I stepped out of the taxi onto the bustling pavement, the morning rush hour already well underway. I adjusted my coat and tucked a flyaway hair back into my bun before stepping towards the entrance. My footsteps echoed off the walls of the stairwell as I ascended, I knew there was no way I could just slip in quietly and unannounced. I reached the top of the stairs and saw the large door with â€œSpectrum Hairâ€ etched into the glass in large ornate letters. I took a breath as one of what I guessed was my new colleagues caught my eye and stepped into the salon.
The salon was one long room with 8 stations in total, 4 facing each wall. A cubix chair facing towards a full length mirror with shelving curving around from one side to partition each station out. At the very end of the room I could see through an open door to an office with a woman doing paper work.
The girl who had caught my eye approached me and extended a handshake.
â€œHi there, I guess you’re Alicia then. Iâ€™m Ashley, head stylist here at Spectrum.â€
â€œUummâ€¦.hi. Yeah hi, Iâ€™m Alicia.â€ I replied haltingly, I was caught off guard a little. I was sure I recognised her but the perfectly curled auburn hair and expensive clothes were throwing me off. I stepped back, squinting and cocking my head.
She chuckled to herself,
â€œYeah not exactly the same girl you saw last time. I think I was still on a heroin substitute when I saw you at that meeting. That was a long time ago, Iâ€™m a different person now, a better person thanks to Chelsea.â€
She nodded her head back to the office where the woman was still pouring over papers.
â€œYou should go and introduce yourself now, before everyone else arrives. I should warn you, she doesnâ€™t dance around our pasts. Donâ€™t get upset if she asks you some hard questions because the amount of time itâ€™s taken her to get this place to work isnâ€™t worth her wasting time on a lost cause.â€
I nodded and headed towards the office, thinking back to how I ended up here.
A year ago I was the lowest of the low of the world. A crystal meth addict, living day-to-day, begging, stealing and scrounging to get enough together to get my next fix. If I wasnâ€™t selling myself just so I could sleep in a bed for a while I usually slept in bus or train stations. Somehow I ended up with a pimp who kept me on a leash with a steady supply of meth. One time I used his cut of my money from whoring to get an extra fix and I ended up in hospital with a bashed up face and half my ribs broken or cracked. The cop who sometimes looked after me managed to get me into a rehab program after that. I bounced around halfway houses and occasionally went to addicts anonymous meetings, somewhere around when I started those I guess I must have seen Ashley. I ended up working in call centres for a while but I fell off the wagon so many times you could argue I was never on it. Finally a month ago I got a phone call from my sponsor telling me about a project across town that had proved highly successful in getting addicts out and away from the horrid places they had been. A train-as-you-work hairdressers ran by a woman who had started out opening her own salon and had now grown to be a multi-millionaire doing numerous charity works.
I stepped up to the doorway and waited to be greeted in. Chelsea glanced up and placed whatever papers she had been working on to one side and stood.
â€œCome in Alicia. Have a seat, glad to see youâ€™re being punctual. Leave the door open if you will.â€
I nodded and entered, settling down in the chair before her desk and admiring the grand office around her briefly before looking back at her. She was tall, around 5ft 10in by my guess, I knew she was in her late 40s from what I had read in newspapers but she didnâ€™t look a day over 35. Her dark blonde hair was cut short in a longish pixie fashion with a heavy sweeping fringe, very little make up, an athletic body. A simple black ladies suit with a white collared blouse made her look both approachable but authoritative.
She observed for a moment as I sat before sitting herself, going into a drawer and pulling out a file.
Flicking through it she listed off,
â€œCrystal meth possession, crystal meth possession with intent to supply, multiple theft counts, almost as many solicitations and a couple of assaults thrown in too I see. Quite a record you have Alicia.â€
She looked at me intently. My mouth went dry as I went to reply. Ashley had been right, she wasnâ€™t messing about.
â€œDonâ€™t worry.â€ she soothed â€œThe fact youâ€™re here means that Iâ€™ve agreed to take you into this program. Although I have to admit, I took some convincing. Youâ€™ve got the most colourful past of anyone thatâ€™s been put forward to me by a large margin.â€
I could only reply with a feeble false smile, hearing my life summed up as easily and dismissively as Chelsea just had wasnâ€™t something I relished.
â€œIâ€™m…Iâ€™m just grateful for the chance to start fresh. And going by all the things people have told me, seeing Ashley out there, I know how lucky I am.â€ I replied.
â€œIâ€™m glad youâ€™ve said that.â€ she came back with steeled eyes, â€œNo doubt people have warned you about some of my work methods but Iâ€™ll re-iterate them for clarity. I do regular drug tests here, if you fail one on any level, even cannabis, youâ€™re out. If you’re caught carrying anything illegal aside from something considered personal defence you’re out. If you ever bring anyone that could be considered a risk here or inform them this is where you work youâ€™re, again, out. I want nothing but unwavering commitment to this program or I will have you removed from it and sent back to whatever hell hole you’re trying to claw your way out from now. Do you understand?â€
I nodded in reply.
