This story takes place a few years ago, in college, when Caroline and I weren’t even together yet. A few days later, I invited her on a date (maybe or maybe not driven by my curiosity about her hairstyle – go figure…) and she happily accepted.
So when we ordered food and drinks and I inquired, she told me the whole story:
I took a deep breath before I entered the place. It’s been almost a decade since I was in a salon. Normally I wouldn’t be bothered, but ever since I moved here, I’ve felt the urge to change something. Anyway, I was greeted by the woman at the reception, a short brunette girl.
“Hi! I’m Mindy! How can I help you?”
Everything about her just screamed joyfulness. Her smile was huge and her friendly voice had an almost annoyingly high pitch.
“Caroline, nice to meet you. I have an appointment at four?”, I replied.
“Oh, yes, of course! You can go right through, I haven’t been very busy today. Nadya will be your stylist.”
I thanked her and made my way to the next room. It was warm, kind of humid and smelled funny. Not necessarily bad, but at least strange to me, who hadn’t visited a salon in so long. There was only one person in the room – Nadya, I assumed. She was lounging on one of the chairs and reading a magazine. Her long legs were lazily draped over the armrest. I studied her profile. She was slender and incredibly tall (even when she was sitting, she was as tall as me).
Her hair was bleached almost white and styled in a chin-length bob – or so I thought. As soon as she noticed my presence, she turned her head towards me. In fact, one side of her hair actually was chin-length, but the other side was almost shaved bald, with the split right in the middle of her head. To say that it looked daring would be an understatement. I tensed up, gulped and almost took a step back.
Then she started to smile. It was a warm smile with an underlying layer of cunning and something almost… predatory.
She seemed to examine me from head to toe.
“My, my, what have we here? Come here, don’t be afraid, sit down. I’m Nadya.”
Her voice, unlike the receptionist’s, sounded deep and alluring. If it had texture, I’d imagine it as ‘molten chocolate’.
She stood up and gently led me to the chair.
In contrast to the stylist, my hairstyle was rather unremarkable, as it had always been: blonde, kind of dull and reaching to my shoulders. Not that I had chosen to keep it that long – it just didn’t want to grow any longer before it broke. So all in all, I figured it didn’t need too much of a change to make it look at least a little more interesting.
The stylist started to wash my hair. With my head back in the basin I enjoyed the sensation. The water was just right, and she shampooed me thoroughly and kneaded my hair almost like dough. I felt her manicured nails gently massage my scalp, and for a moment I closed my eyes.If nothing else, the washing at least helped to relieve my tension. When she was done, she toweled me and draped the towel over my head. She took a few steps, her heels clacking on the tiled floor. When she came back, I could see in the wall mirror in front of me how she brought a stool with wheels and a trolley. It was filled with all kinds of clips, bottles, combs, scissors and clipper attachments.
Nadya stepped behind me and towered over me. She put a black cape around my neck and fastened it. It, like everything else in here, had a very peculiar smell to it. Then she pumped up my chair and removed the towel from my head. Without looking, she reached behind her and took a comb out of the trolley. A movement that is only possible through long routine, I realized. Nadya began to comb through my wet hair while making eye contact through the mirror. Her steel-blue eyes seemed to pierce right into my head.
“So, dear, tell me – what do you want?”, she finally asked.
I am not going to lie – I felt a little intimidated. Very much so. But I didn’t let it get me down, I wanted a change. So without interrupting eye contact, I cleared my throat and declared my wishes.
“I thought of something shorter…,” I hesitated, “and spunkier?”
As soon as I said it, I regained some of my self-confidence and quickly added, “Maybe just not as daring as your ‘do.”
Nadya laughed and her white teeth were showing. I couldn’t help but notice that they matched the color of her hair almost perfectly.
“Oh, I will make sure of that. Do you trust me?”, she asked.
I hesitated for a second and then nodded. “Yes,” I said. Yet I didn’t feel that I really did.
