Bourne Academy 9 – The Bald Rebel with a Cause

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‘Welcome back, everyone,’ Heather Richards, the recently appointed headmistress of The Bourne Academy, broadcast to the tutors and students after the mid-year break.

Standing behind the lectern on the stage of The Great Hall, she paused for effect. She may have been expecting a lively response from the assembled masses, but no sound or movement was forthcoming.

‘I want to thank you all for your acceptance and perseverance with all the changes over the past few months. The reputation of our distinguished establishment is increasing once more. Our examination results are testament to the excellent teaching by our tutors and the diligent studying by our students. It is remarkable what we have achieved together. Very well done to you all!’

It was a rousing speech, but the audience greeted it with an ominous silence. The changes Heather Richards had introduced had been radical, and it had been inevitable that complaints occurred. However, anyone who persisted with their objections had now left the academy, voluntarily or otherwise.

‘In a few moments I will introduce you to the newly arrived students and our recently appointed Head of Science,’ Miss Richards announced, ‘but firstly I have sad news to give you. Ms Brenda Shearer, who all of you will know, has left her full-time post as the barber for The Bourne Academy -’

A hum of relieved cheers immediately arose from the audience, interrupting the headmistress’ speech. All the students and tutors knew her because she had cut their hair radically short and, thereafter, regularly kept it short. Heather Richards’ steely gaze quickly silenced the interruption.

‘However, Ms Shearer may return on a part-time basis in due course, and I’ll be sure to pass on your appreciation for all she has done for us,’ she added. Brief muted groans from the audience soon faded away.

‘On a brighter note, I am pleased to announce that we have appointed an excellent replacement. Until recently, she was a student here. Rather than seek further academic challenges, she has opted to use her abundant practical talent and follow her passion. She has received training from Ms Shearer over the past few months and studied intensively during the mid-year break. She has developed outstanding abilities, allowing her to continue Ms Shearer’s excellent work. Please welcome Miss Sara Dart.’

The former student confidently marched on to the stage wearing a short white tunic that was reminiscent of the one habitually worn by her predecessor. Sara’s most obvious difference, compared with other tutors and students in the academy, was that she was completely bald.

Fellow students had shaved Sara’s extremely long hair during a failed attempt at rebellion. The plan was to discredit Heather Richards and have the Board of Governors dismiss her, but the plan backfired. However, subsequently, Sara had enjoyed flaunting her unique appearance at a time when Miss Richards had forced all the other students to adopt identical severe bowlcuts.

Miss Richards had tried to convince Sara to regrow her hair and then have it styled to meet academy standards, but Sara had resisted. Despite her youth, Sara Dart was an imposing character and her shaved head served to reinforce that trait. Those tutors and students who had had their hair maintained by her during her period of training under Brenda Shearer, had learnt that she was no less strict and no less forceful than her mentor had been.

Heather was delighted when Sara agreed to take on the role of academy barber, and she viewed her as a strong ally as she continued to reorganise the academy.

Tepid applause met Sara Dart’s generous but well-merited introduction from Heather Richards. From the viewpoint of the headmistress, the response of the tutors and students confirmed that she had made a wise appointment. It was comforting to know they already feared Sara Dart as much as they did her predecessor. She was confident that she would maintain the standards that she had introduced.

Sara Dart had amply reinforced Heather’s opinion during a planning meeting they held one day earlier …

= * = * =

‘So, Sara, the start of the second half of the year tomorrow,’ Heather Richards, remarked from across the large desk in her office. ‘I will be introducing you to everyone during morning assembly and then I will allow you to get on with the rest of your day. How are you feeling?’

‘Excited, Heather,’ Sara chuckled, the light reflecting off her gleaming bald head as she moved.

‘Have you settled into your study?’ Heather asked, referring to the adjoining room used by the academy barber for cutting hair.

‘Brenda left it tidy, but there’s still the matter of what to do with the massive amount of cut hair that she hung by the wall,’ Sara complained. ‘I’ll need that space for my own trophies,’ she added, giggling.

‘Sorry about that, Sara. It worked well to visually reinforce compliance in the early days but, I agree, it is unnecessary now,’ Heather conceded. ‘I had asked Brenda to dispose of it. She had assured me that she knew how to do so, and that it would not cost us too much. I will send her a reminder and hopefully we can rectify that this week.’

