See how Hannah and Soraya’s story began in Part 1.
“And you’ll definitely come with me Soraya?”
“I promised I would and I will. Besides if I’m not there you might chicken out.”
“No I won’t. At least I don’t think I will. I’ve got the urge to experiment with my hair again.”
“But Hannah what if you don’t like it?”
“Well that’s why I’m going to do it now then I’ve got all summer to grow my hair out, if I decide to of course.”
My second year of university was finally over. I had sat all of my exams and handed in all of my coursework. My life was finally stress-free again – well until I got my results in a few months time but hey I wasn’t going to worry about that right now. Besides right now what I wanted was to celebrate by treating myself to a much needed haircut.
A couple of months earlier I had allowed my best friend Soraya’s mother Jamilla to cut my hair to a sharp bowl cut. My dark chocolate brown hair was naturally wavy so my hair didn’t stay in this precise style for long. My new favourite hair style was achieved using various gels and hairsprays to sweep all of my hair upwards to create volume then gently brush my hair so it fell towards the back of my head. In some ways it looked more like a faux-pixie cut than a bowl cut. But other times curiosity got the better of me and I straightened my hair just to remind myself what I looked with a regular, recognisable bowl cut.
At first, when my fringe grew too long and it started getting in my eyes, I asked Soraya to trim my hair for me. A ‘trim’ as far as Soraya was concerned meant chopping an inch of my hair off – which was actually quite restrained for her. The problem was that when Jamilla had cut my hair she had also buzzed the back and sides of my head and unfortunately Soraya did not own a pair of clippers.
The buzzed portion of my hair grew a lot quicker than I expected and eventually the distinction of my bowl cut was lost with all of my hair merging into a non-style. I sought the help of a local salon and asked the girl serving me to trim my bowl cut but to take more off the back and sides. The girl was clearly afraid to cut too much of her client’s hair. My bowl cut was at least recognisable again but the girl used scissors and a comb to cut the back and sides of my hair. That was when I realised that what I missed, what I craved the most was to feel the sensation of clippers running over my head again. But where to get my hair cut? It wasn’t until the exam period was well underway that I believed I had finally found the perfect place.
A few years ago local residents and the city council had teamed up on a series of projects designed to ‘breath life back into abandoned parts of the city’ by re-using and renovating buildings it already had. One of the more unusual projects involved seven railway arches on the edge of the city. The back of each arch was bricked up and the seven new spaces were transformed into shops. At present the first three arches (and much of the area next to them) were taken up by a car dealership. The fourth arch had been claimed by a charity shop while the fifth space was a small café which still bore the original name of the Friday Arch. The sixth arch has recently become the home of a second hand bookshop but the seventh and final space was a family-run barbershop called the Sunday Arch.
I probably still wouldn’t have considered, as a girl, getting my hair cut in a barbershop if I hadn’t had been meeting a couple of friends at the cafe. As I walked past the Sunday Arch I noticed a girl with dirty blonde hair getting her head completely buzzed. I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl all day and how daring she was but the more I thought about it the more I realised that a barbershop was the most logical solution to my problem. So I made a promise to myself to work hard at my exams and when it was over I would get my hair cut in a barbershop for the very first time.
The interior of the Sunday Arch was warm with a surprisingly inviting feel. I definitely preferred it to a few of the almost clinically white-tiled, brightly-lit salons I had visited over the years. The walls and floor were tiled in a dark wood. On the wall opposite the door were three large mirrors and in front of each mirror was a red leather barber’s chair. Five ordinary padded black chairs lined the back wall for waiting customers. A small reception desk was positioned on the far left of the room. Behind the desk was a white door which bore a simple rectangular ‘STAFF ONLY’ sign.
When Soraya and I entered the Sunday Arch it was empty of both customers and staff. Not sure of exactly what to do, we both perched awkwardly on a couple of the black seats. We did not have to wait long before a young woman in her late twenties emerged from the ‘STAFF ONLY’ door carrying a glass of water. Her glossy black hair was tied into a neat bun on top of her head. She grinned when she saw us.
