I checked my watch – twenty to four in the afternoon. I triple checked that I had my phone and keys, before sliding my sunglasses onto my face and heading out of the front door. A light breeze ruffled my hair. At present my dark brunette hair rested a couple of centimetres below my chin. Usually wavy, I had taken to straightening my hair after Soraya (one of my best friends) had surprised me by chopping my previously collarbone length hair to a neat chin-length bob.
The walk home from Soraya’s flat to mine after that haircut had been one of the most nerve-racking of my life. I couldn’t stop touching my hair, just to remind myself that the past hour had really happened and I truly was missing half of my hair. I was still adjusting to the new style and I was convinced that everyone who passed me in the street would stared at me and that they would somehow know that I had been casually relieved of four to five inches of my beautiful brown locks. In reality no one took any notice of me as I walked home. Although I certainly gave my friends and family a shock when I showed them my new look either in person or via social media. But after the initially surprise was over my friends complimented me on the cut. They said how much short hair suited me and how much braver I was than them to undergo such a transformation.
One month later and everyone now accepted me as the girl with the chin length hair. Nothing strange, nothing unusual, it was just who I was now. And during that month I had come to the conclusion that I loved having short hair and that I was never going back and why had I wasted so many years of my life being a long-haired girl? So when Soraya called me to say that her mother (a fully qualified hairdresser) was coming to stay and had offered to cut my hair free of charge…I hadn’t hesitated to say yes. I was finally ready to try something new.
“Hey Soraya how are – wow!”
Dressed in a summery yellow dress that beautifully complimented her skin tone; Soraya opened the front door to her apartment building for me. When I had met her at the start of the year Soraya’s sleek black hair had ended at her collarbone. Throughout the year she had grown it out, giving herself only the tiniest of trims. When I last saw her a few days ago Soraya’s hair had reached her mid back. Now her hair mirrored mine – cut to a blunt chin length bob. Actually, on closer inspection, I realised her hair was now slightly shorter than my own.
“Hannah!” Soraya closed the door behind me and pulled me into a hug. “So…yeah…this.” She stroked her hair nervously. “Mama did it last night. It was the first thing she did after she unpacked. She said with exams coming up I should concentrate on revising instead of being distracted by my hair.” Soraya’s face was downcast as we climbed the stairs to her shared third storey flat. I took a moment to consider the irony that I was far more distracted with my short hair than I had ever been when it was long. I stopped on the stairs.
“Hey don’t worry,” I said soothingly, “it looks amazing on you.”
Soraya smiled gratefully. “You think?”
“Definitely,” I said as we continued walking.
“Hannah I’m sorry I cut your hair short,” said Soraya quietly. “I know what it’s like now – the shock of having someone cut all of your hair off. I’m just…I’m sorry.”
“Thanks,” I said smiling at her, “I won’t pretend I’ve never considered returning the favour but I’m ok. It’s ok. I’ve found I that really like having short hair and it might have taken me years to find that out if you hadn’t…pushed me to realise it.”
“Really?” Soraya asked hopefully.
“Mama it’s us. This is Hannah. Hannah this is my Mama.”
An elegant woman in her fifties swooped down upon as soon as we entered the flat. She wore white trousers and a long, floaty, light blue top. Her dark hair was starting to turn grey and it was tied in a single braid down her back. Between mother and daughter I felt almost scruffy in my regular jeans and t-shirt. “Please call me Jamilla, my dear,” said Soraya’s mother warmly. She surprised me by drawing me into a light hug.
“It’s so lovely to finally meet you,” I said, “Soraya has told me so much about you.”
Jamilla led the way into the shared kitchen space where the three of us spent a pleasant half hour drinking tea and discussing topics such as: university, my family, their family, hopes for the future and life in general. Soraya’s two flatmates (one of which I had still never met) did not make an appearance. Until at last, when we had all finished our drinks, Jamilla said:
“So Hannah, Soraya tells me that you’ve taken me up on my offer of a haircut.”
“Please,” I said feeling an excited flutter in my stomach.
The three of us made our way to Soraya’s bedroom and Jamilia motioned for me to sit on the only chair in the room which was in front of the desk. Soraya perched on the edge of her bed, periodically running her fingers through her shortened hair. She watched as Jamilia draped a simple dark grey cape over my body, like the sort they use in salons.
“I brought it with me,” Jamilia explained, correctly interpreting my surprised expression. “I knew I’d be doing more than one haircut when I came to visit Soraya so I thought it would come in useful.” Jamilla fastened the cape securely at the back of my neck. “So let’s see what my daughter has done to your hair,” said Jamilla as she brushed my hair.
“I’ve actually come to realise that I like having short hair,” I confessed to her with a nervous smile in an effort to defend Soraya. Butterflies of anticipation started fluttering in my stomach.