‘Thanks, Heather,’ Sara acknowledged. ‘The whole academy will require their maintenance cuts promptly after the recent vacation, so it will be good to have the study fully prepared. And I am looking forward to inducting the new joiners as well.’

‘Yes, we have seven new mid-year students joining us of various ages, as well as a new Head of Science,’ Heather recalled, consulting the list in front of her. ‘I imagine you wish to schedule their regulation haircuts during the next day or two, won’t you?’

‘No, first thing,’ Sara countered intensely. ‘During assembly, please. On stage. In front of everyone. I want to start my new role by making a strong statement to the whole academy that I am taking matters seriously. Reinforcing the view that I will be maintaining the standards implemented by Brenda, and that I will not take any nonsense.’

‘Well … yes,’ Heather said, drawing out her words contemplatively. ‘I’m not sure if -’

‘It’s what you and Brenda did, when you started,’ Emma pointed out indignantly, something she would not have dared to do as a student just a month or so earlier. ‘You got Emma Andrews up on the stage because she had the longest hair in the academy, and Brenda chopped it all off into a bowlcut. I remember!’

‘Yes, but that was to make a strong impact when I arrived … it was a gesture needed at that time,’ Heather argued. ‘I’m not sure if -’

‘I wish to announce my arrival strongly too,’ demanded Sara. ‘I require the barber’s chair and my equipment to be in place, on stage, first thing tomorrow morning. Also, alongside, a bench or a row of chairs for the new inductees to sit and wait their turn for my hairclippers.’

‘Won’t making them wait in view of everyone be rather cruel and upsetting?’ Heather Richards mused.

‘Yes,’ Sara said simply, her lips curving in an evil grin. ‘It will demonstrate to everyone that I mean business!’ She stood up, preparing to leave. ‘Heather, I will now be going next door to tidy my study and prepare for tomorrow’s busy day of maintenance cuts after assembly and, unless it’s urgent, I prefer not to be disturbed.’

‘Absolutely, Sara. We will catch up when time allows,’ Heather acknowledged.

As the new academy barber passed through the connecting door to her study, Heather Richards murmured under her breath with a wry smile, ‘That’s my girl.’

= * = * =

Returning to the present day, Heather’s “girl” stood, grinning and attentive on stage, with a large curtain draped behind her.

‘The tutors and students of The Bourne Academy would now like to welcome the new arrivals who are joining us for the second half of the year. As I read your name, please come up onto the stage and take a seat on the bench over there.’ Heather gestured to an uncomfortable looking low wooden bench that she had borrowed from the gymnasium. ‘Jessica Marsh …’

A student with immaculate long hair, French-braided through the top and finished in two long beribboned plaits, looked around her nervously and stood up. Doubtless embarrassed by the headmistress singling her out on her first day, but comforted when six other students soon joined her. They all filed onto the stage and squatted down on the ridiculously low wooden bench. Polite applause followed their progress.

‘And finally, our new Head of Science – who will also be tutoring in mathematics – Miss Georgina Sutton,’ Heather proudly announced, before summarising her comprehensive academic achievements. Georgina stood and, looking bemused, she cast her eyes over the assembled crowd around her, bowing slightly in recognition of the respectful applause. She prepared to sit down but paused as Miss Richards called out to her. ‘If you could please pop up on stage too, Miss Sutton.’

Georgina nodded although continued to look puzzled by the strange proceedings. As she climbed the steps to the stage, everyone could marvel at her glossy, thick and poker straight blonde hair that hung down loose behind her, glistening in the light, and covering her bottom.

As she reached the bench fully occupied by the students, she looked around her. She expected to find a more comfortable chair that was more befitting her status.

Sara Dart marched over and looked down sternly at the row of students, her bald head giving her a threatening air. ‘Budge up, you lot, and make room for another one,’ Sara sneered. They responded by shuffling along immediately. ‘There we are Miss Sutton,’ Sara gestured, her expression transformed into the sweetest of smiles.

Heather Richards stifled a chuckle that she disguised by turning away from the assembly and coughing gently.

Georgina looked at Sara in irritation and peered down at the low bench with displeasure. She looked over to the headmistress, seeking assurance that she could avoid the indignity. But Heather’s curt nod indicated that the new Head of Science should follow Sara’s instructions. Not wishing to make a scene on stage – but making a mental note of her objection for later discussion with Miss Richards – she was able to bend her knees sufficiently to perch uncomfortably on the bench.