“Hey guys, sorry if I kept you waiting. How can I help you today?” The woman’s voice was warm and bright. She took a sip of water as her eyes travelled over mine and Soraya’s hair with interest.
“I…um…I was hoping…I wanted to experiment with taking my hair shorter and…er…try a new style,” I managed to stammer, blushing bright red as I did so. My heart was pounding. When I began my second year at university I never imagined that I would end it in a barbershop, with a now grown-out bowl cut, asking a barberette to take her scissors to what was left of my hair.
We both stood up and Soraya wrapped her arms around my waist. “Hannah’s still a fairly new but surprisingly enthusiastic convert to short hair,” she explained.
“Soraya was looking for a hair cut too,” I said quickly.
“What?” Soraya asked sharply.
The woman regarded us with delight. “Excellent. Well give me a moment and I see what I can do.” She put the glass of water down on the reception desk and headed back towards the ‘STAFF ONLY’ door. As she turned around I realised that the back of her head was buzzed into a sharp undercut.
“What did you say that for?” Soraya hissed in my ear, pulling away from me.
I gave her a wicked grin. “Come on, all those times you’ve cut my hair. All those times you’ve surprised me with a haircut. Surely it’s only fair that I get to surprise you with one!”
“But I’m trying to grow my hair out before Mama decides it needs cutting again,” said Soraya giving her chin-length locks an uncertain tug.
“Hey Nicholas are you free to help?” the young woman called to someone behind the door.
“Do you trust me?” I asked. Soraya met my gaze and nodded.
The woman reappeared. At her side was a man in his fifties with dark brown hair and a beard that was flecked with grey. “Two new customers for us,” said the woman.
“Ah, then welcome to the Sunday Arch,” said the man smiling at myself and Soraya. “I’m Nicholas, I’m the owner here, and you’ve already met Rosie. So, have a seat and we’ll get started.” He used his entire arm to gesture to the three barbers’ chairs.
“This one’s mine,” said Rosie who surprised me by taking my hand and pulling me over to the third chair. My hands shook with nerves and excitement as I sat down. Nicholas guided Soraya into the first chair which was in the left hand corner of the room.
“I’ve never seen a woman working in a barbershop before,” I said shyly to Rosie.
She laughed. “It’s much more common than you think although I only got a job here by accident. You see about three years ago I decided to give myself a makeover—”
“With a pair of clippers,” Nicholas interjected, overhearing our conversation.
“I sneezed at just the wrong moment,” Rosie whispered to me. “So I came to the Sunday Arch that night just as Nicholas was trying to close in the hope he could help save some of my hair.”
“I told her if she could sit still without crying while I shaved her head then I’d teach her how to cut her hair properly when it grew back,” Nicholas finished. He and Rosie both smiled at the memory. Meanwhile Soraya’s face had paled and was now keeping a careful eye on Nicholas’ hands in case history tried to repeat itself on her own dark locks.
“So what are you wanting done today?” Nicholas asked as he combed Soraya’s hair. Soraya turned her head towards me and gave a small nod. Nicholas and Rosie also looked at me expectantly.
I felt my heartbeat quicken as it suddenly occurred to me how much power my next words held. After hearing Rosie’s story, I felt certain that if I asked Nicholas to shave Soraya’s head or to give her a Mohawk or…well any style he would do it. In that moment a spiteful little voice in my head pointed out that this would indeed be revenge for all the times Soraya had casually relieved me of far more inches of hair than I had instructed her to. And then one second later that voice was crushed beneath the weight of another, far more reasonable, voice. Yes Soraya had cut my hair off but, after I’d gotten over the minor heart attack that inevitably followed, hadn’t I always loved the results? Heck if I didn’t enjoy getting my hair cut short then what on earth was I doing sat in a barber’s chair? And I was me, not Soraya, who had asked her mother to cut my hair shorter and shorter. In a way Soraya had done me a favour by awakening this side of myself. So didn’t that mean, even though I was completely enjoying the feeling of control I currently possessed, that I owed Soraya a favour too?
