Where they were going Kayleigh still didn’t know. Naia said she had stumbled across it when she took a wrong turn walking home through town. The place they were going to definitely was not on the list of salons the two women had been researching, nor had Kayleigh been able to find a mention of it online. Not even a little Facebook or Twitter page to advertise the place.
Kayleigh and Naia had been best friends since school and if one of them had a problem then the other always stepped in to try and help fix it. The salon they had both been going to for the last five years had closed down when the owner retired. They got on well with the stylists who had worked there and trusted them completely with their hair. When the salon closed Kayleigh had been keen to try out several new places before coming to a final choice about her new salon – although a trendy barbershop just a few of streets from where she lived seemed the likely place to keep her undercut maintained.
Naia was a lot more fussy and, to be fair, with good reason. She had a very dry sensitive scalp and used special shampoos and conditioners to keep her head and hair healthy. All of the salons they had researched so far insisted on washing their clients’ hair before the cut in order to remove any products or chemicals from the hair. The trouble was that many of the shampoos and conditioners used in salons either dried out or irritated her scalp, so Naia trusted no one but herself to wash her hair. Their previous salon had been completely understanding of this fact and had always cut her hair dry.
When Naia had burst excitedly through the door of their shared flat and announced she had spoken with the owner of a hairdressers who offered dry cuts to their clients, Kayleigh had agreed to go with her to try the place out.
Kayleigh’s straight auburn hair touched her collarbone and when she wore it down it completely hid her shaved nape. She’s gotten the undercut two years ago to celebrate getting a new job. She had wanted to try the ‘new job, new her’ thing and reinvent her image a little before everyone got to know her.
Naia’s hair was a deep rich brown that reached her mid-back. It was naturally curly but Naia kept her wild curls tamed with the aid of straighteners. Her hair had only ever been cut by a female stylist and shuddered when Kayleigh had suggested they go to the barbershop together.
“It’s just down here,” said Naia happily, leading the way through the streets. “Here we are.”
Kayleigh looked apprehensively up at the place they had stopped in front of. It was small. The front of the salon had been painted white some time ago but now the paint was peeling in places to reveal the brown wood underneath. A white door was propped open. The window next to it revealed a room that was long but narrow. The waiting area consisted of three chairs next to the door and window. There were two metal barbers’ chairs that seemed to be almost too big for the narrow room. The chair closest to the door was vacant but the furthest chair was occupied by an older Asian man with grey hair. A female stylist of Chinese descent was carefully clippering his hair. A plaque above the door and window proclaimed the name of the hairdressers in bright red Chinese letters. Underneath, in English, was written ‘Jai’s Unisex Salon’.
“Come on,” said Naia eagerly. “That’s Jai, the woman I spoke to. She said they do walk-ins.” And with that she went inside. Despite her reservations, Kayleigh was hardly going to abandon her friend now. She entered after Naia and they both took a seat in the waiting area.
Both Jai and the man looked across when they entered. The man raised his eyebrows when he saw them. Perhaps he was unused to seeing two young women in their mid-twenties enter the salon. Jai, who Kayleigh could now see was in her late-thirties, smiled warmly at them.
“Welcome. Just two more minutes and I’ll be with you.” Jai’s voice was friendly and she spoke with a slight accent.
“No problem,” called Naia.
“Hey are you sure this place is alright? I mean do they cut many young people’s hair? This place doesn’t exactly look modern.” Kayleigh whispered in Naia’s ear.
“It’ll be fine. I promise,” Naia reassured her. “I know it’s not what we’re used to but Jai seemed really nice when I spoke to her the other day. Besides the prices here are way cheaper compared to the salons in the centre of town. So, you decided how you want your hair?”
“Alright, I’ll trust you and don’t think I didn’t notice you changing the subject,” said Kayleigh, grinning despite herself. “Well I need my undercut redoing – it grows so fast! Then I thought I’d get my hair cut short at the back and angle the line so it’s longer at the front. Make my hair look smart for the assistant manager interview on Friday. What about you? You gonna ask for a bob or are you going to chicken out again?”
Naia stroked her long locks thoughtfully. “I might do,” said she smiling to herself.
“You girls going to get all your hair cut off?”
Kayleigh and Naia both jumped. They had been so distracted that neither of them had heard the grey-haired man approach them.
“Not quite that short,” said Kayleigh politely.
“Ahh, you should ask Jai. She’ll cut all your hair off for you. Snip, snip. All gone. Ha, ha!”
“Out you, before you scare off my new customers!” Jai had come over to them and waved her hand to good-naturedly shoo the older man out of the salon. “Don’t mind him,” Jai assured them when the man had left. “He believes hair is a woman’s biggest temptation and should therefore be removed for her own good. His wife and their three daughters come in every two weeks for a head shave. Every time he comes in here he tells my mother she should shave me bald too. Although, as far as I know he’s never been bald himself.” Jai added as an afterthought. “Anyway come over here and I’ll get you both sorted. I am Jai by the way and Naia right? I remember you. And you are..?”