= * = * =

‘Thank you everyone for welcoming the new arrivals to The Bourne Academy,’ Heather Richards said to the audience, before turning to face those on stage. ‘The academy proudly adheres to certain customs. Customs documented in the literature we have sent to all of you. There is a requirement to have neat and tidy hair. The uniform regulation haircut fosters inclusivity, aids superb teaching, and promotes diligent academic study. Together, these qualities enhance the academy’s growing reputation for excellence. So, Miss Dart,’ Heather said simply, gesturing with her hand for Sara to take control.

‘Jessica Marsh,’ Sara read from a slip of paper before thrusting it back in her white tunic. The first person called on stage earlier looked nervously from side to side, wondering what she was supposed to do. Beckoning with her index finger, Sara added, ‘Get over here.’

Jessica stood up nervously and walked slowly towards Sara Dart. She gasped when the academy barber pulled back the curtain behind her to reveal a black leather and chrome traditional barber’s chair. A trolley with a variety of haircutting equipment stood alongside. ‘Sit!’ Sara insisted, with a wave of her hand.

Jessica realised she had no choice but to obey. So, with heart pounding, she levered herself up into the chair that was far too large for her. Sara pumped the chair up even higher and covered Jessica with a large white cape. Smirking, Sara lifted the long plaits that emerged from the complex French-braiding. She arranged them to snake over Jessica’s shoulders, down her chest, and allowing the beribboned ends to gather in her lap.

Sara’s predecessor had a reputation for simple efficiency. Brenda Shearer’s technique had been to cut hair as quickly as possible. Frequently, to save time, future victims had their hair put into a ponytail by a friend before Brenda unceremoniously chopped it off. Sara had every intention of maintaining efficiency but could see no issue with making her work more of a performance.

The academy’s barber stood behind Jessica in the chair and stared disapprovingly at the complicated braiding before her. She contemplated unravelling it all, brushing it through and creating a ponytail. Instead, she took her extremely sharp scissors, pulled one of the long plaits taut, and unemotionally snipped it off without any consultation.

‘No!’ Jessica bleated quietly, looking morosely at her severed hair dangling like a pendulum from Sara’s hand.

There was a collective gasp from the assembly. From experience, they would have expected the result, but they would not have anticipated the unfamiliar manner of its execution. A louder intake of breath came those waiting on the bench, as they would never have expected such savagery.

Sara Dart held the cut hair aloft and prepared to twirl it around, over her head. However, out of the corner of her eye, she caught Miss Richards’ admonishing glare. Looking a little sheepish, Sara tossed the plait over to the headmistress. She promptly chopped off the second plait, before handing that to her as well.

Using her fingers to unravel the remnants of the French-braiding, Sara soon had Jessica’s remaining hair smoothed into an unruly and uneven chin-length bob. A cursory brush of the bobbed hair smoothed out the waves that had arisen from its confinement.

Sara exchanged her scissors for heavy duty red hairclippers. Despite her youth and relative inexperience when compared with her mentor, the new barber gave Jessica a short and severe bobbed style. She had cut it high above her ears, with a fringe halfway up her forehead. Sara reduced the bristles on Jessica’s neck and temples down to the skin by using an efficient foil shaver. The result was an even fresher and more disciplined appearance. After Jessica’s surprised outburst of grief at the start, she had remained silent throughout her ordeal. She had used all her energy to prevent herself from crying on stage following the humiliation.

‘I really must protest …’ Miss Sutton, the new Head of Science, remonstrated, jumping to her feet.

‘No, not now!’ the headmistress scowled, hissing under her breath, her message clear. A grumbling Miss Sutton, astonished by the intense retort, disconsolately returned to the bench.

‘A severe and practical bowlcut,’ Miss Richards declared with a satisfied smile, unashamedly pleased with the outcome. ‘Just as we like it,’ she continued, waving an inclusive hand over the assembled audience. Turning to face those on the bench, she added smugly, ‘And just as each of you will like it, when you receive the same hairstyle shortly, and when it is kept in trim every week from now on.’

Sara Dart beamed as she whisked away the cape from Jessica Marsh. Heather Richards directed the newcomer from the stage so she could join her similarly coifed classmates.