“Nothing too drastic. Can you shave her nape and then cut her hair shorter at the back so that the shaved part is showing but leave it long at the front?” I asked.
“Absolutely, if you’re comfortable with that?” Nicholas asked Soraya.
Soraya exhaled deeply and nodded firmly. She smiled at me and I knew I had made the right choice in choosing her friendship over the idea of revenge. Besides, the haircut I had requested for her was longer than what my hair presently was. If she did get mad at me later then hopefully it wouldn’t be for long once she realised that.
“So now it’s your turn,” said Rosie, bringing me back to the reality of my own situation. For the last couple of minutes she had been running her fingers through my hair, lightly tugging at the various lengths it had morphed into. “You said you wanted to experiment with something shorter. What’s the shortest you’ve ever had your hair?”
“A bowl cut,” I answered.
“Did they use clippers or scissors to cut the back and sides?”
“Hmm,” said Rosie thoughtfully. She looked at my head with an analytical expression. “So how extreme do you want to go?”
“Erm,” I said unhelpfully. “Well not bald, that’s a bit too far…but apart from that…”
“Well if you’ve had the back and sides of your head shaved before, how would you feel about having the top of your head shaved too? Like a buzzcut?”
I thought again of the blonde-haired girl I had seen getting her head shaved here. If she could do it then so could I. “Yeah, yeah that sounds good,” I said confidently.
“Excellent!” said Rosie. “Just give me a sec.” She picked up a pair of large black clippers from a hook attached to her station in front of the mirror and ran her fingers over a series of brightly coloured plastic guards. She selected one with a flourish and snapped it into place.
In the opposite corner Nicholas had pinned most of Soraya’s hair out of the way and had begun to shave the back of her head. I watched in fascination as three inches chunks of Soraya’s black hair fell lightly to the wooden floor. Her scalp showed clearly through the remaining stubble of her hair. That was when it occurred to me that I had never given Nicholas any instructions on what length the hair on her nape should be. Oops, I thought.
As Rosie gently tilted my head forward and placed the clippers at the base of my head, I realised that I had never specified to her how long my buzzcut should be either. However, when Rosie ran the clippers up to the top of my head in one single fluid movement, I decided that I really didn’t care. The vibrations from the clippers travelled from my head, down my spine, until my whole body pulsed with the sensation. I didn’t care if Rosie was ignoring my instructions and stripping me of every last lock of hair I had, so long as she kept the clippers running over my head. I closed my eyes as Rosie made another pass with the clippers, stopping once again at my crown. God I had missed this feeling. Almost subconsciously I closed my eyes as my hand slid beneath my jeans and between my legs.
My eyes snapped open as the sudden realisation of what I was doing (and where I was doing it) hit me. Had Rosie noticed anything? I gripped the padded leather arms of the chair tightly, determined that my hands would remain there for the duration of my haircut. My hair was falling thick and fast as the clippers made quick work of the hair at the back of my head. I felt my face flush.
Rosie moved onto the left side of my head, bending my ear down as she wielded the clippers with practiced precision. My severed hair had begun to pool on the cape. Every inch and two-inch chunk of hair that slid down my shoulder and onto my lap caused a thrill of excitement to flash through me. Satisfied with her work Rosie silently moved onto the right side of my head. Her face was a mask of concentration as she gently tilted my head in order to gain a better angle for the clippers. My hair tickled my ear one last time as it was sliced from my head and floated softly down my face. In the mirror I could now see that the hair at the sides of my head (and presumably the back) had been shaved to a fine pelt. Only the hair on top of my head remained untouched.
“Last chance to back out,” said Rosie with a smile.
“Nah,” I said, smiling back in return, “I’ve come this far. Let’s do it!”
As the clippers in Rosie’s hand roared back to life, I stole a glance towards Soraya. Nicholas was creating a line that, at its highest point, rested against Soraya’s occipital bone before swooping dramatically down to connect to the existing line at her chin. As per my instructions, Soraya’s shaved nape was now clearly visible. I wondered how her short hair would feel if I touched it.
