Are you next, miss?

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Prologue – Back to college

It was early summer, and the daily temperatures were on the rise. Aishwarya had gotten back to college a week before the semester began. Her college was in the town of Goa which was on the seaside, and it got horribly humid in the summer, almost unbearable. Aishwarya was from the Northern part of India so she was not used to such humidity and hated sweating all day long. Moreover, her hair was in the way quite often lately. She’d been delaying getting it cut to about her shoulders to make it more manageable. It had grown right down to her butt!

She had still got a week ahead of her before classes began. Most of her friends were still away on vacation and the hostel block seemed lonelier than usual. So much time and so little to do, she thought. With her roommate MIA as well, she decided to venture out near the lake where it was slightly cooler. Maybe I’ll get a haircut too, she thought, this heat is killer! She knew her favourite salon guy was vacationing and wasn’t too keen on going to a new place.

Aishwarya dismissed these thoughts about getting her hair cut – maybe she would put it off for now altogether. She took an auto rickshaw to the lake and as soon as she got off she felt the cool breeze in her hair. Perfect, she thought. Walking towards the lake to find a good spot to sit down she saw two of her friends from the hostel, they were taking a stroll along the lake.

Both of them looked like they’d prepped for the Goa summer; short haircuts! Aishwarya had borrowed a ton of money from one of them the previous semester and had said almost nothing about returning it since then. Truth be told, she had mistakenly blown the money in an online scam. One of those double-or-nothing schemes, except they should really be called nothing-or-nothing. She’d also put some money on crypto-currencies at just the wrong time. Bad luck is all it was.

“Hey guys, nice haircuts! How come you both decided to go short?” said Aishwarya swinging to the side to get a better look at Kritika’s haircut, making no mention of the debt that was owed.

“I know right, doesn’t it look awesome? I love it. Short hair is in this semester yo!” Saloni said, swinging around showing off her new bob. What a sweet haircut, Aishwarya thought.

Kritika decided to let go of money matters, and we went in for a bear hug. “Tell me about it. Feel my nape, Aishwarya, you’ll feel like getting it buzzed too! The salon near my home shut, so I went to my dad’s barbershop instead, and boy was I pleasantly surprised! I think the barber was a little scissor happy and he just went for it, you know? It took me a while to get used to how short the cut was – he used the clippers on me! But I LOVE it”, said Kritika almost jumping with excitement. Although her haircut was slightly uneven, she didn’t care!

What guts, Aishwarya thought to herself! “Wow, I’ve never had anyone use clippers on me. That sounds scary!” she said finally.

“Are you crazy? I’m not even kidding, getting my hair chopped off is like a drug to me! I’ve gotten it cut shorter and shorter twice since my first time. In fact, we were just on our way to the barber’s. I’m thinking of taking it even shorter!” Saloni said.

Kritika quickly followed, “You’re coming with, Aishwarya. No WAY are we going to let you mope here with that mop of yours. Hah! You’ve got to lose your barbershop virginity. It is time!” She started pulling on her hand, dragging her towards the rickshaw stand forcefully

My barbershop virginity? No way am I getting my hair cut at a barbershop, no way, Aishwarya thought.

“This is so sudden, you guys are putting me on the spot! C’mon guys, let’s do this another day. I just wanted to get away from all that heat in the hostel. That’s why I came here!” she said trying to resist Kritika’s brute strength. She just wanted to chill at the lake today, nothing else!

“Well, the place is air-conditioned, hello! What better way to kill the heat?” said Kritika trying to reason with logic.

Saloni interrupted and tried to change the subject. “Okay, don’t be a loner, at least come with us! I’ll show you what I’m gonna get. It’s a bit short, but hey, it’s so bloody hot here in Goa, I wouldn’t mind at all. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.” She took her phone out and showed it to Aishwarya. The image on her phone was of a very short pixie cut. In the picture, it was a blonde lady with almost no hair at all. Aishwarya’s eyes popped at the sight of it. There was a big lump forming in her throat, one that was going to be hard to swallow.

“Woah, that’s scary. What’s gotten into you guys? Only a few months ago you both were crying about how your hair isn’t growing any longer and some crap “, Aishwarya says pointing a finger in their faces.

“Just shut up, and come!” Both Saloni and Kritika started pushing Aishwarya towards the rickshaw stand.

What a 180 over the semester break! Realizing she has no option now but to accompany them to the salon, she thinks to herself. Maybe I should get a trim too, but no way am I going shorter than that. It is hot though, they’re right. Air conditioning wouldn’t hurt in any case.