“I’m Kayleigh. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Kayleigh welcome. Nice to meet you too.”
She led the way back up the narrow salon. Naia went first and took the seat the man had just vacated. Kayleigh settled into the empty chair, which was surprisingly comfy and immediately felt herself relax. Around the mirror were stuck numerous images of people sporting different haircuts. On the left were pictures of men and on the right were pictures of women. Kayleigh saw that the women in the pictures were a wide range of ages. A lot of the women had traditional haircuts like bobs and pixie cuts of various lengths. But Kayleigh spotted other hairstyles too. One image showed a young woman with a spiky Mohawk, another a bowl cut, while one woman sported a crewcut and another was complete bald. One woman had a severe flattop while another woman was bald save for her bangs. It seemed no haircut or request was off-limits. It was definitely not a place that only older people came to.
Jai stuck her head around a thick blue curtain at the back of the salon and called out to someone in mandarin. An old woman with grey and white hair tied up into a bun on top of her head appeared from behind the curtain. She surveyed the scene before her and walked over to Kayleigh’s chair.
“Kayleigh, this is my mother Huan. She’ll be cutting your hair today,” said Jai.
“Ah, you like?” asked Huan in an accent that was much thicker than her daughter’s. She had clearly noticed Kayleigh examining the images around the mirror.
“Yes! You have a lot of different styles,” said Kayleigh who was now much more enthusiastic about getting a haircut than when she had first entered.
Huan moved over to the mirror. She tapped the image of the bald girl with her finger. “For you, maybe?”
Kayleigh’s eyes widened and she shook her head quickly. “No not for me. I’m not that brave.” She managed a nervous laugh, her unease returning. What was it with this place and bald women?
Huan’s wrinkled face broke into a wide smile as she laughed. She moved away from the mirror and patted Kayleigh on the shoulder before she threw a thick silver-coloured cape over Kayleigh’s body. Maybe this was just Huan’s way of greeting new customers, thought Kayleigh. She wondered how many women had said ‘yes’ to Huan’s question over the years.
“You want trim?” asked Huan running a brush through Kayleigh’s hair. She raised her eyebrows when she found Kayleigh’s undercut. “Or more?” she asked hopefully.
It was now or never. “More,” said Kayleigh. Huan smiled widely again. “My undercut grows really quickly so I need it cut very short at the back please. But could you also angle my hair so it’s long at the front?”
“Very short at back. Long at front,” repeated Huan.
“Yes please,” said Kayleigh nodding.
Satisfied, Huan began to pin all of Kayleigh’s hair in a messy pile on top of her head so she had a clear look at the undercut. The undercut started from the top of one ear, curved high around the top of Kayleigh’s head and then touched the top of her other ear. At present it was nearly two inches long.
As Huan busied herself around her, Kayleigh looked over at Naia in time to see her give a determined nod of her head. Jai, who was stood in front of Naia, swiftly moved her scissors across Naia’s forehead. A fifteen inch long wave of hair fell into Naia’s lap. Naia let out an audible gasp. Her forehead was now covered by short bangs that rested just above her eyebrows. Kayleigh caught Naia’s eye and gave her an encouraging thumbs up. Naia smiled weakly.
Distracted by Naia and Jai, Kayleigh did not notice that Huan had not attached a guard to the large black clippers she had just unhooked from the wall. Huan gently pushed Kayleigh’s head down. The clippers roared into life. Bzzzzzz, bzzzzzz. Kayleigh was so glad she had finally plucked up the courage two years ago to get this done. She had never once regretted the style. The sensation alone as the clippers ran over the back of her head made the undercut worthwhile. Every time she got her hair cut she couldn’t wait until her next appointment when she would be clippered again. The only downside was that the whole experience was over so quickly. Even now, sixty seconds after Huan had switched the clippers on, she was already switching them off and placing them back on their hook.
“You wait here,” Huan instructed. She bustled off and disappeared behind the blue curtain.
Slightly bemused, Kayleigh watched her go. Her hair was still pinned to the top of her head. Being close to the front door Kayleigh was able to feel a breeze as it sneaked in from outside. The breeze felt wonderfully cool across Kayleigh’s nape. Huan must have cut it short indeed, she mused.
Taking another look at Naia Kayleigh saw that her cape was now covered in a waterfall of dark brown hair. It appeared as though she was finally going for the shoulder-length bob style cut she had been talking about for so long. Kayleigh marvelled at just how much hair was in Naia lap and how much was still attached to her head.
Huan reappeared carrying a small bowl filled with something white, a large round brush, a white towel and…and a straight razor. Kayleigh’s eyes nearly popped out of her head as Huan placed the razor on the small shelf in front of the mirror and proceeded to coat the back of Kayleigh’s head in what she now realised was a hot foam with the brush.
Satisfied, Huan put down the bowl and brush, placed the towel over Kayleigh’s shoulders and picked up the straight razor. “You be very, very still now,” she told Kayleigh in a serious tone.