“Well that is good to hear,” said Jamilla standing in front me. She gently tugged on the ends of my hair to see if the sides were the same length. “In my family I’ve always maintained that my girls should have short hair during the exam period. I don’t want them fussing on with their hair every morning for hours getting ready when they could be studying.” I thought back to how much Soraya’s hair had grown since I met her at the start of the semester. It suddenly occurred to me that this strict family rule might be one of the reasons she had moved away from them to go to university.
“Right Hannah, are you wanting me to tidy your hair up a bit and take the length back to your chin or are you wanting to try something shorter?”
My heart beat faster and my palms started to sweat. Seriously why did the thought of a haircut of all things give me such a thrill? Well it was now or never. “Shorter please,” I said in a rush. “I’ve had a few thoughts on styles but honestly I don’t know where to begin or what will suit me.”
Jamilla chuckled softly. “Well how about I take your hair up gradually? Then you can decide if you want me to keep going.”
I nodded eagerly. Jamilla, smiling, wasted no time in dividing my hair into sections and pinning most of them to the top of my head. Then I heard Jamilla rummaging around in a bag on the floor behind me. I twisted in my seat but I was unable to get a clear look.
“Soraya, be a dear and plug that in for me.”
Erm…what? What was she suddenly doing that required electricity?
“Head down for me Hannah,” said Jamilla. Without waiting for me to response, Jamilla placed a hand on my head and forced me to look down until my chin was almost touching my chest. “Now you have to keep very still for me Hannah. Any twitching or fidgeting and you may end up regretting it.”
With Jamilla’s hand still on the top of my head I was unable to nod in response. And with no more warning than that I heard a click before something cold and metal was pressed to the back of my neck and pushed slowly yet firmly up to my occipital bone.
Clippers, I thought as I tried to remember how to breathe, they need electricity.
The vibrations of the blades sent shivers running throughout my body. Jamilla made several more passed with the clippers as she removed the hair from the nape of my neck. Oh God, I thought suddenly, what if she really was removing all of my hair from that section leaving me with nothing but skin. I sat paralysed on the chair half terrified, half well I’d say excited but that seemed too mild a description for what I was feeling as Jamilla switched off the clippers and placed them on Soraya’s bed.
“Was that your first time getting a clipper cut?” asked Jamilla. There was a hint of amusement in her voice.
I nodded slowly.
“I thought so. You never forget your first time,” she said as she unpinned several sections of my hair.
I reached out a hand from beneath the cape, intent on feeling what had just happened to the back of my head, but Jamilla lightly smacked it away.
“Wait until the haircut is finished,” she said softly. Jamilla picked up a pair of small, sharp scissors from the desk and placed them just beneath my right earlobe. Snip, snip, snip. Chunks of hair an inch and a half long tickled my neck and floated down my body onto my lap. Whenever Soraya cut my hair she made slow deliberate cuts with the scissors. This was partly out of care and partly because I suspected she greatly enjoyed the sensation of cutting another person’s hair and wanted to make the experience last as long as possible. In comparison Jamilla made the short rapid scissor strokes of an experienced hairdresser. Perhaps she enjoyed seeing a person’s hair removed from their head as quickly as possible for her scissors were already exposing the back of my head.
Jamilla unpinned more sections of my hair. The scissors sounded frightfully loud now they were almost touching my ears. Snip, snip, snip. I could feel the loose hair on the back of my neck. Jamilla wiped it away with a brush of her hand before the hair could make its way under the collars of the cape and my t-shirt. I wiped my hands on my trousers under the cape as Jamilla brushed my hair and I felt a light tug at the side of my head where my hair now stopped. Oh god I had not expected her to use clippers! And I knew that, whatever line Jamilla had cut, what was left of my hair would no longer hide my nape.
I was trying to decide whether this scared or delighted me when Jamilla brushed my hair so it covered my face and obscured my vision. Without a word she placed the scissors about a centimetre above my eyebrows and made a series of quick, tiny cuts. I blinked hair out of my eyes and within seconds I had bangs covering my forehead. I hadn’t had bangs since I was ten when my mum finally let me grow them out.
“There we are dear, one new style,” said Jamilla, putting down the scissors and freeing my body from the cape. “Why don’t you have a look in the bathroom mirror and then you can decide if you want it any shorter.”
My hand was already exploring my nape by the time I reached the bathroom. I laughed in delight when I saw my reflection. “Oh my gosh,” I whispered to myself. The longest point of my hair now touched my earlobes. It tapered up slightly at the back towards my occipital bone which fully showed off my softly buzzed nape. From what I could tell the hair at my nape was now only half an inch long. I was grateful I had straightened my hair that morning. Personally I thought the bluntness of the cut suited my face and I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it as much when my natural waves returned.
“The verdict?” asked Soraya who was presently leaning against the door frame and grinning as she watched my fingers explore my hair.
“I wish I had discovered short hair sooner!” I laughed.
“Well Mama will be pleased that you enjoyed your haircut a lot more than I enjoyed mine. But that’s not what I was asking.”
My heart beat faster. I knew the question she was asking. If I wanted to take the plunge it was now or never and why not do it now when Jamilla was here and adrenaline was coursing through me, making me brave.