â€œNo.â€ Her eyes, flashed with angerâ€ â€œSay it! Say to me, â€œChelsea, I understand. I wonâ€™t do anything that would bring shame and distrust to you or this program in any way.â€ Say it now you little bitch.â€
I cowered down in the chair, being called â€œbitchâ€ made me flashback to the beating I had taken. I replied, my voice quivering.
â€œChelsea, Iâ€¦..understand. I wonâ€™t do anything that would bring shameâ€¦.and distrust to you or this programâ€¦.in any way.â€
â€œGoodâ€ she rose up out of her chair and walked behind me.
â€œYou must understand something about me Alicia. Everything I have ever owned, everything, I have always gotten the best out of. From the little salon in my hometown when I first started to the charities I run now, I always get the best out of what I own. And now I own you Alicia.â€
I felt her strong hands stroking my neck and my shoulders.
â€œI own you. Every part of you. From the toes on your feet to the hair on your head. Itâ€™s mine. And you will follow my instruction to the letter, because I will get the best out of you. If youâ€™re capable of it, then you shall manage it with me as your master.â€
Her hands had dropped down to my waist and she was leaning down to whisper in my ear.
â€œAll the girls you are about to work with were in the same spot as you are now at some point in their lives, and most people wouldnâ€™t believe where they are now. Stable relationships, owning houses, paying rent and bills on time. But they are at that point because I own them all too, just like you. At some point or another Iâ€™ve had to step in and make a small change, with all of them, and I will with you too no doubt, but that intervention has always been for the best.â€
She stood back up straight and went around to her seat at the desk.
â€œNow off you go and get started.â€ Her tone changed to how it had been before, as if nothing unusual had been said. â€œAshley will have you on wash station duty and sweeping until she feels confident enough youâ€™ve learned enough to start performing other services.â€
I stood and left, a little more hurriedly than was maybe necessary. I joined the throng of talking women, Ashley introduced me to them all in turn and they welcomed me well.
â€œSoâ€¦.â€ I started, not sure if it was appropriate to ask â€œWas Chelsea asâ€¦..dominantâ€¦..with all of you when you first started?â€
â€œOh yeahâ€ Sophie replied â€œShe scares the crap out of everyone like that when they first start out. Itâ€™s a shock tactic of herâ€™s I think.â€
â€œAhhh. So itâ€™s all a bit of an act then? All bark and no bite?â€
â€œNo itâ€™s notâ€ Ashley replied immediately, with all the girls giving me a fearful look. â€œShe always means what she says. Whatever she said to you in there Alicia take it deadly seriously. Everyone here has an incident with her once, and never againâ€ They all glanced at one and other uncomfortably. I knew there was a much bigger story I wasnâ€™t being told here.
â€œShe doesnâ€™t directly interact with us much, or makes a great deal of input. For the the most part she leaves the running of the salon to me and stays in her office organising all her other projects. But believe me you donâ€™t want to anger her. There was this one girl who tried to blackmail her, threatened to make it look as if she endorsed drugs as a way to boost her charity’s profile when it stepped in. Sheâ€™s now spending 18 months in prison for her trouble, Chelsea used her influences and pressured the local judges to make an example of her.â€
Everyone stood silent for a moment, as in rememberance, or reminding themselves never to cross Chelsea.
â€œEnough of this talk, itâ€™s your first day in a new job after all. Alicia come over to the basins, Iâ€™m going to show you how to do a basic salon hair wash. Sophie, you mind being the model?â€
And with that I started my training. You could argue it was dull, just being able to do washes and cleaning up trimmings but I was allowed and encouraged to roam about the salon any chance I got and ask questions. None of the girls ever shooed me away and the clients seemed to be same, chatting with me and even asking my opinion on a style choice.
I liked shadowing Valentina the most. Her clients almost all had really short hair, almost always involving clippers and delicate scissor work. Although I kept having to come up with reasons to decline her offer for a free cut. My blonde hair was finally starting to look healthy enough to not be up in a bun all day and I started wearing it down. It would be touching my belt soon if looked after it. Sophie did one of her awesome blow drys on it once and I got so many compliments about it. It was starting to become a symbol of how far I’d come in such a short space of time, a bit like a sobriety chip.
The most interesting days where the exam days. It was sort of a final assessment that Chelsea arranged for stylists who wanted to move on from Spectrum Hair. If they passed they received a ringing endorsement and excellent reference from one of most highly respected business women in the city, or they could stay at a higher pay if Chelsea said there was enough space. If they failed, they didnâ€™t get the reference but could stay with the salon on condition they didnâ€™t ask for an exam for another 6 months.