Nadya paused for a second, frowned and bit her lip. Her predatory smile crept back onto her face and it was the last thing I saw in the mirror before she turned me 180 degrees. Now that I was facing the empty opposite wall, I wanted to complain, but she spoke first.
“Since you trust me, there’s no reason to spoil the surprise, is there?”
I could almost hear her smile. I felt a shiver crawl up my spine. A shiver of – excitement? My rational self still wanted to object, but something in me wanted to see where it was going. So I remained silent and stoically accepted my fate.
It couldn’t get that bad, could it? At least that’s what I told myself.
When she finished combing, she started to section my hair and pin it up.
“Oh dear, your hair is so boring”, she said melodramatically, “You’ll be my new favorite plaything for sure”.
“Well, maybe I should be mad at you if it weren’t true. To be honest, ever since I moved here, I’ve been constantly annoyed with how much better everyone on campus looks.”
“Don’t say that. I think you’re beautiful, except for the mess on your head, maybe. Who took care of your hair before?”, she asked.
“I did it myself, for a while. But then I noticed that my hair kept breaking off anyway, so I stopped caring about it altogether.
Nadya said nothing. But I was too nervous to sit there in silence, so I just tried to continue the conversation.
“At least I couldn’t say your hair is boring”
Now she giggled and said, ” My, thank you! Do you like it?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” I replied to my own surprise. “It looks good on you. Although it’s not really the kind of hairstyle I could pull off. How did you find the courage to go for it?”
“A funny story, actually. I just tried to shave my undercut, but I forgot to put on an attachment. Oops!” She laughed. “Nevertheless, I kept on shaving. It was really mesmerizing. And before I knew it,” she paused and clicked her tongue, “I was half bald.”
She rolled herself around the chair on her stool and sat down next to me so I could see her. ‘She wants me to see her half-shaven head’, I realized. “That’s just how I am sometimes, I just can’t stop…” she mumbled to herself, glancing at me out of the corner of her eye.
She had to be messing with me, I was sure.
When she had finished sectioning my hair, she rolled back again. I heard her rummage through the utensils in the trolley.
“Ah, there you are!”, she exclaimed triumphantly. What followed shortly afterwards was a mechanical click and a soft humming. Was she going to use clippers on me? I tensed up and instinctively sat up straight on the chair.
“Careful, you don’t want me to shave too much, do you?”, she teased. I could hear the amusement in her voice. What she said was not really reassuring, but since there were no alternatives, I stayed still. I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. Then I felt a vibration at the base of my neck and had to force myself not to jump.
In retrospect, I have to say it felt really good. And also scary. Nadya pushed the clippers up my head. I could hear their pitch change as they effortlessly chewed through my hair. At that moment, my mind seemed to focus solely on the vibrations of the blades. It was as if my whole existence began to shrink and focus on a narrow point at the back of my head.
How much would she shave off?
When she had reached what to me felt like the level of the tips of my ears, she stopped. Then she repositioned the clippers at the base of my neck and cleared another path, right next to the first one. And then another, and another. Just when it felt as if she had shaved the whole back of my head, the clippers fell silent. I heard Nadya fiddling, something snapping and another click when the machine came back to life. She put the clippers back where she had started and pulled it up again. Somehow they felt much closer to my scalp than before. To my surprise, she didn’t go nearly as high up this time and seemed to flick the thing away from my head instead.
She kept on shaving until she had once again worked around my nape. Another snapping sound followed, and then I could feel warm metal on my skull. Nadya quickly and decisively buzzed away at my remaining hair. When her third round finally came to an end, she switched off the clippers for good.
“There you go,” She merely said. She sounded proud of her work.
By that point, all the blood from my legs seemed to have flowed into my head. My feet felt numb and I sensed that my face must be red like a tomato. Despite all my efforts to rationalize the events, I could not get rid of the feeling that the back of my head was now completely bald. I felt a cool breeze against the back of my neck that made the hairs on my arms stand up. I tried to free my hands from the cape to touch my hair. Nadya, however, gently pushed my arm down again.