 

Meanwhile, at the barbershop

Jimmy was just opening up for the day. It was still a week before classes so not many folks were coming in to get their hair cut. While he’s sat in the waiting area reading the newspaper, he sees Shreya parking her scooter outside, she’s a regular at his shop. She takes off her helmet to reveal her neatly tied ponytail. It looks like she had been growing it out! He knows she’s definitely headed his way, and evil plans begin to brew in his mind. Jimmy had actually been expecting her; earlier that day, he’d received a phone call from her mother who had complained about Shreya not taking studies seriously. And how she had finally coaxed her into making up her mind about joining the NCC, the army prep-school, but wanted to take this opportunity to set her daughter straight. It seems she had been running around town with boys and her mother had gotten sick of hearing about it from the neighbours. Today was the day her plan would be executed, and with that, no more long hair to seduce the boys with. Jimmy put the newspaper down as she entered and greeted her.

“Hey Shreya, how’s it going”, said Jimmy, as she entered the shop, quickly pausing to taking a breath. She was in a hurry, he could tell.

“I’m alright, Jimmy, I’ve been going back and forth with my decision to go join the National Cadets Corps. I’ve made up my mind now. I had a big fight with my mother about it yesterday. But this is a once in a lifetime thing anyway, I can’t join the Cadets when I’m 35! Might as well do it now.”

She walked over to the salon chair and sits down. With Jimmy towering behind her now, they’re looking at each other in the mirror.

“I’m in a bit of a hurry, I need to go to the photographer to get a picture clicked as well. Do you mind making it quick”, she says putting her bag down on the ground next to the chair. “Right, so… erm… the regular NCC haircut?” she said with an air of nonchalance.

Jimmy says with a smile “Gotcha! So crew cut it is today!” Shreya sat up straight immediately, shocked. Her oblivion to what was about to unfold here was almost erotic!

“Crew cut?!” she said, almost yelling. Little did she know, the NCC standard haircut for girls had been updated over the summer break. “Wait, I thought it was a bob! How short is a crew cut?” she exclaims with a look of horror on her face. She couldn’t believe her luck. For almost 2 months, she had dithered from this because NCC haircut was so short; it was a chin-length bob. But a crew cut sounded so much more severe!

“Well, it’s pretty darn short”, says Jimmy. Holding up his fingers in front of his face, barely apart. “I’ll show you, just a sec.” He walked around to the back closet, leaving Shreya at the chair staring into the mirror reflecting on her life decisions.

He comes back with the latest NCC brochure to find her almost at the door; she’s about to leave. “Oi, where are you off to?”

“This was my mother’s trick. I know it. She’s been wanting me to get my hair cut short for months!” she says, with one hand on the doorknob.

“Well, take a look at the brochure at least, NCC isn’t all about the haircut”, Jimmy says feeling like an opportunity slipping through his fingers. He’s quick to add, “And honestly, I don’t think you should let that be the only thing that makes you turn away from this. You said it yourself, this is a once in a lifetime kinda thing.” Jimmy could see this hit home, he could see an immediate change in Shreya’s expression and body language. All he had to do was slow her down and make her feel as though she was in control.

Jimmy handed her the brochure and she looked at it keenly. It wasn’t talking about the haircut, of course. What it mentioned were the places you would visit and the things you would get to be involved with. After about a minute of flipping through it, she said, “Well… I really wanna do all these things, but do I HAVE to have my hair cut that short? It seems so random!”

The haircut part of the uniform was random, but it’s called a uniform for a reason. Everyone needed to look exactly the same. Bobs weren’t doing it, so they had taken it shorter.

“I know, but what are you gonna do. They make the rules. It’s part of the uniform. And don’t worry, as they say, it’s only hair; it grows!”

“Well, I guess it doesn’t have to be exactly as short as the booklet says!” she said, casually caressing her locks.

“It does not, but you know they have a barber at the camp as well. So in your 3-month stay over there, all of you will definitely be getting fresh haircuts every few weeks”, Jimmy said walking over to the chair. “I’ve heard it’s just better to get it out of the way,” he added before she could say anything in response.

She sighed deeply.

There wasn’t much left to say. Shreya stepped back to the chair hesitantly and sat down with a defeated look on her face, surrendering to her fate. She wasn’t even looking in the mirror – her face hung down withdrawn from the situation, she was easing into her own thought bubble. Her body sank into the chair cushions, and Jimmy could feel her unease in the whole situation. But he wasn’t one to sympathize with her. He’d been waiting for an opportunity like this for weeks!

He didn’t waste any time in swinging her chair around, away from the mirror, so she couldn’t see the sad mess she had become. He then reached out to get his favourite white-striped cape and threw it around her, covering her whole body with it. Fastening her bra-length hair up quickly, he wrapped a tissue around her neck a little tighter than he usually would and secured the cape at the back with a snap. He started pumping the chair down now. With each pump, Shreya’s head dipped down a little more and she started losing any feeling of control she may have had.

It was done; she couldn’t escape now, he thought. He had noticed that until girls that walked into his barbershop were caped up ready for their cut, they would squirm in their chairs and could decide to walk away. But once they got caped, it got interesting – the girls would hardly ever make a ruckus. They would just give in to him, and he could have their way with them!

