Bourne Academy 7 – From Braided to Faded

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When the Board of Governors appointed Heather Richards as the new headmistress of The Bourne Academy, she immediately got to work. She began by introducing new policies and regulations that would help improve the academy’s performance and reputation. One of her first policies was a strict dress code for students, including a regulation bowlcut for all. Many were taken aback by this sudden change, but Heather believed that discipline and conformity were the key to success.

To ensure that her regulations were followed through, Heather brought in Brenda Shearer as the academy’s new barber. Brenda, with her attractive appearance and intimidating aura, was the perfect fit for the role. She was known for her love of cutting off long hair and creating crisp, short styles – making her the perfect match for Heather’s strict policies.

As expected, within just three weeks of Heather’s reign, the academy was almost unrecognisable. All the students had their hair cut short by Brenda, in accordance with Heather’s regulations. The academy was slowly but surely conforming to Heather’s vision of a disciplined institution.

However, Heather’s work was far from over. She soon realised that while the students were complying with her policies, many of the tutors were still not living up to the academy’s new image. While Heather had given a little more latitude to the tutors, they were still required to look professional by dressing in formal attire and maintaining their hair in short and neat styles. Heather believed that the tutors were vital role models for the students and, if they chose to ignore her guidelines, she needed to bring them firmly in line with her proven methods.

One of the tutors who caught Heather’s attention was Holly Green, a senior tutor with ecology and politics amongst her responsibilities. Holly, with her long black hair styled in two long plaits – unusual enough in itself for a woman in her forties – and her casual attire of jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, and boots, was an oddity among the academy’s staff. Heather knew that Holly had been against her policies from the start, and she believed that she had been inciting students to rebel.

Determined to set an example, Heather requested that Holly urgently come to her to her office to discuss important matters. After exchanging pleasantries, Heather wasted no time in addressing Holly’s appearance. ‘Put simply, Ms Green, your appearance is unsatisfactory for a tutor in The Bourne Academy. Your hair and your clothes set a bad example to the students,’ Heather stated bluntly.

‘How I choose to style my hair and how I dress make no difference to my ability to teach,’ Holly sneered.

‘But your unkempt appearance may affect how receptive your students are to your teaching. And may I remind you, Ms Green, that tutors must conform to the academy’s policies, or they must resign,’ the headmistress declared sternly.

Holly’s eyes widened at the harsh rebuke. She had nearly resigned when Heather was appointed as she disagreed with her strict policies. But she decided to stay and fight from the inside. Holly was about to speak but Heather silenced her with a dismissive wave of the hand.

‘Furthermore, you even allow your personal choices to go against your ecological and political principles,’ Heather went on.

‘Nonsense,’ Holly countered, looking more bemused than worried, confident that this was not the case.

Heather Richards read from a sheet of paper on her desk. ‘I have a report, backed up by detailed figures prepared by a government scientist, which proves that the volume of water you use to shampoo and condition your long hair is far more than the total used by all your students with their smart short haircuts. With a drought anticipated that is bad enough, but your use of greater quantities of hairstyling products, when compared with your more considerate students, is disproportionately polluting the reduced ground water levels. What do you have to say, Ms Green?’

‘It’s nonsense!’ Holly refuted. ‘Let me see that,’ she demanded, reaching out for the sheet of paper.

‘It’s scientific facts,’ Heather countered, dropping the sheet of paper – that just happened to be an old supermarket shopping list – into an open drawer and, nudging it closed. She bit her lip to stop herself laughing. ‘How do you reconcile your use of water and resources to maintain your long hair with your role as an ecology tutor?’

Without the facts – or even Heather’s shopping list – to hand, Holly bravely attempted to defend her position but, after a great deal of arguing, she grudgingly gave in to Heather’s demands.

‘Excellent. Well, before we pop in to see Ms Shearer, please could I ask you change into the more appropriate outfit that I have had laid out for you over there,’ Heather requested pleasantly, pointing to one of the visitor’s chairs.

Holly screwed up her nose in disgust at the dowdy attire, grumbling about the absurdity of these new rules, but she knew she had to comply. ‘Change where?’