“No touchy!”, she demanded, “You don’t want to spoil the surprise, do you?”
Normally I would have got tired of her teasing by now, but for some reason I understood what she meant. Perhaps it was best to wait for the final result before I passed judgment.
“What now?”, I asked and couldn’t hide a slight trembling of my voice, hoping that the stylist wouldn’t notice.
“Now, of course, we’ ll cut some more,” she said.
Nadya began to un-section layers of my hair. I could feel their wet tips brush against my skin. She dug through her tools to reach for scissors. I heard her open and close them a few times in the air, as if she wanted to check their sharpness.
She reached for a strand of hair hanging next to my left ear. Then I felt her fingers being positioned at the level of my earlobe. The next thing I heard was the closing of the blades and the crunching of the wet hair being cut. I felt a clump of hair land on my shoulder and slowly slide down the cape. I tried to imagine how short my hair would be. In the end, would it still be long enough to be considered a bob? My hair was never short enough to be even remotely be called a bob.
In the meantime Nadya worked around my head. She finished her last cut next to my right ear at the same height as on the left side. I was reassured that I would at least have some length left when she was finished. Just then she got to the back again and grabbed a strand between her fingers. I felt them pressing against my scalp and heard the snip of the scissors. My discomfort turned into panic. All my hope seemed to drain from my body, as did the blood from my face.
“How much are you cutting back there?” I asked in a shrill voice.
“Just wait and relax. Please?”, she pleaded. Her voice sounded, contrary to my panicked expectations, not malicious or sadistic, but warming and comforting. And even though I couldn’t exactly say that I was relaxing, I at least eased up a little .
For the next quarter of an hour I sat stoically still while the snipping and around my head continued. Occasionally Nadya would un-section a layer or moisten the drying hair with water from a small spray bottle. It was not half bad. In my opinion, I came to the conclusion that a ‘salon appointment’ was at least not one of my worst experiences. After she finished behind me, the stylist came around the front and unpinned the last section. The strand fell on my face and I instinctively tried to blow it out of my eyes. She combed it straight down over my forehead.
“You’re not thinking about giving me bangs, are you?”, I asked anxiously. I had never had a pony in the past and was not interested in having one in the future.
“Like I said, darling – Wait. And. Relax.” She sounded strict, maybe even a little annoyed by now.
And she really did give me bangs – above eyebrow level! I watched in silence as I saw the wisps of hair fall down right before of my eyes.
When she was finished, Nadya took a step back to admire her work. She seemed very pleased with the result. Then she grabbed a hair dryer and blew the remaining moisture out of my considerably shortened hair. She surprised me again when she took a small brush and swept it along the collar of the cape. The feeling was very strange, but not unwelcome. Finally, she stood before me with a smile.
“My, you look beautiful,” she said. “So, the minimum work is done. I could let you go now – or we could give you a new color while we’re at it. But judging by the look on your face…,” she paused dramatically, “maybe you’re just too chicken to go through with it.”
Her smile turned into a mocking grin, which in turn irritated me. Her teasing had achieved exactly what she had hoped for. I wouldn’t let her have it. Although I hadn’t seen it yet, I was sure that my current hairstyle was already far out of my comfort zone.
So what difference could a little color make?
“Fine, go ahead,” I said in what I hoped was a defiant and confident tone.
“That’s what I wanted to hear,” said Nadya with an even wider grin.
The stylist start to section my hair again. She slipped into a back room and soon returned with a black porcelain bowl in hand.
“Ready?”, she asked.