“How short does it have to be again?” asked Shreya, hopeful that it wouldn’t be all that short after all? Much to her disappointment, Jimmy took his clippers out and plugged them in. “The clippers? I thought you’d be using scissors for this!” She had absolutely no idea what was about to follow, he thought. Taunting her, he undid her pony at the back and her hair flung down brushing her face.

“Well, with clippers it’s much easier to deal with this bulk. But you don’t worry about all that now”, he said avoiding the question as he placed the clippers on her forehead. Shreya closed her eyes shut tightly, she couldn’t keep them open anymore! She felt them being turned on, the vibration shook her entire forehead. Was he going to shave her bald?!

“I’ll clean up the top first, miss. Sit tight now”, Jimmy said, and without waiting for as much as a go-ahead from Shreya he pushed her head down into the clippers. The sound changed immediately as the clippers started eating into her hair right down the middle of her head. Jimmy had gotten to work, he was busy clipping her hair off row by row. Every pass would leave a thin layer of hair on her head, it was the number 1 clippers he was using after all. They barely left anything remaining. He passed them over her head again and again to clean the area he was working. Such a satisfying sound this is, he thought. Cutting all that long hair in one swipe, he would collect it at the back of her head and deliberately make the hair fall onto Shreya’s lap. She was in for a little treat today, he was going to give her a high and tight fade. Only on the top was he planning to use the number 2 guard. The sides and back would be shaved down to 1 or even 0, he hadn’t that decided yet. She’d look really pretty too, with all the bulk shaved down to nothing. Girls did look much prettier with their hair cut short, he thought. He could see her gasping for air as she tried to understand what was happening to her.

Shreya was turned away from the mirror so she couldn’t see anything yet. All she saw was hair falling everywhere onto the cape she was under. It was raining hair! She turned red just thinking about how short it was going to be. No sound had come out of her since she was put under the cape. She did not even dare ask! It was bad enough that he had turned the chair away from the mirror, but all this hair falling on the cape was making it worse.

 

The three girls

Just then, Aishwarya, Saloni, and Kritika walked into the barbershop, talking to each other chirpily. They fell silent the moment they heard the sound of the clippers, and helpless Shreya under the cape with her head pressed down to her chest. They saw Jimmy casually running the clippers on her head over and over. Hair was lying over her cape and around her chair. So much hair! The hair on the top of her head had almost been reduced to just a couple of inches.

“Wow, that girl is really going for the army look seems like!” said Kritika. Hearing this, Shreya felt all the more embarrassed. Here she was, with the chair facing the waiting area being sheared like a sheep. There was nothing she could do as of now except sit there with her head pressed down and give in to the haircut. It was like a show! Her face grew smaller as it fell deeper towards her chest, almost touching her boobs. She couldn’t exactly see who had walked in, or look up to see, Jimmy wouldn’t allow it. But she could sense all eyes were on her, and her frame under the cape drooped further down. She was feeling extremely self-consciousness and just wanted this whole thing to get over.

Right about then, Jimmy lifted her face holding her chin. “You okay there, Shreya? You’ve been awfully quiet!” he said taking a pause.

“Hmmm, yeah… I’m… alright, I guess. Just that… I didn’t expect… like the machine and… I didn’t want it… buzzed so short…” she was almost trembling, having so much trouble finding her usual volume of speech. Her face was red hot with awkwardness, the running clippers over her head while she sat there helplessly didn’t help her case either. She was not in a position of power. The sound of the machine scared her, she knew it was cutting off a whole lot of hair, but how much? At the rate shorn hair was falling onto her cape, soon enough she would have nothing left!

“What can I say, it is what it is. I did tell you how short it had to be! Umm… Do you mind sitting up, please, miss?” said Jimmy, and the shearing continued as he went to work again! Shreya took a deep breath. It was obviously way too late to say anything now, she just had to tough it out and let whatever was happening to her happen. Had he started off her with back, she could maybe asked him to stop and get out of this with an undercut. Since he had started off with the top, and there was no plan-B made available to her. She was forcefully made to commit to this haircut and it was extremely distressing she could do nothing at all to eject from this chair now.

The three girls had shut up and taken the bench in the waiting area. Truth be told, all of them, no matter how pepped up they were earlier, got scared by the sound of the clippers. Most of all, Aishwarya; she’d had no plans of stepping foot in a barbershop, let alone witness girls being shaved in this manner. Too busy staring at Shreya being sheared all this while, she almost didn’t notice the place she’d just walked into. The waiting benches, the three barber chairs, the black-and-white tile flooring, it was all typical high-end barbershop stuff. At least from what she had read and seen in movies. Even the smells were reminiscent of her haircuts as a child when her dad took her to the local barbershop, it was oddly musky scent of men’s after-shave and talcum powder. There were pictures of girls with very short boy’s haircuts all over the wall behind them, and newspaper cuttings on the wall to their left speaking of the glory days of men’s barbering. Her friends were barely talking now. Both reconsidering their decisions to come here, she thought. As for her, all she knew was she was extremely uncomfortable sitting there. For now, she could just try to process what was happening in front of her.