The exam in itself was very simple. Chelsea would bring in a model who had relatively plain hair and there would be a hat of folded up bits of paper. Each paper had an element of a hairdressing technique or style on it like â€œcoloured highlightsâ€, â€œsliced layersâ€, â€œsideswept fringeâ€ and so on. Two of these would be picked out at random and then the stylist would have to produce a haircut that incorporated the two elements and anything else they wanted. Then the whole staff would vote on whether it was a good cut or not. Sometimes the exam produced spectacular experimental cuts that Chelsea photographed for ad posters, occasionally however it was a disaster that left the model in tears and the staff in hysterics. A perm and mullet combination had proved â€œa blight against everything that was good about hairâ€ Ashley had once pronounced.
I was into my third month of training and I had started doing more than just cleaning and washing. I had helped out doing blow drys for a large wedding party and Ashley had said she was keen to get me doing roller sets soon.
One evening Ashley, Valentina and I were taking our time cleaning up and the end of the day and chatting.
I’m going to ask Chelsea for an exam soon. I think I’m finally understanding all the pH balance stuff with the colouring.” Valentina commented.
“Good luck if you go for it then.” replied Ashley, “Your work with clippers is breathtaking hun. I hope to goodness you’d get a draw from the hat that favours something like that. If I see another ombre hair dye I think I might scream!”
They were interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs and Chelsea bursting through the door into the salon.
“Who’s still here? Just three of you? Ok then I guess I’ll be the fourth.”
She rushed past them into the office and came back with simple black t-shirts with the salon name across the chest.
“Put these on. Sorry girls but any plans you had for tonight are on hold.”
“We going somewhere boss?” Ashley asked as she changed.
“We are. There’s a cancer charity group with an event in town tonight and the hairdressers they had arranged pulled out at the last minute. I’ve been trying to poach one of the event organizers for the last year so we are going to be the saving angels that steal him away. My cars waiting outside. Valentina, you’re going to have give Alicia a crash course in clipping on the way.”
“Not a problem.” Valentina smiled to me as we trooped out.
We arrived at the venue early and Chelsea went off to find her organiser. The rest of us went to the stage. Valentina motioned me over to the table of laid out with scissors, capes and clippers.
“Ok Alicia. Like I said in the car it’s pretty simple for what we’ll be doing. Just keep the blades on the scalp and move them slowly. Don’t force it or anything like that, just take your time and let the clippers do what they’re supposed to do.”
She picked up a small piece of plastic marked ‘No. 1’ and snapped it onto one of the clippers.
“It’s pretty hard but not impossible to knick someone with these without a guard so you’ll these ones. They cut almost as close so no one should be bothered. Do the whole head twice and that should make it pretty even”
Chelsea returned to us as more people started to arrive.
“Ok here’s the deal.” Chelsea spoke to the group. “According to the organisers we should have around 25 shavees so we can’t hang about with each one too much. There’s also supposed to be at least two news cameras coming. Which is fantastic but it changes how we operate slightly.”
We lent in so we could be sure we heard everything.
“If the news cameras do come there’s one rule that we need to follow. Anybody that comes up into this stage MUST be shaved bald. It would look very awkward and a bit odd if one of the shavees was on camera walking off stage with a full head of hair. So once you have someone in front of you, start clipping. If they start acting like they want to back out then you don’t give them the chance. Start straight down the middle, no messing around. Don’t worry if someone gets a bit teary eyed, it’s a bonus for the image. Selfless acts and all that.â€
She glanced round as a throng of people arrived, lifting the noise level again.
â€œIt’s about 50/50 of men and women participants tonight. Get as much TV time for the shirts as you can. Talk to any reporters you see and encourage your shavee to do the same. If you get someone whose hair is long enough, try to get it in a ponytail and make a big thing of chopping it off, thatâ€™s usually a crowd pleaser at these events. Oh and Valentina, donâ€™t be afraid to get a little expressive and show off a little freestyle clipper work.”
Valentina nodded in reply and with that we took our positions. Capes in one hand, clippers waiting in the other.
The event started soon after. All the guys that were getting shaved were part of a local football team. They were showing support for their recently diagnosed coach so they brought along a great atmosphere. My first shavee didnâ€™t start off with a great deal of hair, no more than an inch. We chatted as I worked the clippers, telling me all about how heâ€™d raised money. His family and friends laughing along with him and taking pictures. After a few minutes he got up with a slightly patchy 1/8th of an inch buzzcut. My next customer was a girl not much older than me with short blonde dreadlocks. She produced a little zip lock back and asked me if she could keep the dreadlocks. Chelsea, who was stood beside me waiting for her next victim, heard her and gave me a pair of shears, encouraging me to do as she asked.