In addition to disturbing Miss Sutton, the incident had affected each of the new students in diverse ways. Two appeared to be shedding tears as they comforted each other by holding hands. Others were angry, and at least one seemed intrigued and excited.

Sara smirked as she withdrew the list from her tunic and looked towards the bench.

= * = * =

‘Rebecca Wells,’ Sara Dart recited from her list, licking her lips as she stared at the next student requiring her attention. Rebecca staggered to her feet on shaking legs and painfully slowly put one foot in front of the other.

The reason for Sara’s eager anticipation was the sight of Rebecca’s thick auburn waves that she wore loose and whose neatly trimmed ends skimmed the back of her knees. It was not a very sensible hairstyle for any sort of activity. The only concession to practicality was a red velvet hairband keeping her locks back from her face.

Once Rebecca had finally perched herself on the barber’s chair, Sara plucked the red velvet band from her hair. Sara examined it with obvious disdain and then carelessly tossed it away behind her. ‘You won’t need that thing anymore,’ she muttered under her breath, so no one else could hear. ‘You won’t have enough hair left to get any benefit from it in a few minutes,’ she cackled.

As Sara shook out her large white cape, grinning enthusiastically, Rebecca leapt to her feet. ‘No!’ she screamed. Without a pause, she rushed down the steps of the stage and disappeared through the main entrance of the Great Hall.

Heather Richards gave a curt nod to Mary Rogers who was waiting in the wings. Mary was the youngest member of the academy’s Board of Governors and, despite her initial objections to the methods used by the headmistress, she had become one of her greatest advocates. Going forward, Heather had given her a special responsibility for maintaining hair and dress standards. It was only right that Mary went off to discipline Rebecca Wells following her unseemly behaviour.

‘Ah, it seems Miss Wells has chosen to dart off,’ Sara chuckled, making light of the incident by referencing her surname. Retrieving her slip of paper, she announced, ‘Andrea Stanton.’

The next student stood up from the bench. Sara could not help but be disappointed as she saw that Andrea had limp hair that only reached to the middle of her back. She looked wistfully towards the door through which Rebecca had escaped, and then turned back to the matter in hand.

Taking out her frustration on her latest victim, Sara Dart quickly dispatched Andrea Stanton’s hair. Sara had shaved Andrea’s bowlcut noticeably higher than the academy regulations dictated. Sara judged it a significant improvement and made a mental note to discuss with the headmistress a revised shorter standard for students’ regulation haircuts.

‘Uniformity,’ Miss Richards mouthed, frowning at Sara’s departure from the standard.

Sara understood the message and appreciated the need for all the students to have identical haircuts. She shrugged sheepishly in apology, and then nodded to signify her agreement. Andrea would have to be the odd-one-out while her hair grew. Sara decided she may have to shelve her new proposal until she was more established in her role.

‘Alice Meeson,’ Sara called out and, in quick succession, the four remaining new students received their regulation bowlcut from the academy’s barber.

On the bench, just one person remained.

= * = * =

‘Miss Georgina Sutton, our new Head of Science,’ Sara heralded majestically.

Georgina scrambled up from the low bench and stood attentively, facing the audience below. Her blank expression throughout the recent proceedings had masked her disapproval of the methods being employed by The Bourne Academy. However, after her embarrassing public dressing down by the headmistress, she had decided that immediately after assembly she would raise her objections in private.

‘Good morning, everyone!’ In the short term, the Head of Science was grateful for what she had assumed was opportunity to address the whole academy. She had prepared a brief speech, indicating how the science curriculum would unfold under her guidance. ‘It gives me great pleasure -’

‘Me too,’ Sara sniggered quietly. The interruption was sufficient for Georgina to stumble over her words. She wondered why Miss Richards allowed this impudent shaven headed youngster to wield so much power. She added it to her list of matters to discuss with the headmistress.

‘As I was saying, it gives me -’

‘Later,’ Sara snapped. ‘Come here and sit down.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ Georgina spat. ‘If you think you’re cutting my hair and giving me a mushroom cut,’ Georgina stated heatedly, wagging her finger at Sara, ‘then you’ve got another thing coming.’