Jimmy turned the chair around halfway so the chair was now facing the entrance of the shop. Shreya still couldn’t see what had come of her haircut so far. Trying to peek from the corner of her eye into the mirror, it didn’t look like he’d cut anything at all, but she knew the top of her head had almost no hair left, it must have been a thin stubble of black hair. The sides and back of her head still had long flowing hair till her bra. She glanced at the three girls in the waiting area. Their eyes were all glued to her! She looked away quickly feeling even more conscious about herself and how she looked at this point. Her cheeks were flushed and she was almost breaking a sweat, thinking herself crazy about her hair being chopped like this off against her will!

Jimmy turned off the clippers, left Shreya in the chair looking like a complete clown with a half-shaved head staring sideways into the mirror. He turned around to address the girls in the waiting area. “Hey gals, what can I do you for today?” she heard him say, completely ignoring the hair massacre that he was subjecting her to. Jimmy had started off with the top first, but it looked so strange while it was incomplete! She shook her head in disbelief. How had she gotten herself into this?!

Kritika, who had been excited about this since the very beginning, got up immediately and said, “Hi, we’re here to get our haircuts. When is Chantal back, I’d called her earlier for an appointment?” Jimmy gave them all a quick glance around. “In about 5, have a seat here please.” he gestured to the barber chair next to the window.

Aishwarya couldn’t make eye contact with him, thinking to herself, ‘our haircuts’, why would you include me in this! Kritika came around and stood in front of her and Saloni. “This is gonna be EPIC y’all!” And then went and sat in the barber chair one place away from Shreya. She was way too excited for this, Aishwarya thought. She glanced at Saloni, who was also keenly looking at Shreya.

Jimmy went back to work with Shreya. He thought to himself, what a good day today – so many customers so early in the morning. He picked up the clippers and took off the guard completely. The clipper happy barber in him had woken up – he was going to town with those clippers on Shreya. Number 0 it was, decided at last!

Without any further notice to Shreya, he pushed her head down almost into her boobs with subtle force and then dug the clippers into her nape. Shreya felt the vibration on her neck and flinched forward instinctively. Jimmy’s strong hand held her down and he continued the shearing. It was the big clean up – he was just rid of hair at this point, there was no art here. He was just cleaning up her back and sides so he could see what he could see where the fade line would start.

He glided the clippers row by row all over her head holding it down firmly. Soon there was a giant pile of hair accumulated near the base of the chair. He brushed them all aside with his feet and moved to the right. He pushed Shreya’s head to the left and placed the clippers on her cheek. She was still not used to the clippers – it was such a weird sensation. In any case, there was little time to get used to it. The clippers were run all over the right side of her head almost up till her crown. The cool air of the barbershop AC penetrated her thin stubble and she got an idea of how short her hair really was. It was frighteningly short!

Before she knew it, Jimmy was turning the chair the other way and her head was being tilted and off went the clipper. And so did her hair! She was now again facing away from the mirror toward the side of the barbershop. The haircut was happening all too fast, she had no time to contemplate anything. Her disbelief had still not lifted and she tried to figure out how short was it really? Just then she heard Jimmy put shut the clippers off and put them down. Finally, she thought.

She realized she had celebrated way too early when she heard another buzzing sound again, this time a much higher-pitched one. Yet another pair of clippers! Jimmy placed it near her temples and did quick up-and-down motions sending shivers down her spine. He didn’t let her flinch, holding her head unyieldingly with his other hand. Soon he had gone all around her head creating the fade guideline. What was he doing, she thought.

He turned Shreya towards the mirror, at long last. She could not believe her eyes! As she cocked her head slightly she saw the line of bare skin near her temples tracing all the way around her head! It was the sight of pure horror! Her heart was pounding, this was way too extreme. She knew what was coming next, but she could hardly say anything! He had already gone ahead and shaved that line. Whatever was below was going to have to be shaved completely too! She couldn’t help but wince despondently – her eyes welled up looking at her own reflection. She did not sign up for this! And there she was, sitting there with all her hair shaved off lying around her, and there was more shaving to follow!

With tears flowing down her face, and her body trembling with embarrassment, Shreya spoke out in protest, “No please, I don’t want it so short!” But it was all in vain, the deed was done and there was little she could actually salvage at this point. “Miss, this is a standard NCC skin fade haircut. Please hold tight now, I’ve gotta clean up the back and sides”, said Jimmy as he turned on his clippers again. Shreya let out a short cry of dejection and bent her head down, deeply miserable, tears falling onto the cape. “I thought it was… a crew cut…” she gasped.