As started cutting each dread individually, sending up a small cheer from onlookers, I noticed what must have been the girl that was to occupy Chelseaâ€™s chair next. She was stood beside the stairs to the platform surrounded by a group of friends who were affectionately pawing and patting her. I recognised her nervous body language, hands not able to stay still, fingers going from hair to chin to lips, constantly pivoting around and eyes that canâ€™t settle. Iâ€™d seen it all before from the drug pushers when a police car rolled by. She had every right to be nervous too, her elbow length mass of black curls would be the biggest bounty of the night.
â€œWhoâ€™s next here?â€ Chelsea called down to the stage, eagerly eyeing the young woman. The girl, who had her back turned was suddenly stoically rigid, her friends attempts to soothe her doing nothing. I watched as Chelsea, not to be kept waiting, set off towards her. As she reached her she took her arm and started to half drag, half lead her up the stairs to a chorus of claps. The clamour of friends shuffled over to stand in front of Chelsea’s chair, iPhones primed and ready to film the whole ordeal along with the news cameras that had picked up on the fracas.
As she plonked down in the chair my dreadlock woman took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Her face was hidden for a moment as Chelsea flipped her hair forward to do up the cape. Everyone, even Valentina and Ashley and their current shavees had now turned to watch. When she appeared once again she looked like a deer caught in headlights, I could see her eyeliner was starting to smudge from the tears of panic.
Reaching back she caught Chelsea’s arm to get her attention.
“I’m really not sure about this…” she said pleadingly just loud enough over the rabble for both Chelsea and me to hear. An onlooker might have put Chelsea’s lack of reaction down to not being able to hear over the noise, maybe even the girl would think that too. But I knew that look, that fire eyed, almost lustful glare from my first day. With some gentle force she pulled the young womans head back, slowly and deliberately bringing the clippers up past her eyes and then straight through her parting. The flashes went, the crowd cheered, and I watched on as the girl screwed her eyes shut to hold back the tears while Chelsea playfully tossed a massive chunk of black hair to the baying crowd.
The rest of us on the stage watched on in astonishment as a bountiful black mane was stripped away to reveal milky white skin. The young womenâ€™s makeup and fake tan emphasising the startling change. Somehow the mass of hair looked even bigger on the floor surrounding the chair than it did the girls head. The clippers moved like a blur in Chelseaâ€™s hand.
â€œSmile for the camera hun.â€ she taunted as one of the news crews floated right in front of them. She pulled the remaining locks on her neck back and she lifted her head. She was trying her best to seem upbeat but everyone could see the mascara tears.
â€œDo you know long will it take to grow back?â€ she asked in a squeaky voice as Chelsea shoved her head back down again mercilessly pressed the clippers up the skin of the girls neck, barely relenting as the sheared away the remaining curls.
â€œOhh Iâ€™d say 4 or 5 years at least my little bald baby. But Iâ€™m sure everyone will appreciate such a massive act of kindness.â€ Chelsea replied as she roughly brushed her off. â€œMaybe try and convince some of friends to take the plunge next year. Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™d all be so willing to show how caring they all are.â€ she cooed in a cynical tone. She wiped the cape off before planting a kiss onto the side of the girls freshly buzzed head leaving behind a hint of lipstick. The girl quivered as she ran her fingertips over her head and gingerly walked off stage leaving Chelsea grinning and playfully coiling the clippers at the girls friends.
The next day went by almost like any other. Ashley finally let me do a roller-set on a customer on my own with no supervision. I didnâ€™t make a mess of it, was left a sizeable tip and even Chelsea complimented me. As we were about to leave at the end of the day Chelsea emerged from her office in an eye catching backless evening dress.
â€œAlicia, would you mind doing the same set for me as you did for Mrs Philips before you go? Iâ€™ve got a benefit tonight and I think your style of set would be ideal. Iâ€™ll drop you off home on the way there.â€
â€œUh…Yeah. Of course!â€ I replied a little flustered. Ashley gave me a â€œgood on youâ€ look as she left.
I worked away in silence, my nerves jangling. I had done hundreds of washes but with Chelsea as a client, her fingers like lightning as she worked on her phone, my routine wasnâ€™t coming to me as easily. I had three attempts at getting the first roller in how I wanted it. Chelsea seemed pleased though, standing in the mirror admiring herself while we both waited for her car to arrive.
The bell chimed at the door. I silently cursed myself for forgetting to turn the sign off, looking back I said,
â€œSorry, weâ€™re cloâ€¦..â€
The last word stuck in my throat. Standing in the doorway was a man in a garish velvet red suit with a blue open collared shirt. Benny, my old pimp.
â€œOh hiiiii Alicia.â€ he swaggered into the shop, looking around the room with overacted amazement. â€œMy my my, you are doing well. I wasnâ€™t even sure it was you I saw on the news last night.â€
My brain took a few terrifying seconds to figure out what had happened. The charity event, the news cameras and the t-shirts with the salon name on them. It wouldnâ€™t be a huge leap even for Benny to put all those together.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, but who are you and why are you on my premises?â€ Chelsea asked in a low calm voice.