‘Here will be fine,’ Heather stated simply. ‘It won’t take long.’

‘In front of you?’

‘Yes, that’s right,’ Heather confirmed with a smile.

Holly gave am exasperated sigh before stripping off her clothes. She laughed at the irony of her T-shirt proclaiming rights for animals, given she felt that they had more rights than she did at that moment.

Holly put on the white blouse, the grey skirt and matching jacket. She arranged the collar over the blouse to splay over the jacket, giving her a sense of individual style.

Heather stood in front of Holly, looking her up and down. Holly metaphorically kicked herself as she unconsciously stood to attention for inspection by the headmistress. Heather nodded but then buttoned up the collar of the blouse all the way to Holly’s neck, negating the tutor’s attempt at personalisation and leaving her feeling thoroughly humiliated.

‘Much better, Ms Green,’ Heather proclaimed, and guided Holly through the connecting door to Ms Shearer’s study.

= * = * =

Following Heather Richards next door, Holly Green was amazed by Ms Shearer’s so-called study, but not in a good way. Although Holly had heard all the stories about this room, she was still taken aback to see it was nothing more than a fully functional traditional barbershop. A single black leather and chrome traditional barber’s chair faced a large mirror, with an array of hairclippers hanging on hooks next to it. On a shelf below the mirror were scissors, combs, and other haircutting equipment. A rail to one side proudly displayed ponytails that Brenda had cut off from the students, and Holly shivered when she realised that she could identify the original owners of some.

‘This is where Ms Shearer works her magic,’ Heather stated with a hint of pride. ‘You will be the first to receive the academy’s standard haircut for tutors.’

Holly could not believe it. She was being forced to conform to Heather’s rigid policies, and it was evident that there was no room for individuality in this academy. ‘I hope it is not as ridiculous as the regulation cut for students,’ she sneered.

‘It’s different,’ Brenda smirked enigmatically, eager to try out her freshly devised tutor regulation haircut on a willing, or even less than willing, victim.

‘Sit!’ the barber ordered abruptly, pointing first at Holly and then towards her barber’s chair.

Brenda could sense Holly’s anger and resentment towards her, and that only fuelled her excitement at the thought of cutting off her absurd and rebellious plaits. She quickly caped the tutor and allowed her plaits to fall each side of her face and, such was their ridiculous length, they coiled in her lap. Both women knew they had reached a pivotal moment.

Brenda Shearer reached for a hairbrush. Invariably, at this stage, Brenda would undo any existing buns, braids or ponytails and create her favoured single ponytail at the back of the head. Holly’s fierce expression dared Brenda to touch her hair in any way at all.

The barber did not take kindly to any challenge to her authority, whether spoken or not. She quickly exchanged the hairbrush for scissors. Without a pause, Brenda lifted one of Holly’s plaits and snipped it off level with her ear. ‘We don’t need this, do we?’ she joked, before dispatching the second plait equally quickly. ‘Or this one,’ she grinned.

Holly rarely found reason to smile and be happy. She frequently found cause to be angered, whether justified or not. But she never publicly displayed a hint of any other emotion. However, on seeing her two plaits dangling from Ms Shearer’s hand, she choked back a cry of anguish, and her eyes reddened.

‘That’s looking much better already,’ Brenda declared, smirking as she dropped the severed plaits in Holly’s lap.

The barber then used hairclippers to buzz the back and sides of Holly’s hair, using the same technique as she would when fashioning a bowlcut. However, rather than reducing the hair on top of Holly’s head to a neat and glossy cap, Brenda layered it all to about two inches.

Picking up a large-toothed comb, the barber expertly lifted sections of hair on the crown and held the comb horizontal. She ran the hairclippers along the comb and they clattered loudly against the plastic. After continually repeating this action, expertly and quickly, from different directions, Holly’s locks were reduced to a uniform black brush where each individual hair stood vertically to attention on top of her head. Brenda completed the haircut by shaving the back and sides of Holly’s head down to the skin at the hairline.