Ignoring her completely, Jimmy continued shaving her, baring an undisguised smirk. What a sight, he thought to himself, yet another helpless girl crying in my chair!

Aishwarya was absolutely stunned at this sight. She too could not believe her eyes! The cut was so severe, it was as good as a clean-shaven head, she thought! The barber did not show her any mercy despite her constant appeal – he just continued shaving her.

The door flew open and two girls wearing haircutting aprons walked in. This had to be the other two barberettes who worked here. One of them was sporting a short hairstyle – a very short pixie cut – and the other had her hair up in a short ponytail but had the right side of her head had been shaved down to her skin. They had a distinct swagger in their step. Slightly intimidated by their fearless strut and awestruck by how beautiful they both were, in spite of the severity of their haircuts, Aishwarya started feeling conscious about her being in a barbershop. She was gonna be the odd one out with long hair reaching below the butt!

 

The barberettes are back!

“Hey you, how’s the day going so far, Jimmy? It’s gotten so bloody hot, you’re gonna have to clean me up later today!” said the one with the pixie cut.

“Hi there Chantal, sure thing!” replied Jimmy. “And how’re you doing today Anne? How was the commute into the city?”

Anne, adjusting her apron, motioned to shoot herself with a finger gun and played dead. Then, turning to Aishwarya she said, “Are you next, miss?”

Aishwarya was a little taken aback by her suddenness and froze at first. “No… Um, she is,” she said timidly after some consideration, pointing toward her friend. Unimpressed, Anne turned to Saloni and invited her to the empty barber chair in between Shreya and Kritika, and Saloni obeyed silently by promptly getting off the waiting bench and making her way to it.

Chantal was already standing behind Kritika who’d been waiting in the barber chair, she was speaking to her about what she wanted to be done with her hair today. “I want it like yours, Chantal, but shorter,” said Kritika with the excitement of a child. Chantal said that could be arranged very easily, and got out her tissue roll and cape. She pumped the chair up before caping Kritika up. Saloni, who was just settling into the next chair, was almost ready for her haircut too. Anne caped her up with effortless ease and swung her towards the waiting area. Aishwarya watched from the waiting bench as both her friends were caped and the two barberettes got ready to start snipping, scissors in hand. Chantal and Anne glanced at each other sideways half-smiling, almost as if to say, look at these girls ready to get their locks cut off! All Aishwarya could think about was, if the girls would try to get her up on the chair next. They hadn’t said anything so far, and before they did she needed an exit strategy.

Chantal had taken her clippers out of the drawer and plugged them in. Kritika was now ready to be sheared like a sheep, and she had the silliest wide-eyed smile. She knew she was going to enjoy this, and sat with her head bowed. She already had very short hair, with the clippers, it would be reduced to nothing! Chantal pushed Kritika’s head further down with a firm grip, turned on the clippers, and started scooping out clumps of hair from Kritika’s nape. They fell down to the floor, starting to accumulate behind the chair. With the number 1 guard, Chantal was not leaving behind a whole lot of hair left on Kritika’s head. As the clipper moved up and down, the constant vibration made her giggle uncontrollably. Chantal had to stop a few times just to let the giggles subside before digging in with the clipper again.

In the next chair, Saloni had been showing her phone to Anne and discussing the haircut she was looking for. Anne was keenly listening with scissors in hand, ready to start snipping. After hearing about it for some time, Anne took Saloni’s phone and placed it on the counter, far from her reach. It was time to get the action started, and she gave that signal to Saloni, who silently succumbed to the Anne’s authority. She sat in the chair looking expectantly into the mirror, motionless.

Getting ready with a scissor in one hand and comb in the other, she pushed Saloni’s head forward. Spraying her hair with water, she combed down the uneven mess of hair on that back, and with one short upward motion made the hair she was going to snip stand up. With another practiced motion of her scissor-hand, she began cutting along the comb. Strands of cut hair flew across and landed on the floor. She repeated these motions all along the back and then proceeded to comb a section higher up near the crown. Slowly but surely, Saloni’s hair on her back was being cut down to just a few inches, and she sat in the chair giving up her fate to Anne’s ceaseless manoeuvres of scissor and comb.

Meanwhile, on the third chair, Shreya was just about getting done with her haircut. Jimmy had put down the clippers at long last and taken out a razor to clean her up further. He quickly grabbed a shaving cream jar from the counter, took some, and dabbed some of it onto her neck and sides. He ran the blade across her nape cleanly swiping the cream away, leaving a smooth layer of skin. He tilted her head sideways and ran the razor on what was left of her sideburns as well, and then repeated this action on the other side. Within a minute her nape and sides were shaved clean. She did not recognize who was looking back at her from the mirror. Her hair had been completely shorn, the back and sides of her head were shaved down to the skin! The tears running down her face had not stopped, and she felt it was very hard to get words out of her mouth. Not that there was anything left to say anymore.