Distracted, I gasped as Rosie suddenly pushed the clippers from the right side of my head to the left and teasingly dropped a handful of wavy brown hair into my lap. “No going back now,” I whispered to myself.
Hearing my words, Rosie chuckled. “Nope. You’re not going freak out on me at the last minute are you? I’ve had that happen before. I can do this part more quickly if you prefer?” She moved the clippers to within millimetres of my bangs and looked questioningly at me in the mirror.
“No that’s ok,” I said quickly. “I’m…I mean…I don’t mind you taking your time with the cut.”
Satisfied, Rosie moved the clippers back to the top of my head and took another horizontal swipe through my hair. After so long of waiting and wondering, it was elating to finally feel the pressure of the clippers against the top of my head and the noise they made as the blades sliced effortlessly through my hair. Now that I had a clear view I kept my eyes fixed on my reflection, not wanting to miss a single moment of this experience.
Then I frowned thoughtfully at myself.
“Rosie can you stop a sec please?” I asked.
Rosie paused and moved the clippers away from my head but did not switch them off. She put her hand on her hip and watched my face carefully, perhaps searching for any sign that I was going to ‘freak out’.
“Do you think I would look silly if I kept my bangs like this but left the rest of my hair shaved?”
Rosie’s eyebrows rose in surprise. She put down the clippers and examined my face. “It’s not a style everyone can pull off,” she said in a reasonable tone of voice. She picked up a comb and ran it through my bangs until they lay neatly against my forehead. “But I think you might be one of the exceptions. Let me just trim your bangs and we’ll see what you think.”
“I just thought…well I did say I wanted to experiment with my hair,” I said as Rosie swapped her comb for a pair of scissors, placed them against my forehead and neatly trimmed a centimetre off the length of my bangs.
“Well this is certainly that,” Rosie agreed. “I’ve never tried this myself style before. There, what do you think?”
The girl in the mirror had large eyes and a nervous expression on her face, as if a part of her couldn’t quite believe what she had done. Her dark hair was cropped to half an inch in length all-over with her exception of her bangs. This section of her hair had a slight wave to it and it ended just above her eyebrows. The cape her body was enveloped in was a patchwork of short brunette strands. When the girl reached out a hand from beneath the cape to stroke her hair her face split open into a wide grin.
“Yeah, yeah I think I’m gonna try my hair like this for a while.”
“Sure thing! Let me just shape your hairline at your nape.” Rosie picked up a pair of small white clippers from her work station and once again pushed my head forwards until my chin was touching my chest. These clippers made a much higher pitched buzzing noise than the ones used previously. I felt Rosie’s hand on my head as the small clippers lightly removed all of the soft hairs on the back of my neck. She then used the clippers to create a sharp neat edge to the hair at the back and sides of my head.
“There, all done.” Rosie placed the clippers back on the work station and released me from the cape.
“Thank you so much,” I told Rosie.
“You’re welcome. Feel free to come back any time.”
I walked over to Soraya who had finished her haircut and was waiting for me by the reception desk. I felt Soraya’s hand snake over the back of my head as she tried the catch what hair I had left between her fingers. “Remember when you freaked out when I cut your hair to your chin?” she whispered in my ear.
“Vaguely,” I said innocently. “You look stunning.”
Soraya twirled slowly on the spot to show me her cute new A-line bob. I bit my lip nervously when I realised that the hair on her nape was shaved almost to the skin – a lot shorter than mine was. “I know,” she agreed. “I’m not promising I won’t grow my hair out at some point but maybe I could get used to it. And it should stop Mama trying to cut my hair over the summer.”
I paid for both of our haircuts and gave Nicholas and Rosie each a generous tip. Once we were outside I gasped as I felt the coolness of the breeze over my buzzed head. Soraya reached out and straightened my bangs were the wind had ruffled them then she linked her fingers through mine. As we walked her eyes kept glancing back to my hair.
“You know, I think I’m going to have to buy some clippers over the summer for the start of next semester,” Soraya said.
I pulled Soraya towards me and kissed her. “I think that would be a great idea.”
If you’re interested free free to check out the previous instalment – A Friend Like Soraya: Part 3.