“No hanging around, girls,” one of the barbers warned. “If you’re sitting in one of those chairs, you’re getting a haircut.”
Kat sat in one of the plastic chairs. “That’s what I’m here for.”
The middle-aged man raised an eyebrow but quickly returned his attention to his current client.
Despite a handful of available chairs, Steph elected to stand as a precaution. She was there for moral support as her friend took the plunge and had her luscious black locks lopped off, but she would not be convinced to part with her own silky blonde hair. Like Kat’s, it hung in a straight line to the middle of her back, so thick that she almost had enough for two women. It was truly her pride and joy, and she couldn’t wrap her head around Kat’s sudden urge to get rid of her own.
“Just sit,” Kat told her. “There’s barely anyone else here anyway.”
As much as it felt like a disaster waiting to happen, Steph sat. As they waited for the four customers in front of them to be done, she accepted that it was the correct decision; standing on the spot for that length of time would have left her feet aching and her legs cramped up.
Finally, it was time for Kat to sit in one of the chairs. She walked there confidently, and the barber wrapped a blue cape around her and pumped up the seat without any questions. Only once she was locked in place did he speak to her.
“What can I do for you, young lady?”
“Number one all over.”
The barber whistled. “Bold of you. Sure? It’ll take years to grow it back out this long.”
“Alright. I’ll enjoy this.”
With no further assurances, he attached a thick guard to a set of clippers and turned them on. They hummed loudly, then buzzed as he dragged them down the centre of Kat’s head, right through her hairline. A sea of glossy black parted down either side of her face and spilled to the cape below. He grinned as he shaved another line over her head, and Kat grinned with him as yet more hair rained down.
“Next,” the other barber announced.
Steph looked around her at the men who had been watching Kat transfixedly, only to find that their attention turned to her.
“I’m just waiting on her,” Steph said.
The barber shook his head. “I told you, if you’re sitting, you’re in line. It’s your turn.”
Against her better judgement, she got to her feet and walked the long five steps towards the empty chair. Kat wouldn’t be too much longer, she could just get a trim while she waited. She had heard that barber shops would do blunt cuts like hers without issue, and for a fraction of the price she usually forked over. She figured it was worth trialling just this once. Even if the end result wasn’t great, she would know to stick to the salon in future.
She sat in the huge chair and the barber pumped it up, raising her high off the floor. He swirled a long blue cape around her, sweeping her hair out of the way to tie it tightly at the neck. Then he brushed it down the back of the chair with his hand and spent a few moments preening her mane.
“Same as your friend?”
Steph shook her head firmly. “I only want a trim.”
He nodded to the wall on her right. “Does that sound like one of the styles I do?”
Her head swivelled towards the board hanging there, sixteen men’s hairstyles pictured with a price printed below each of them. Not one of them was even long enough to cover the model’s ears.
Shit, she thought. She was trapped.
“Will I pick for you?” he asked.
“N-no, I didn’t –”
“You’ve done the hard part: building up the courage to sit in the chair. I’ll take it from here, shall I?” He pivoted her head back towards the mirror in front of her. “It’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
Steph’s mouth opened and closed but no words came out.
Meanwhile the barber picked up his clippers and fixed a guard to it. He dragged a fine comb through her hair, sizing up his challenge. “Very thick. I’ll go through it with an eight first of all.”
Please don’t, she thought, but she was too petrified to look him in the eye, let alone annunciate words to that effect.
As the shears turned on, she froze in place, head bowed towards her lap. She whimpered as the blade made contact with her neck, biting her lip as it started to move up the back of her head. The clippers buzzed through twenty inches of her thick golden hair, which dropped onto her neck and slipped down the back of the chair to the floor. A few locks circumvented the roadblock and made their way down the matte blue cape to her lap, and she swallowed hard to stop herself from bursting into tears.
He moved onto the next row in the field immediately, drawing another straight line from her neck to her crown. He continued likewise the whole way around the left side of her head, always moving in a fluid motion; he would drive slowly up her head and let each strand spill loose, then teleport to her neck again and continue shearing her without a moment’s pause for breath.
Her eyes flicked towards Kat in the mirror, her haircut now complete. As her barber dusted her down and undid her cape, she caught Steph staring and flashed her a grin.
“What do you think, Steph?”
Steph said nothing.
Kat inspected Steph as she waded through the pile of dark hair on the floor, her smile even wider than before. “I knew you’d come around. Feels good, doesn’t it?”
Again, Steph said nothing.
“I have to say, I do love clipping long hair,” the barber said to Kat. “Must have been years since I’ve cut hair this long in such good condition.”
He mentioned it all so casually, as if Steph wasn’t suffering enough. It would never grow back the same way again. She’d cry about this for months.
Finally, the clippers stopped, and the barber sat her up to show off the mess he’d made. It was so horribly, horribly short, yet so untidy at the same time. The top remained slightly longer than the sides and back, but the man wasn’t finished with her yet. He dusted the bulk of her sleek hair from her lap to the floor, then switched the clipper guard to a doppelgänger less than half as thick. They whirred again, and the inch of hair that still covered the back and sides of her head was reduced by two-thirds. A coat of gold dust decorated the blue cape like sawdust from a woodwork project.
Deemed to have shaved Steph’s gorgeous mane suitably short, the clippers were put away. The barber took a comb and a bottle of water, which he spritzed across the top of her head, flipping stray locks with the comb to ensure she was soaked through, like she’d been caught in a thunderstorm without a jacket. The bottle’s place was taken by a pair of scissors, and the already short hair left on the top of her head started to be snipped away. This time the chopped locks fell in front of her face, somehow even more torturous than the shearing had been. The barber held her in place, forcing her to watch as her hair became shorter and shorter. She barely recognised the blonde beauty that had walked into the shop forty minutes ago.
The scissors chopped and chopped and chopped, sprinkling the blue cape with a mountain of wet quills. Each one drummed against the surface, inconsistent in their timing with the snips that proceeded them.
“I really like this,” Kat said. “I could watch you have your hair cut all day.”
The barber smirked. “I’d happily do it if it were possible. She’s got a lovely head of hair.”
He continued to cut more and more, so much that she didn’t know where he kept finding it. Eventually, however, he stopped, and he drew the comb over her head a few times until he finished styling what little hair she had left.
“There we go,” he said. “Done. Nice and short and neat for you, sweetheart.”
“You look amazing, Steph,” Kat said. “So, so pretty.”
She offered the most forced smile of her life in return. The man released her from her prison at last, dropping the rest of the cutting to the floor. Climbing out of the chair, Steph stole once last sad glance at the piles of shiny blonde that lay strewn around the circumference of the seat she’d spent awful fifteen minutes in. The sorriest sight in the world. The barber swept it all up as she stared, needing multiple goes to collect it all and stick it in the bin. It looked far too glorious to deserve a fate like that.
It then dawned on her that she needed to pay for the pleasure of having her most prized possession stripped from her. As if she needed further insult to injury. Her hands quaked as she handed over the twenty pound note, for which she received a tenner back. At least her humiliation didn’t leave a dent in her bank balance.