As if to rub it in, Jimmy ran his hands through what was left of her hair – a very short tuft of hair on the top of her head. He massaged her head vigorously with his fingers, and with his firm strokes, her head swayed back and forth. Shreya already knew there was no hair on her head, but this drove the point home as she could feel his fingers making contact with her skin. Finally, Jimmy tore the tissue from the back and took the cape off, he then flicked it with casual adeptness. Tiny hairs sprayed across from the flick and landed on the floor. The pile of hair behind the chair was enormous! “There you go. All cleaned up!” he said, pumping down the chair completely, so she could get off easily. Anne, who was just about done sectioning the sides of Saloni’s hair, turned to give Shreya a wink and a thumbs up. She had a cheeky smile on her face, clearly teasing.

Aishwarya watched as Shreya looked up at herself in the mirror with teary eyes and got up from the chair in what could have been the most laboured movement she had ever witnessed. It was lush with regret and sorrow, and she could sense that.

Shreya could not even remember what she had looked like before. Only a mere 15 minutes in the chair, and she had gotten up from it like a completely different person. Shreya felt her head with her hands and “How much do I owe you… for this?” she said, facing away from the mirror. She couldn’t bear looking at herself now let alone feeling her head with her hands. “Oh don’t worry about it, you’re mother is coming in later today for her haircut, she said she’d take care of this.”

With a deep sigh, Shreya walked out of the barbershop with her gaze turned towards the floor. What a haircut this was! She would never forget. Especially since she had to go get a passport picture clicked now, and she’d have to do it looking like she’d just been freshly shaved.

As Shreya exited the barbershop, Aishwarya felt the attention shift to her almost immediately.

Jimmy walked towards her and motioned to the now-empty barber chair. “Miss, you’re up”, he said. Cape in hand, he went stood behind the chair spinning it to face the waiting area. Spinning it to face Aishwarya! Suddenly gripped by intense tension running through her body, she took a moment before replying, “No, I’m alright… Can I have a glass of water, please?” changing the subject altogether.

“Sure, do you mind going to the back? There’s a water cooler right around the corner here”, said Jimmy pointing to where she had to go. Aishwarya could not find the strength in her feet to do this. She struggled to finally get up and walk slowly towards the water cooler.

Saloni whose chair was facing her started off, “Come get your hair cut Aish. I feel so much lighter already!”

Her other friend, who had sat very silently as her hair was cut, joined in. “Hey, don’t be a spoilsport”, she said, “Why are you scared of getting your hair cut? Just sit down, it’s the best time for a summer haircut – you’ll enjoy this! GOSH!” She wasn’t really listening, all that was going through her head was how to get out of here, out of this situation. She was indeed feeling very conscious now, especially that her friends were trying to force her into this. The two barberettes also seemed to enjoy the tease. They stopped what they were doing and joined in the fun. “You know Jimmy is the best hairdresser I’ve ever met, he’ll do you good! You can trust him with your hair, you know? He’s the one who cuts mine!” said Chantal showing off her closely cropped haircut. Anne, who didn’t seem to be much of a talker until now, suddenly said addressing everyone, “Guys, free haircuts for all of you if shy-girl over here sits down in that chair! Hey miss, what have you got to lose? A little bit of hair?” bursting out into laughter.

This was not good. What was this grand conspiracy against her, she thought.

 

The third barber chair

Standing by the water cooler getting a quick sip of water, she looked around, and indeed, all eyes were on her. Jimmy, who’d been standing quietly by his barber chair, started cleaning up the mess on the floor. There was so much hair everywhere. Was Aishwarya going to add to this pile of hair herself? No, she thought, they can’t force me!

“Miss, it’s so hot outside, how can you not want to get it cut short?” he said, sweeping the floor.

Then, came something Aishwarya had feared from the very beginning. Kritika looked over her shoulder and said, “Hey, you know I’ve not forgotten about that money you owed me from last semester. You owe me Aishu, and you know it!” Aishwarya’s face became flushed as this issue was brought up. Unhonoured promises, as they often do, come back to bite you in the ass at just the wrong time. “I know Kritika, I’ve been meaning to tell you…” she said.

“You lost it, I know. Well, you owe me still.” Kritika interrupted. “And I don’t have money to pay for this haircut. I owe some to Saloni as well, so it looks like you owe the both of us! We’re already halfway through as well, so are you gonna help us out or what?”

Shit, this is not good, Aishwarya thought. She put down the glass and started walking towards the waiting bench.

“How about you take a seat here instead, miss?” Jimmy said with his hand on the third barber chair.

There’s no getting out of this, I might as well get this over with, I wanted a trim anyway, Aishwarya thought, breathing heavily and her heart pounding. Okay. Let’s do this, she thought and made her way to the barber chair.