He glanced over to her, and overacted again â€œOhâ€¦..myâ€¦..goodness. What a fine lady you are.â€
Chelsea made no reply, coolly staring him down.
â€œWell, if you must now.â€ he started in a self important tone â€œIâ€™m here to claim what is rightfully mineâ€ he nodded towards me.
â€œOh really? Well Alicia is a member of MY staff, whoever you are. So you can take your leave. Now!â€ she finished threateningly.
â€œI donâ€™t think you understand me bitch.â€ Benny whispered and with a flick of metal a knife appeared in his hand.
â€œOhâ€¦.bad move you dumb bastard.â€ smiled Chelsea, going into her purse and pulling out a taser. She let him see it for a brief moment before firing the prongs into his chest, sending him to the floor with a thud where he continued to spasmed violently before laying quivering and whimpering. Chelsea took out her phone.
â€œHello, yes I need the policeâ€¦.A man has just attempted to rob my store at knifepointâ€¦.Spectrum Hair Salon on 2nd Streetâ€¦.No weâ€™re fine, I was able to incapacitate himâ€¦.Thank you, weâ€™ll be waiting.â€
She hung up the phone and stood waiting, I didnâ€™t dare move or say anything until the police arrived. One of the officers quietly spoke to Chelsea and Benny was hauled off in a very rough fashion.
Chelsea’s car arrived and we went on our way, as I saw us reaching my apartment block I tried to break the tension.
â€œThereâ€™s no need to explainâ€ she cut me off â€œHe saw you on TV and thought heâ€™d try and muscle you back to your old life. Bit stupid of him really. You couldnâ€™t have done anything about it. Now go on and get some sleep. Have a half day tomorrow and donâ€™t come in until after lunch, as your boss I insist. I can’t imagine all this has been easy on you.â€
I jumped as her driver opened the door suddenly. Chelsea was already back to her phone so I took the chance to escape.
I barely slept that night. All I could think about were the words Chelsea had made me say, â€œI wonâ€™t do anything that would bring shame and distrust to you or this program in any wayâ€.
The next day I came in at lunchtime and settled in. Everyone seemed to be talking about it being Valentinas exam today and not what had happened the night before. I was thankful Chelsea had decided to keep it to herself, I donâ€™t think I could bare the shame of everyone knowing Benny had appeared. The excitement level steadily rose throughout the day as we all wondered what Valentinas draw for the exam was going to be. We hadnâ€™t seen a model show up yet so we were beginning to get a bit worried it might not be happening at all. After my last client had left Chelsea called me into her office, I hadnâ€™t spoken to her since the night before.
As I took my seat she closed the door behind me. I realised this was the first time I had actually been in her office with the door closed, away from the prying eyes of the rest of the girls. The usual bustle and buzz if the salon was blocked away. I sat up straight and looked straight ahead, waiting for her to begin.
â€œFeeling ok Alicia? You look a little tired.â€ she asked as she leant back against the desk looking at me.
â€œSorry. I think I got maybe two hours of sleep last night. I was just so shook up after…..after he turned up.â€ I shuttered as I couldn’t bring myself to even say his name.
â€œAh yes.â€ she smirked to herself â€œBenny. Or Benjamin Harris as our lovely prison service will now know him as for the next 20 years. Some friends told me all about his dealings, being your pimp wasnâ€™t his only hobby. Narcotics ring, extortion and some bribery tooâ€
I bit my lip, I knew Benny was dangerous but not to this scale.
â€œHow do you think I should handle this Alicia? How do you think I should handle him coming here for you? With regards to your pledge I mean.â€
She stepped behind me and start to play with my hair.
â€œI…I thought you said it wasnâ€™t my fault. Which it wasnâ€™t, I had no idea he would do something so stupid as to come here to try and find me. You said it yourself.â€ I replied nervously.
â€œOh yes I agree.â€ I felt my hair being put into a band level with my shoulders â€œIndeed, what happened isnâ€™t your fault. But it did happen because of you. Benny hasnâ€™t had any prior conduct with any other of my girls. So I had to use my taser and call the police to my salon because of you Alicia.â€
I felt her start to braid my hair, I was so scared to make any movement or comment. I couldnâ€™t risk annoying her, I couldnâ€™t risk being sent away from Spectrum Hair.
â€œChelsea please! Iâ€™m at your mercy! Please donâ€™t send me away, Iâ€™ll do anything!â€
I could feel tears welling up, my hands shaking involuntarily.
â€œEvery one of my girls has been in a similar situation to you at you some point Alicia.” She whispered huskily in my ear. “And they all said the same thing, and they all paid the same price. Can I expect you to pay that price Alicia?â€ I felt her tie off the bottom of my braid.