Sara chuckled. ‘I don’t think that at all, Miss Sutton,’ she said, injecting her rebuttal with syrupy innocence, as she waved a hand expansively over the barber’s chair. ‘But you may wish to take a seat …’ adding, tongue in check, ‘I mean, all that talking … well, it must be tiring …’

Georgina Sutton had only said a handful of words so far, but she had completely missed the barber’s sarcasm. Without thinking, she sat down. ‘Thank you,’ she accepted primly, nodding to Sara, and perching on the chair. Looking out once again over the assembled tutors and students, Georgina smiled. ‘It -’

A large white cape floating down and settling upon her body had muffled Miss Sutton’s subsequent words. The incident gave rise to a hum of amusement. Before Miss Sutton could object, the barber had fastened the cape securely at her neck. Sara arranged Georgina’s glossy, thick and poker straight blonde hair to hang down loosely behind the chair, with the ends skimming the floor. The new Head of Science’s hair glistened like polished chrome under the bright stage lights of The Great Hall.

‘Excuse me!’ Georgina complained indignantly, looking down in surprise at the sudden appearance of the white cape that now enveloped her. ‘Get this thing off me. You heard what I said earlier. Get it off,’ she yelled, comically waving her hands ineffectively under the cape that billowed like a tent in a strong wind.

‘Yes, I heard what you said,’ Sara admitted patiently, ‘and I confirm that I will not be giving you a mushroom haircut.’

‘I should think not,’ Georgina bristled, under the bemused gaze of the whole astonished academy. ‘So -’

‘However, contrary to your belief, I will be cutting your hair,’ the barber confirmed with glee, as she began to gather all of Georgina’s long blonde hair into a massive ponytail at the back of her head. Sara leant forward and, using the brushing to disguise her intent, she whispered into Georgina’s ear.

‘If you cause a fuss and do not allow me to cut your hair this morning, then Miss Richards has told me you will be in breach of contract. The headmistress has made the requirement for you to succumb to my scissors abundantly clear before you signed that contract. If you refuse, the academy will dismiss you and provide you with no references. Furthermore, you must immediately repay the sizable loan Miss Richards granted you as an advance on your salary to settle your debts. While your gambling may have got you in a pickle, it does seem that especially for a mathematics tutor, that you are not particularly good with numbers. Now, Miss Sutton, did you wish to try leaving … and take a chance?’

‘Miss Richards had no business talking to you about my personal matters,’ Georgina murmured indignantly. I’ve a good mind -’

‘Well, if you do have a good mind,’ Sara chuckled quietly, so only Georgina could hear, ‘then it will benefit from being unencumbered by this ridiculous mass of hair on top of it.’ Continuing at a volume everyone could hear, she added poignantly, ‘Oh, what a magnificent ponytail.’

Sara admitted to herself that the thickness, glossiness, and length of Georgina Sutton’s hair set it apart from any other ponytail she had ever seen. Or had the privilege of chopping off.

Georgina looked across imploringly at the headmistress. Heather had correctly surmised the conversation that had taken place so, with a thin smile, she nodded to confirm that all that Sara had said was true. Miss Sutton, crushed, felt dejected.

‘So, not a mushroom haircut?’ Georgina pleaded timidly, finally giving tacit agreement for Sara to cut her hair.

‘No, something a little more geometric for the mathematics tutor,’ Sara giggled at her pun, ‘as we do need to cover every angle.’

Georgina had been the only one to hear Sara’s mild attempts at humour. Her loud groan disguised the first crunch of the barber’s scissors on the base of her ponytail. More chops with the scissors followed in quick succession and, after a short while, Sara had removed Georgina’s massive ponytail from her head.

‘Quite remarkable,’ Sara proclaimed for everyone to hear, gesticulating with Georgina’s hair as she would a trophy. Using her other hand to support the ponytail, she exaggerated its heaviness, but perhaps not by too much. Lowering her voice so only Georgina could hear, she added mockingly, ‘A fine addition to the collection in my study … and do feel free to come and visit at any time.’

Georgina knew that whatever Sara did could only be an improvement now that she had cropped her so short. Her mind drifted away from the actions she would be performing. Fed up hearing Sara Dart’s incessant drivel, Georgina hissed, ‘Just get on with it.’

