Then you feel him carve a neat line across the back of your neck, cleaning up any stray hairs there, leaving a clean curve delineating your short cropped hair from your bare neck. He turns off the clippers and puts them down, picking up a handheld mirror to show you the back. You can finally get a good look at your new haircut from all angles. It’s buzzed short on the top but still a little fluffy, and faded down to a fuzzier length at the sides and back. Looking at the back, the short fuzz stops a little below your ears and is replaced with skin a touch paler than usual from being covered so long by your hair. The cape is unclipped and the pile of long hair that has accumulated in your lap falls to the ground. Hair that minutes ago was bouncing gently as you walked to the barbershop is now lifeless on the floor. The barber brushes your neck with talc to remove any stray clippings, and you can now stand up. Your hand instantly darts to your fresh buzzcut, and you explore it with your fingers while the barber just watches satisfied. The top is ever so slightly fluffy, blended down to fuzz. You make the motions of running your fingers through your hair over and over, but it’s far too short for that, instead you just feel the soft pelt against your palm. You pay the barber, and he hands you your severed ponytail. You step out into the fresh cool air which you can now feel on your neck, one hand clutching your ponytail, one rubbing your nape. It finally happened. You got a buzzcut. You smile and start to walk home.

2 responses to “A First Time

  1. This was a very intensely written piece. I loved it. From the beginning, you conveyed the tension and exhilaration the girl was experiencing. The lack of verbal communication between the girl and the barber actually adds to the friction between what she wants and what he is willing to deliver. I think the only words spoken by her are, I want something short, something very short. This phrase carries with it a frisson of unspoken permission that really got my attention. Very well written.
    Claire

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