â€œOf course Chelsea, this is my life now. Iâ€™d do anything to keep it.â€
â€œTurn aroundâ€ she commanded as she turned the chair for me.
I stared at the back of her office, then back to her. Not sure if I was missing something I kept searching, looking at the back of the office door, and saw them. Blonde, black, brunette, red. All slightly varying lengths. The little paper tags attached to the pin with the name of the previous owner. Numerous braids and ponytails held up like a showpiece on the back Chelseaâ€™s door. I picked out the names of Ashley, Valentina, of all the girls I worked with and others who must have moved on. I felt the colour fall from my face and my legs go numb.
â€œWhatâ€¦.howâ€¦.â€ I stammered, my eyes darting around the door.
â€œAll together thereâ€™s twenty-three.” she purred, her fingers spider walking around my shoulders. “All the girls that have successfully come through my program, theyâ€™ve all felt implored to let me a have gift. A keep sake as thanks for all Iâ€™ve done for them.â€
There was a shriek of metal-on-metal and I glanced round to see Chelsea holding a pair of massive office scissors, playfully snapping them before holding them out for me, handle first.
â€œDonâ€™t you think you owe me the same gift Alicia? Iâ€™d reallyâ€¦.â€ she leant down, her voice a husky whisper in my ear, â€œREALLYâ€¦..appreciate it.â€
She shoved the scissors into my hand. Taking my wrist and pulling my arm behind my head, placing the blades on my ponytail.
â€œGo on Aliciaâ€¦â€ she prompted in a dark, brooding tone.
I looked up at all the hair pinned to the door and thought about who they belonged to, how Chelsea had manipulated them into the same position I was now. But then I remembered my first day and how I couldnâ€™t place Ashley. The listless shell of a person who was now the confident, energetic and vibrant women who helped run a business. I closed my eyes, grit my teeth and started cutting.
My god I wish they would have cut all the way through the first time, but the slightly painful jerk at my neck made me keep cutting, and sawing and hacking until eventually I felt the braid come away in Chelseaâ€™s hand.
â€œThank you Alicia. That was very kind of you.â€ she purred giving my hair a little tousle. I could feel it just grazing the tops of my shoulders and little more. I lowered my hands back down, nearly numb from what just happened. I sat mouth agape as I watched Chelsea walk past me with my own braid and pinned it to the door, the paper tag denoting it â€œAliciaâ€.
â€œCanâ€¦.I go please?â€ I ask weakly, just wanting to run, just so I didnâ€™t need to look at the sight of my hair being hung like a prized animal.
â€œIâ€™m afraid not Alicia.â€ she replied. My heart sank.
â€œYou not only put me and my salon and risk, you also put the other staff at risk. I think you should be looking to redress that by offering a favour of some sort.â€
I knew straight away what she was going to say. My reluctance to accept her offer for a haircut wasnâ€™t a secret around the salon and maybe this was just another amusing way for Chelsea to show whoâ€™s in charge. Who owns me.
â€œYou should offer to be Valentinaâ€™s model for her exam!â€ she feigned surprise at her own insight. â€œOh now that would be perfect. She can fix that jaunty mess you have nowâ€ she indicated to my hair.
I knew then that there was never another model arranged. It was going to be me the whole time. Maybe Chelsea had decided when Valentina had asked for her exam, or maybe she decided as Benny was being dragged out the door. In any case, there was no point in dwelling on it or mentioning that I knew what must have happened. Trying to stay composed, I nodded and stood up, Chelsea opening the door for me.
As I walked past her in the doorway she had the same look she had from the shave event. That same fire eyed look with the hint of satisfied smile.
Most of the girls were sitting chatting, oblivious to me emerging from Chelsea office. Ashley and Valentina were stood aside, probably talking about potential ideas for the exam, and they rushed to me.
â€œFucking hell, I didnâ€™t expect her to it to you as soon as this.â€ Ashley said in a hushed tone as she hugged me.
â€œWhy didnâ€™t you warn me? Why didnâ€™t anyone warn me?â€ I stepped back from the hug, looking at them both accusingly.
â€œBecause the only two we ever warned left soon after, and there is no way they would be further along now than if they had stayed.â€
â€œWeâ€™ve all been through it.â€ Valentina assured me, â€œItâ€™s not nice I know. But itâ€™s Chelsea way of doing things. And lets be honest, you were letting it get a bit longâ€¦â€ she finished jokingly, trying to raise my spirits.
â€œWell thatâ€™s the thing. Iâ€™m not going to keeping it at this length either knowing you.â€ I shot back.
â€œKnowing me?â€ Valentina replied, puzzled.
â€œSheâ€™s your exam model by the sounds of it silly.â€ Ashley cut in, I nodded in agreement.