And that’s exactly what Sara did. Taking her heavy duty red hairclippers from the table, the barber held Miss Sutton’s head in place and quickly buzzed off all the hair on the back and sides. The barber then layered all the remaining hair on the crown to around two inches. Picking up a large-toothed comb, she carefully lifted section after section of hair on the crown and held the comb horizontal. With each section, Sara ran the hairclippers along the comb and they clattered loudly against the plastic. She repeated the action, precisely and quickly, from different directions. Eventually, Sara reduced Georgina’s once magnificent long locks to a uniform blonde brush with each individual hair standing to attention on top of her head. The barber completed the haircut by using the foil shaver to remove all trace of bristles from the back and sides of Georgina’s head. Where once her hair glistened brightly, bare white skin now gleamed.

‘The regulation haircut for all tutors,’ Sara announced proudly, removing the cape from around Georgina’s neck. ‘A nice, tidy flattop.’

Coming out of her self-imposed trance, Miss Sutton expressed shock and anger at hearing what the young barber had done. Without a mirror before her, she was unable to confirm it. ‘You have given me a flattop haircut?’ she spat suspiciously, glaring at Sara.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ the barber smirked calmly, enjoying the new Head of Science’s reaction to the power that Sara held in her hands.

‘This is an outrage!’ Georgina spluttered, standing up from the chair. She reached up to feel the devastation that Sara had wrought upon her head, and disbelief showed in her eyes. Miss Sutton’s loud outburst suggested that she was oblivious to the watchful gaze of the tutors and students. They displayed bemusement and amusement in equal measure, but none were surprised. Everyone had previous experience of complying with Miss Richards’ standards. ‘I will be taking legal advice!’

‘There’s no need for that, Miss Sutton,’ the headmistress piped up. ‘Any reputable lawyer will confirm that you definitely have a flattop haircut,’ she uncharacteristically joked, to the great amusement of everyone in The Great Hall. ‘Now, please take a few minutes to calm down, Miss Sutton, and we’ll continue this conversation once everyone else has left the Hall for their first class of the day.’

‘You had no right,’ Georgina bleated.

‘Be quiet, Miss Sutton, you’re making a spectacle of yourself in front of the whole academy,’ the headmistress hissed. ‘Tutors and students, please leave quickly and quietly, but no running please. And, for those of you with a hair maintenance appointment with Miss Dart today, please do not keep her waiting as she has much to do.’

= * = * =

Georgina Sutton was taken aback by Heather Richards’ flippancy regarding such a massive change to her appearance. The academy’s young barber had forced a flattop haircut upon her, and she could not find suitable words to express her displeasure. She contemplated her situation as The Great Hall emptied. As Georgina was about to raise her objections, Heather Richards spoke.

‘Your enhanced professional appearance is very suitable, and perfect for a tutor in The Bourne Academy … assuming you wish to remain with us,’ Heather stated pointedly. ‘You are an excellent role model for all the students, and demonstrating uniformity with your fellow tutors is a credit to you.’

However, Georgina’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.’

Georgina shook her head in disbelief. ‘Is this really what this establishment is all about? Forcing people to conform to a certain look?’

Heather remained unfazed. ‘We are not forcing you, Miss Sutton. We are simply setting an example for our students and, I must say, you now look so much more professional. And may I remind you that you are benefiting from an excellent remuneration package as a head of department in a prestigious academy. It is a role you are eminently qualified for, and you will have my unwavering support should you decide to stay,’ Heather proclaimed. ‘However, you have also received a sizable advance on your salary to permit you to clear up your, er, unfortunate personal matters. This advance will require immediate repayment should you decide to leave us, together with any penalties that are due for breaking the contract you have signed,’ Heather explained ominously. ‘Do I make myself clear?’

Georgina’s eyes filled with tears of frustration. ‘I did not 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, Miss Sutton,’ the headmistress bellowed curtly. ‘This is about bringing structure and discipline to this academy. And I will not have anyone, especially a head of department, defy me!’

Georgina knew that she would not win this battle. ‘I will make my way to Room B4 to take my first class of the day,’ she said, crushed, as she stepped down from the stage and moved away.

Sara Dart had been fascinated by the argument, watching while casually resting against the back of her barber’s chair. She admired the way Heather regained and maintained control of the situation. As Georgina departed, Sara was about to call out with a huge grin on her face. Noticing, the headmistress stopped her by holding up her hand. She followed with a disapproving shake of the head.