I nodded and even managed to smile briefly in order to cover up my insecurity. She took a brush and smeared a paste from her bowl into my hair. Unfortunately I couldn’t see the color, but I noticed its striking smell. Not necessarily a terrible stench, but rather as if someone had tried to cover up chemicals with far too much flowery perfume. To be honest – I actually liked it a bit. Soon my whole head was covered with gooey dye. Then came a good while of waiting. Nadya offered me one of the magazines to read, but I politely declined. I just wanted to relax a little, rearrange my thoughts. Maybe even fantasize about my new hairstyle.
Actually, I can’t remember much of my waiting time, maybe I dozed off for a few minutes. Anyway, the next thing I remember is that Nadya washes my hair again. She told me something about this fantastic shampoo she would use to seal the color (I did not really listen). It didn’t take long and she started blow-drying my hair again.
“Just some finishing touches and you’re ready to go,” she said.
I was beginning to get impatient. How long had I been in the salon? Two hours, give or take, I estimated. And as if that wasn’t enough, she started torturing me with styling products. I saw her reaching for a tube of hair wax. She squeezed some of it into her hands and started to ruffle through the hair on the back of my head. At first I thought she was just randomly smearing the stuff into my hair.
Of course, in reality, she wasn’t. She was intentionally shaping and styling individual strands, pinching and pulling them with her fingers.
After she finished, she fixated everything with what felt like half a can of hairspray. It was everywhere. In my hair, in the air, in my lungs.
I resisted the urge to cough, and before I knew it, Nadya spun the chair around so I could see myself in the mirror.
At first I did not even recognize myself. She had turned me into a redhead! Well, actually not really red per se, more like a ruby tone – bright and shiny. And it actually looked good. It brought out my blue eyes very well, as did the bangs. They were slightly tapered, V-shaped, longer above my nose and shorter towards the sides. My face was now framed by two long and voluminous strands of hair. They reached from my temples to below my chin (Nadya couldn’t have cut much, because they were almost as long as before). The hair behind those strands was significantly shorter, about ear-length. So it was some kind of bob style.
Without turning my head, I raised my hand to the back of my neck and let it remain there. For a moment I hesitated, then I gently touched it – only to instinctively withdraw my hand as if I had been burned. I was in disbelief and checked again. My neck felt like sandpaper!
Carefully I stroked my trembling hand upwards and suddenly I felt a short, bristly fuzz. Further up the stubble became softer and longer. At the level of my occipital bone, my hair was perhaps half an inch long. I still couldn’t believe what I felt, so I rubbed my hand up and down the back of my head a few times. It felt mesmerizing, arousing even.
I finally took the courage to turn my head and see my hairstyle in its entirety. As I had noticed, the base of my neck had actually been shaved to the skin. At around the tip of my ears, the hair on my back was the longest. It was spiked backwards, as were basically all the strands behind my ears and on my crown. It looked a bit like a cone of spiky hair on the back of my head. I couldn’t find the words to describe this hairstyle. It was like an extreme a-line bob of sorts.
And I loved it! It looked and felt so incredible – definitely my kind of ‘shorter and spunkier’.
Then I came to my senses again and remembered who I had to thank for this incredible experience. I turned around to see Nadya smiling from ear to ear.
“See? Told you, you’d like it,” she said.
I jumped up and gave her a hug. Although she seemed surprised, I don’t think she was repulsed by my sudden affection. It must have been a strange sight, since I barely reached her shoulders, even when standing upright.
“Thank you! Thank you so much! I love it”, I exclaimed.
“I am glad you like it,” she said.
Finally she led me back to the reception where I gladly paid for my haircut (with a nice tip for Nadya, of course). Mindy took a look at her colleague which revealed that I had not been the first customer to receive special treatment from her. I didn’t mind either way.
Just when I turned around to leave, Nadya said, “You know what? Why don’t you come back in, say… 6 weeks so we can see what other styles I could have for you?”
I gladly accepted.
Author’s Note: As always, thanks for reading my story! If you are not familiar with my work – this is a kind of origin story for Caroline from my earlier stories. If you have not read them yet, please feel free to give them a try.