“You guys stop freaking me out already”, she said finally settling into the chair. It was a very heavily cushioned barber chair, she sank into it for a good few seconds. It felt like quicksand – the more she struggled the more stuck she’d be. For a minute she got almost comfortable sitting there. Just then, Jimmy turned her around towards the mirror. The realization that she was in a barbershop, sitting in a barber chair hit her like a train, and she started feeling nauseous about her haircut. Calming herself down, she told herself that it was just going to be just a trim and there was no need to freak out.

Much to her horror, Anne came over behind her and said, “Did I mention, my offer only holds if you get cleaned up like the girl who just left the shop? I really liked that cut, and I think you’d look stunning with something like that.” She took Aishwarya’s long hair in her hand, pulled it with a rough jerk, and twisted it behind at her nape, trying to show her what she’d look like with shorter hair. Frightened at the touch of her fingers, she sat up straight in the chair. She couldn’t even imagine getting a haircut like that! “No way,” she said.

“Okay, I’ll tell you what”, Anne added, with a callous tone, “the second clause of my offer is that you get to do this in steps. We’ll keep going shorter until everyone agrees it’s short enough. Deal?”

“No, please, this isn’t fair! You can’t force me into this, I promise I will pay you back Kritika, just let my hair be today!” Aishwarya cried, almost pleading.

Kritika turned towards again, “I think it’s a fair deal! Plus there’s not much you can do as I said, we’re already here getting our haircuts. We’ve gotta pay after. Just trust me, you’ll be FINE. Sit back and relax, don’t think so much! You don’t have to pay me back the whole thing, just this and you’re done! Now stop talking!”

Aishwarya hung her head down in shame, realizing there was almost nothing she could do! It was an attractive offer though – the borrowed amount was a huge sum, and here she was getting out of the debt with just a haircut. But her hair! How could she put them in the hands of a stranger, that too a barber in a barbershop!? A barber she had seen with a track record of shaving girls’ heads down to their skin with clippers and razors what not!

Jimmy was standing by observing the tension in the room. He was enjoying this thoroughly, and he’d be enjoying it even more once he gowned her – she’d be absolutely powerless then. He looked at her sitting, thinking about what she needed to do, what a pitiful sight, he thought. Without saying a word, he opened up the cape that had been hanging from his arms and moved around behind the chair Aishwarya was in. She looked up at him with a sad face, looking for some sort of compassion.

He showed her none. “Please sit tight now, miss, this will not take long.”

He spun her around, away from the mirror, a classic trick of this. Before she could start protesting, Jimmy threw the cape around her, grabbed a piece of tissue from the counter, and wrapped it around her neck tightly. He glanced at Anne who gave him the go-ahead. Finally, he fastened the cape at the back. It was done, she was caped up and ready to go. “Alright… Go on…” she said, giving in to the situation, with no options available to her. She was going to get a haircut, there was no turning back.

“Oh don’t worry dear, we were gonna go on anyway. But thanks for letting us know we have your approval!” Chantal said from the other side, giggling uncontrollably like the girl she had in her chair. She’d gotten back to work on Kritika, whose head was being buzzed down to a crisp. Anne was cutting Saloni’s hair with her scissors still – she was cutting closely along her ear towards the nape, defining her boy-like haircut. Aishwarya was terrified by the thought of her hair being cut off like that.

Getting the scissors out, Jimmy moved behind Aishwarya and asked her to hold still. He took her hair in a pony in one quick movement, and before Aishwarya could fathom what he was planning to do with them, off they went! SNIP SNIP SNIP! He’d cut off most of her hair just like that, and he teasingly threw the ponytail in her lap. She looked down at it with an expression of horror. “No! How could you just cut it off like that?!” she said. There was no response. Jimmy was busy spraying water over her hair, wetting it. Massaging it into her head thoroughly, he picked up his scissors. But before she could digest this, he forced her head down into her chest and started cutting hair at her nape. With scissor over comb, he ploughed the comb into her nape and cut off huge chunks of hair in repeated motions of the scissors. The sound of the scissors running filled the whole barbershop, and Aishwarya felt like she at the centre of this. Turning red from guilt and regret, she got extremely self-conscious about her hair being lopped off. Jimmy combed hair down neatly at the nape, pressing his comb to her skin and chopped it off artfully. He was giving her a very short bob haircut, and was enjoying it! He moved to the side and put his scissors right next to Aishwarya’s cheek, pointing them towards the ear. Carefully snipping along the sides to meet the back, he created the classic bob. Hair was flying all over the place and adding to the pile on the floor behind the chair.

Jimmy worked very fast, and so fast even that she had no time to contemplate how she really felt about this. She knew it was already a very short haircut. A lump had formed in her throat and she was finding it hard to swallow. Saloni and Kritika were next to her getting even shorter haircuts, with clippers now running over both their heads. All the three girls sat there in a row, with massive amounts of hair falling to the floor every second, with every snip and every movement of the clippers. There was no sound in the room except for the clippers buzzing and scissors snipping.