‘What?’ Sara asked, sounding innocent.

‘I’m beginning to get the measure of your cheeky ways, young lady,’ Heather said sternly, but with the hint of a smile.

‘What? I was only going to compliment the new head of department on her lovely new haircut,’ Sara said, adopting the same wide-eyed expression and innocent tone as earlier.

Heather Richards gave an exaggerated shake of her head, pretending she was annoyed with her protégé. But, in truth, she was delighted by her inspired appointment of the bald former student as the academy barber.

The headmistress then did the unthinkable by winking complicitly at the young barber. Sara smiled and returned Heather’s wink.

At the start of the second half of the year, Heather Richards had reminded everyone of her unwavering commitment to reverse the institution’s academic and disciplinary failings. The once great Bourne Academy remained firmly in the hands of a ruthless and authoritarian headmistress who continued to be willing to sacrifice the students’ and tutors’ individuality for the sake of uniformity. She knew she was not only improving the academic performance and discipline of the students, but also moulding them into respectable young ladies. She was determined to see The Bourne Academy return to its former glory and she would stop at nothing to achieve it.

= * = * =

‘Hello Sara,’ Brenda Shearer asked warily, leaning against a tree near the main entrance of The Bourne Academy. ‘How did it go today?’

Sara Dart, the academy’s new barber, had just left The Great Hall on the first morning that marked the start of the second half of the year. She needed ten minutes to herself, strolling around the grounds of the academy, before starting a relentless day of trimming the overgrown hair of the students and tutors after the break.

‘Hi Brenda! I am surprised to see you here. I thought you had left. A welcome surprise, I hasten to add’ Sara Dart replied, showing genuine pleasure in seeing her mentor. ‘It went ever so well, thanks. Six more students inducted – although I did scare one off – and a new Head of Science, all now satisfy the academy standards. So, what are you doing here?’ Sara asked, her voice edged with suspicion.

‘I promised Heather that I would tidy up my study – sorry your study,’ she tittered, correcting herself, ‘and clear away all that long hair that we had cut off last year. Those rails were getting a bit overloaded with hair, and I should have done it sooner. Sorry. But my brother, Ben, only just managed to borrow a van today,’ Brenda gestured to a vehicle backed up to the academy’s side door, ‘so we’re loading it up now, and we’ll soon be out of your hair.’

Sara rubbed her bald her head and laughed. ‘It would be tricky for you to get anything into my hair. More like getting your hair out of my way, but a confusing metaphor under the circumstances, don’t you think?’

Brenda tittered nervously, looking around furtively as if she were doing something untoward. ‘Whatever,’ she said, waving a hand dismissively, not feeling the need to make the effort to understand the confusing point that Sara was trying to make. ‘Well, that’s the last,’ Brenda announced, looking relieved as she saw a “thumbs up” from a tall attractive man closing the doors of the van. ‘See you again soon, I hope. Bye.’

‘Did you want to take the hair I cut today,’ Sara asked, her suspicion growing. A thought had struck her that required clarification.

‘No, it’s fine … another time, maybe … bye,’ Brenda called back, waving from half-way across the car park.

‘Brenda!’ Sara called out, trotting to catch up to with her. ‘What do you do with all that hair? I mean, surely, it is worth something?’

‘No, not much really, I wouldn’t think,’ she answered readily, still moving to the van. ‘But I leave it to my brother to dispose of it, so I don’t really know,’ she said breathlessly as she jumped into the passenger seat of the van.

Sara remonstrated. ‘But it must be worth -’

The slam of the van door drowned Sara’s subsequent words, as did the loud roar of engine as the rapidly accelerating van disappeared down the long drive of The Bourne Academy.

= * = * =

Curiouser and curiouser, thought Sara, as she strolled around the grounds and recollected her recent conversation with her mentor.

She was sure that the volume of hair cut from all the students and tutors would be extremely valuable. It could provide a substantial income for those having it in their possession, she mused.

And, if her brother had borrowed the van, why did it have the family name “Shearer” neatly, and expensively, written on the side? Sara could not be sure, due to the font that the signwriter had used, but it might have been “ShearEx”? If so, that was even more puzzling.

Sara Dart would immediately inform the headmistress of the peculiar behaviour of Brenda Shearer, The Bourne Academy’s former barber.


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