I could see the clash of emotions happen on Valentinas face, caught between sympathy for my office scissor chop at the hands of Chelsea and glee at having me and my hair as her canvas for her exam.
â€œOk girls. Gather roundâ€ Chelsea came out of the office, the familiar fedora filled with folded up paper in her hands. I saw a lot of the other stylist exchange looks and whispers as they noticed me, I tried as best as I could to pretend I wasnâ€™t bothered.
â€œValentina has asked for an exam which we have arranged for today. Our model is our very own newest recruit Alicia.â€ she stated, which prompted a little applause for me as I took to the styling chair that had been moved to the middle of the room.
â€œAnd now for the draw.â€ She held out the upturned fedora for Valentina who bit her lip and picked out two pieces of paper and handed them back to Chelsea.
â€œYour requirements areâ€¦.â€ Chelsea unfolded both the pieces of paper and revealed them in unison. â€œTattoo art and Mohawk!â€ she shouted to a chorus of oohs from the rest of the girls.
I cringed to myself in the chair. Sure I was glad for Valentina, tattoo art was arguably her best talent. It was the mohawk part that had me squirming. I wasn’t sure I was ready to be as “out there” as I would be with mohawk hair. I wasn’t being given much time to ponder it all as Valentina swished a silky black cape over me and secured it around my neck, followed by the weighted cutting collar. The soft rubber almost seamlessly draped against my nape and around my shoulders. A low clammering chatter rose up as the other stylists starting guessing what my hair’s fate was.
â€œOk then. My regular set of combs and clips, adjustable length clippers, detail trimmers, shears, water spray bottle, feathering razor, roller brush and strong hold hair spray.â€ Valentina listed off to one of the other stylists who promptly gathered all the items on to a cart and wheeled them beside me. “I know this isn’t going to be much comfort babe, but if I get this right I’m getting my reference and you’re going to look stunning.”
I glanced over to Chelsea as Valentina flicked my hair around with her comb. She sat away behind most of the group with a perfect view of the proceedings, that same hint of a smirk as she watched. I could feel clips being slide in to create a wide mohawk line that came to a point at my nape. I briefly caught my reflection in one of the mirrors and was reminded of every model that had come before me, all trembling with nerves. Thinking about it then, we didnâ€™t know where the models Chelsea got came from. I had just assumed it was a small ad she put out with the promise of a modest fee. But with Chelseaâ€™s other projects and her methods of â€œsevere persuasionâ€, I was beginning to wonder if any of the models had willingly sat where I was now. The soft pop and hum of the clippers jumping to life drove all other thoughts from me.
â€œQuarter of inch should give me the perfect blank page.â€ Valentina cooed as she gently adjusted my hair, pushing my head to one side and readying the clippers.
I closed my eyes as I felt the plastic guard of the clippers creep up past my ear, the buzz and snarling sounds taking me back to the charity shave event. I didnâ€™t want to open my eyes and look down just to see my lonely shorn blonde locks.The alien feeling of cool air that was washing over one side of my head might have been relaxing if I didnâ€™t know holding my hair between my fingers was now a thing of the past.
I open my eyes tentatively as she moved my head to the other side and repeated the arcing motion of the clippers through my hair. I instinctively shivered as I felt her fingernails rake across the soft fuzz around my ear. My skin tingled at every movement, as if it had woken from a long sleep and was overwhelmed by what it found.
Valentina switched off the adjustable clippers and starting preparing the little detail clippers, oiling and brushing them. I took the brief pause of the attack on my hair to assess the damage so far and lifted my hands out from under the cape. I could swear my head felt smaller as my fingertips gingerly ran over the soft bristles. My own fingers felt like a strangers as they ran along the section line of buzzed and long hair.
â€œI hope you like tigers Alicia.â€ Valentina chirped as she flicked the detailer clippers to life. The soft melodic hum of the first set of clippers was a symphony compared to the high pitched drone these little ones shrieked.
She placed her free hand on my neck and held me still, carefully but firmly. The little clippers were angled into my hair teeth first, sending small hairs jumping away like a lawnmower. I could feel some of the hairs stick to my cheek and the rest fell onto the collar and the floor like confetti. I didnâ€™t dare move a muscle. Valentina was leaning in so close I could feel her breathing on my ear, completely focused on carving out her minds image into my buzzed mohawk. I tried to work out what she was doing just from feel alone but I was simply overwhelmed with the sensation of the clippers grazing over my skin.
As she moved around to the other side I made a move to feel what she had done, only for her to playfully slap it down with the comment â€œWait until itâ€™s all finished.â€ Dejected, I slide my hand back under the cape, instinctively rolling my head to the other side. I saw Ashley walk around beside me, looking over whatever stenciling Valentina had done. She nodded to herself and gave Chelsea a favourable look. I could feel the edge of the clippers being guided over my hair in gradual little curves. I was beginning to understand the tiger reference made earlier.