‘The new regulation haircut for tutors,’ Brenda announced proudly, removing the cape from Holly. ‘A nice, tidy flattop.’

Holly’s expression of shock and anger turned into one of disbelief as she realised what Brenda had done. ‘You have given me a flattop haircut?’ she spat, glaring at Brenda.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ the barber smirked calmly, clearly enjoying Holly’s reaction to the power Brenda held in her hands.

‘This is an outrage! I will be taking legal advice,’ Holly declared, standing up from the chair and examining her hair closely in the mirror.

‘There’s no need for that, Miss Green,’ the headmistress piped up. ‘Any reputable lawyer will confirm that you definitely have a flattop haircut,’ she, uncharacteristically, joked.

Brenda joined in with Heather’s chuckling, while Holly was taken aback by Heather’s flippancy regarding such a massive change to her appearance. A flattop haircut had been forced upon Holly by the academy barber, and she was lost for words.

‘Your enhanced appearance is very suitable, and perfect for a tutor in The Bourne Academy,’ Heather declared, pleased with Holly’s uncompromising professional appearance. ‘An excellent role model for the students, and also offering great encouragement to your fellow tutors who I will require to adopt the same professional appearance.’

However, Holly’s face was anything but happy. She glared at Heather, her eyes blazing with fury. ‘You have no right to do this to me. This is not who I am.’

Heather raised her hands in a placating gesture. ‘I understand that change can be difficult, but as the headmistress of this academy, it is my responsibility to enforce our policies, and that includes regulating the appearance of our staff and students.’

Holly shook her head in disbelief. ‘Is this really what this academy has come to? Forcing people to conform to a certain look?’

Heather remained unfazed. ‘We are not forcing you, Ms Green. We are simply setting an example for our students. And I must say, you now look so much more professional.’

Holly’s eyes filled with tears of frustration. ‘I didn’t sign up for this. I signed up to teach and to make a difference, not to be a mere puppet in your little game.’

Heather’s face hardened. ‘This is not a game, Ms Green,’ the headmistress bellowed. ‘This is about bringing structure and discipline to this academy. And I will not have anyone, especially a senior tutor like yourself, defy me.’

Holly knew that she would not win this battle. She stormed out of the barbershop, while her political mind was already planning her next move.

= * = * =

Over the next few days, Brenda Shearer called all the tutors, one by one, to her barbershop. Some were apprehensive, others were compliant, but they all left with the same neat, regulation flattop haircut. Their updated and uniform appearance made it clear to the students that the tutors were also conforming to the academy’s policies, setting an example for them to follow.

Holly Green sent a complaint about her treatment to the Board of Governors and hoped that would see an end to the diabolical reign of the demonic Heather Richards. The Board tasked Mary Rogers, the youngest of the governors, with interviewing the complainant. Holly thought that young Mary would empathise with her plight, as well as that of the other tutors and the students. However, when Holly observed Mary had the same regulation bowlcut as the students, she immediately realised that her complaint was likely to fall on stony ground.

Mary Rogers praised Holly’s flattop haircut, saying it was enchanting, and thought she might ask Brenda, the lovely barber, if she could have the same style. At that moment, Holly accepted that she would need to keep her head down and plan a different course of action to persuade the Board of Governors to dismiss Heather Richards from her post.

In the weeks that followed, the situation at The Bourne Academy changed drastically. The students, once rebellious and unruly, now had a sense of discipline and structure. The academy buzzed with a newfound energy.

Even Holly, although still resentful towards Heather, could not deny that there was a change was for the better. The students were more attentive in class, their grades were improving, and there was a sense of unity and pride among them.

Heather called Brenda into her office one Friday evening to thank her for helping her achieve another milestone on her plan to turning around the fortunes of The Bourne Academy.

Uncharacteristically, Heather withdrew a bottle of brandy and two crystal glasses from the back of a filing cabinet and poured them both generous measures.

‘Thank you for all you have done, Brenda, and here’s to continuing our work together,’ Heather said, chinking their glasses together.

‘Ah, Heather, I need to talk to you about that …’

TO BE CONTINUED

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