“Let’s go shorter.”
“Shake your head for me Hannah,” Jamilla instructed.
The three of us were back in Soraya’s room and I had once again taken my place on the chair with the grey cape wrapped around me. The small bin in the corner of the room contained the remnants of my previous haircut.
I shook my head. The longest sections of my hair covered my cheeks but the new bangs Jamilla had given me prevented most of my face and vision from being obscured.
“Now lean your head forwards for me.”
I obeyed. This time strands of my hair covered my eyes and got caught on my eye lashes.
“Hmm the style suits you but maybe it’s not the perfect choice for when you’re trying to revise or sit an exam especially now you won’t be able to tie it up,” mused Jamilla. “Although I suppose you could use some clips to keep your hair out of your face. But no, if you’re confident going shorter then let’s experiment with a new cut for you.”
“Sounds good,” I said feeling the nervous excitement rising within me again.
“Turn the clippers on again for me please Soraya,” said Jamilla as she pinned the hair on top of my head out of the way.
Oh god what had I just gotten myself into?
I heard the now familiar buzzing noise as Jamilla approached me with the clippers. She placed the blades at my occipital bone and ran them up to the top of my head. Bzzzz, bzzzz. Then Jamilla made another past with the clippers, then another, and another. More and more hair was falling on to my shoulders however I was enjoying the sensation of the vibrations on the back of my head so much than in that moment I didn’t care one bit. Jamilla folded my ear down in order to shave the side of my head. I didn’t want the experience to stop. I wondered what it would be like to feel the clippers run over the top of my head as well…
Far too soon Jamilla switched off the clippers and the air was silent again. She brushed my shoulders with her hand and a wave of dark brown hair fell to the floor. Next Jamilla freed all of the hair she had pinned to the top of my head. She stood in front of me, studying me, analysing where the next cut should be. I wished I could read her mind and see what style she was considering for me.
Jamilla picked up a comb and gently ran it through the hair on the right side of my face. She stopped when the teeth of the comb were in line with my new bangs. She then raised the scissors with her free hand and cut off all the hair beneath the line of the comb. Jamilla repeated the movement with the comb, this time moving it slightly further around the side of my head. I felt the comb’s plastic teeth scrape against the top of my right ear. Snip, snip, snip. I twitched uncomfortably as the severed hair tickled the inside of my ear.
“Try and sit still for me Hannah,” said Jamilla in a quiet yet commanding voice. Now at the back of my head, she continued the scissor-over-comb technique.
I sat on my hands and did my utmost not to wriggle in the chair as I silently submitted to what I had now realised was my first bowl cut. It was not a style I would have ever picked for myself. When I was at school a brother and sister in the same year as me had both received brutal bowl cuts from their father one summer. They had been mocked mercilessly for weeks and their experience had dissuaded anyone else from willingly getting their own hair cut the same way. Jamilla’s scissors had made their way to the left side of my head. I had stopped enjoying the haircut and I was now what could only be described as a bag of nerves. Since coming to university I had spotted a couple of girls with bowl cuts. A girl with light brown hair had a longer, messy bowl cut while a girl with dyed black hair and striking dark make-up had a perfectly neat, straight bowl cut.
Snip, snip. “There we are Hannah, all done.” Jamilla stepped back and placed the scissors and comb on Soraya’s desk. All around me, on the cape and on the floor, were one to three inch chunks of my beautiful dark brunette hair.
“Shake your head again for me please Hannah.” I obeyed. My head felt oddly light. “Perfect,” said Jamilla, smiling so broadly that I could see the white of her teeth. She removed the cape from my body. “That cut will keep you cool and it stops your hair from becoming a nuisance when you’re trying to study. Have another look and tell me what you think. If you’re not happy I promise I won’t be offended, I can still take your hair shorter if you want me to.”
Keeping my hands at my sides I walked as quickly as I dared to the door. When I was sure I was out of sight I ran to the bathroom and threw myself in front of the mirror. “Holy—” I breathed. Mercifully I did not look like blonde-haired twins I knew at school. If anything I looked more like the girl I saw with the dyed black bowl cut. The back and sides of my head were buzzed down to half an inch while the hair on top of my head was trimmed in a neat symmetrical line around the circumference of my head that was just too short to touch the tops of my ears. I knew I would never have had the balls to walk into a salon and ask for this hair style.
“What do you think,” Soraya whispered in my ear. I hadn’t heard her follow me. She reached out a hand and stroked the back of my head. I felt a pleasure I couldn’t quite describe course through my body. “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect her to cut your hair this short.”
“That’s ok,” I said, “I guess I got what I asked for. I did want to experiment with short hair. This will just take a bit a getting used to.” I had wanted to keep my hair straight with the ear-length bob but looking in the mirror at my bowl cut I wondered how it would look with my naturally wavy hair and some styling gel to sweep it back…
“Come on,” I said taking Soraya’s hand, “let’s tell your mum that her work is done for today.”
To Be Continued…