“Take it shorter, will you, Jimmy?” said Anne out of the blue. Aishwarya struggling to find the courage to speak up said softly, “No please, this is short enough! It’s already so short!” Ignoring her pleas for mercy, Anne said to Jimmy, “Number 1 skin fade, high and tight. Just like the girl before! I said it before and I’ll say it again.”

“You said it boss”, Jimmy said, holding Aishwarya’s head strongly. She was constantly pleading him to stop, but to no avail – there was nobody in there who was gonna help her. While she pictured the girl who had left the shop crying earlier with an almost shaved head, he reached out to get the clippers on the counter and dug them into her nape, there was no guard there already from earlier when he had sheared Shreya with them. With no time to react or think about how to respond, Aishwarya sat there in the chair helplessly with her head pressed down. The shaving had already begun and it was too late to speak up again. “This is too short for me! How can you do this?! Kritika! Please! Ask them to stop! I beg you!” she said but Kritika stayed mum and Jimmy made no indication he was going to stop. Her eyes teared up and she sat there crying – the second girl who’d cried in that chair that day.

Jimmy moved the clippers through the thick mass of hair on the back of her head all the way up till the crown. With repeated upward motions grazing through, they left a trail of nothing but a sparse stubble. The clippers were devastatingly efficient at cutting off her hair; strands dangled at her side before sliding onto her lap. And she was left staring at them almost in a state of paralysis. The speed at which her hair was being cut, she knew it was too late to speak out in protest. Jimmy, as if embarrass her even more, tucked her ear to buzz hair around it. Long locks fell to the floor in a way Aishwarya had never imagined before. Poking fun at her shyness, he lifted her face at her chin and combed the top of her hair back and then ploughed the clippers right through the middle of her head. Aishwarya’s face, with now no hair to hide behind and ears defined neatly, was emphasized like never before.

Jimmy continued to disregard her tears and they streamed down from her face, he was busy cleaning up her whole head, everything had been brought down to an inch, all over.

Soon enough, the other two girls’ haircuts were done, and they were up and about feeling their heads. Aishwarya was still being sheared, she could hear them all excited. She had no time to think about them though, she couldn’t even see them properly because of all the tears in her eyes, nor was she in a mood to. As if to ridicule her even more, they then walked over to her chair and cheered Jimmy on as he ran the clippers all over her head. “Great job Jimmy, she’s all clean! I could never imagine there was a face underneath that hair! Look at all that hair on the floor, Saloni!” Kritika said, feeling up her own shaved head. And indeed Aishwarya’s face had never been exposed like this. They could see it was glowing red and were revelling in her discomfiture.

“Look at those ears of yours Aishwarya!” Saloni said pointing at them. Aishwarya’s head hung down with unease, she felt almost sick with awkwardness. It felt like her hair was no longer her property like she had handed it over to Jimmy, who had been taking advantage of this freedom. He had left no hair at all on her sides, just her top was left with a thin layer of hair. It was a high and tight skin fade; Aishwarya’s worst fears had come true. She could hardly believe it, and yet, staring back from the mirror was someone with an almost shaved head. She dreamt briefly about her long luscious mane. The dream was swiftly ended as Chantal came around and said, “Looking good there, shy-girl, you were in terrible need of some grooming. You should come down here every month for your cut. Look how fresh and crisp it is on top!”

“Shave her nape too, will you?” Anne said to Jimmy, dusting off her chair, “she’s got a hairy nape that needs a shave.” And he obeyed – out came the shaving cream. With quick movements, he spread the cream all over her nape and her sideburns. Aishwarya could not believe what was being done to her, all that hair reduced to the skin in just 10 minutes!

Everyone in the shop gathered around her chair as Jimmy worked the razor on her nape. With all her hair shaved off and practically nothing more to cut, she was let go from the shackles of the haircut cape. Despite the sudden liberation, she felt as if there was nowhere to go. Looking into the mirror with a sullen face, she tried to grasp how short of a haircut she’d been given. It still hadn’t sunk in; the sides and back were shaved completely, and whatever little hair remained on top had been cropped ultra-short with the scissors too.

Jimmy decided the humiliation wasn’t enough and ran his fingers through Aishwarya’s hair. He massaged her head, she felt his cold fingers as they rubbed her clean-shaven scalp. She closed her eyes, and her head swayed back and forth as he applied force with his hands, each movement lulling her into a deeper state of shock. Was this really happening to her, she thought. She opened her eyes and gasped at the image in the mirror. Never in a million years had she thought she would get a haircut like this.

Just this morning she had had a full head of hair flowing down to her butt, and there she sat in a barbershop just coming out of a haircut of a lifetime – with her locks shaved off and her friends and even barbers poking fun at her freshly cut hair. She wasn’t going to forget this day for a very long time to come.

Characters in this story
In the chair: Shreya, Kritika, Saloni, Aishwarya
Behind the chair: Jimmy, Chantal, Anne

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