The tortuous buzzing finally stopped as Valentina turned her attention to the remarkably long by comparison hair left on top. The water was spritzed freely and I winced to myself as I felt beads of water running down behind my ear, almost nothing to impede them. She started at the front, lifting my bangs up and with soft clacks a few damp coils of hair dropped in front of my eyes. As she worked back I could feel her pull each section perpendicular from my head, I guessed she was keeping the same length in the mohawk all the way back although I wasnâ€™t really sure what that length was. All I had to guide me was the mass of hair that was sitting on my shoulders. My head was shifted forward as Valentina reached my neck and gravity got the better of the most of the trimmings and they slid gracefully down into my lap and onto the floor.
Next I felt the feathering razor diving into my hair. She haphazardly sliced and scraped, texturizing and mixing up the length. Iâ€™m not sure if she noticed she was actually pulling the hair so taut that she was moving my head slightly before the razor glided through and I was momentarily released. The roller brush and hairspray combination that followed was my first chance to really feel what was left of my hair. No more than 3 inches was my guess as she flicked my hair up and back, angling towards the centre line of the mohawk. A feeling of dread was starting to build in me as I realised I would be seeing my new self very soon.
Valentina undid my cape and strode around me one last time before looking at Chelsea and declaring,
Nodding Chelsea stepped through the group of stylists and stalked around me before turning back to the group.
â€œOk then. Iâ€™ll now ask for your vote on Valentinaâ€™s exam. When I say so please give a thumbs up or thumbs down. Remember youâ€™re not only voting on whether or not you think the style is good but also if the two criteria, in this case a mohawk and hair tattooing, were sufficiently met.â€
She paused for a moment before calmly announcing â€œPlease vote now.â€
I didnâ€™t see what the votes were, I was lost concentrating on not freaking out until I could see how my hair was. I could hear Chelsea counting to herself as she picked out each thumbs up or down. She did it once, then twice and then a third time.
â€œHow the hell is it a dead heat?â€ Chelsea asked annoyed â€œI deliberately arranged the shifts so it was an odd number this afternoon.â€
â€œUhmmm bossâ€¦â€ I heard Ashley speak up. I looked over to see her showing a thumbs up â€œI donâ€™t know if youâ€™ve forgotten but our model is the extra odd one.â€
â€œOh yes. Thank you Ashleyâ€ Chelsea smiled and turned to me, â€œGo on Alicia, get to a mirror and give us your casting verdict.â€
Dumbfounded for a moment, I gradually got out of the chair, kicked a wet chunk of blonde hair off my flats before going to one of the stations. I passed Valentina who gave me a sincere pleading look.
I deliberately looked down at the floor until I was standing in front of the mirror. I snapped my head up and looked. I had to reach back and grab the arm of the chair to stop myself from keeling over in a faint. The top had been cut into a wide, low mohawk that swept back over my head. The sides were what made my knees weak though. The quarter inch buzz had been used as the canvas for Valentina to carve a delicate tiger print pattern into either side of the mohawk. My bare skin contrasted against the broad buzzed lines of hair that uniformly ran back towards my nape.
â€œSo whatâ€™s the verdict?â€ I heard Chelsea call, a hint of agitation in her tone.
Stepping back I tried my best to consider the transformed women in front me. I had never imagined myself with such an adventurous hairstyle before now. I tried to look at it as rationally as I could. Sometimes when I put my hair up into a ponytail I would give it a little bouffant touch pushing the front up higher and Iâ€™d always felt I looked a little better. You could argue this flat wide mohawk was a teenie-tiny bit like that. And it was expertly finished. The tiger print on the side was exact and instantly recognisable even with my blonde hair. Usually Valentina only did these sorts of haircuts on darker haired clients because she said it stood out better. I felt as if I would be noticed a lot more now and not for the reasons I was used to. Not for looking like a desperate, down and out ice head but for a slightly eccentric, colourful and confident hair stylist.
I turned back to the group with a sheepish smile and a thumbs up.
Everyone gave a little cheer and went to congratulate Valentina, even the ones who had voted no who claimed unsure that I had a â€œproper mohawkâ€.
Ashley slipped away from the commotion and gave me a hug.
â€œFeeling a little better?â€ she asked
â€œI guess. I mean Iâ€™m over the moon for Valentina and all but I could have done without being manipulated and used like that.â€ I eyed Chelsea who was shaking Valentinaâ€™s hand, telling her she could take a few days to decide on what course to take.
Ashley looked back and gave her the same rueful look.
â€œYou never know.â€ she commented with a sinister smile. â€œOne day she might go too far. One day she might play a hand the wrong way and end up in debt to someone else. Maybe even one of us, if we get lucky.â€
We exchanged a knowing look before joining in the celebration.