Kayleigh nodded and clutched the arms of the chair very tightly. She couldn’t help but let out a small squeak as the razor touched her skin for the first time.
“Very, very still,” repeated Huan.
Once the initial shock was over Kayleigh closed her eyes. Not out of fear but because she didn’t want anything to distract her from the curious sensation of the razor passing over the back of her head in small scratches and strokes.
After all of the foam had been removed from Kayleigh’s head, Huan once more picked up the bowl and brush and applied a second layer of foam. Kayleigh was only too happy to have the experience continue. With most of the hair already removed the razor glided much more smoothly over Kayleigh’s nape and the back of her head. Huan wiped the razor on the towel and then used the towel to clean the last tiny specks of foam from Kayleigh’s head.
Tentatively, Kayleigh reached out a hand and touched her nape. The skin was a little sensitive to the touch but god did it feel smooth and just so…so…so good! “Oh I love it,” she breathed. She grinned at Huan in the mirror who smiled warmly back, clearly pleased by Kayleigh’s reaction.
“See, you are brave girl,” said Huan approvingly. She waited for Kayleigh’s fingers to finish exploring the back of her head. When Kayleigh had placed her hand back under the cape Huan unpinned the remainder of Kayleigh’s hair and used a comb to ease out any tangles. “Very short at back?” asked Huan.
Kayleigh, who was still entranced by the thought of her shaved nape, did not realise that what Huan had just said was a question. “Yes very, very short,” she agreed believing that Huan was talking about her newly shorn nape.
Huan, who had in fact been asking Kayleigh about the length of her remaining hair, nodded once again in approval. She did so many trims for so many of the same hair styles. It was always nice when a girl like this came in who was willing to be more daring with her hair.
Now that the most exciting part of her haircut was over Kayleigh turned her head slightly so she could watch Naia’s haircut reflected in the mirrors. Naia was smiling again now that she could see how she would look with her new style. A final lock of hair, ten inches in length, slid down Naia’s cape and onto the floor.
“Well done,” said Jai. “That’s the hard part over. Now I just need to neaten up the ends.”
That was odd, thought Kayleigh. She thought she had felt the cold scissors blades touch a point high on the back of her head. No, she had probably just imagined it. It was probably just the breeze again.
No she definitely had not imagined it! That definitely was the scissors she could feel resting against her scalp at a point that was most certainly above her occipital bone. Alarmed Kayleigh looked at her own reflection. Although she couldn’t see the scissors, Huan’s hands were clearly near the top of her head instead of at the base of her skull where Kayleigh had pictured the style beginning at. Wait – had she told Huan that?
SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.
This time Huan dropped the locks of hair she had cut into Kayleigh’s lap. “Brave girl.”
Oh my god what was Huan doing? Why was she doing this to her hair? Panicking, Kayleigh desperately tried to remember what instructions she had given Huan. She had said…she had said…Realisation crashed over her in a cold wave. She had told Huan to cut her hair short at the back. Very short.
The damage was already done. There was nothing Kayleigh could do as Huan carved a severe triangular section from the back of Kayleigh’s hair. Kayleigh felt Naia’s gaze upon her. Naia stared open-mouthed at her friend. If Naia was speechless then it must be bad.
“Ahh, there. What you think of that?” Huan placed the scissors down with a flourish and held up a large rectangular mirror so Kayleigh could see the back of her head reflected in the mirror in front of her. “You like?”
“I erm…” In truth Kayleigh didn’t know how to convey what she was thinking into actual words. The longest section of hair at the back of her head started about an inch above her occipital bone. Two dramatically severe diagonal lines had been cut from this point. Her hair at the front still appeared to touch her collarbone where Huan had cut the tiniest fraction of hair off. Kayleigh’s bald nape was now very, very visible and would remain that way for a long time. “Wow,” she finally managed.
“Didn’t you tell me you were thinking about having your hair shorter at the front?” Naia asked.
Still speechless, Kayleigh turned to Naia. Trust me, Naia mouthed. Kayleigh smiled and seized on her friend’s suggestion with gratitude.
“Yes, would that be alright?” Kayleigh asked Huan. “I’d still like my hair longer at the front than the back but…maybe a gentler angle? Maybe to about here?” Kayleigh pointed uncertainly to the space between her left shoulder and her chin.
“Of course!” Huan nodded and placed her comb on an angle at the point Kayleigh had indicated to give her an idea of what the new haircut would look like. “This short enough or maybe a little more?” Huan moved the comb up to Kayleigh’s chin. “Or more?” The comb rose to Kayleigh’s ears.
“Chin length would be perfect,” Kayleigh blurted out before the comb moved any higher.
Huan made a small ‘hmm’ noise of approval and raised the comb and scissors to the back of Kayleigh’s head.
Kayleigh shuddered. With her nape now bald she could feel every lock, every strand of hair that floated across the back of her head and down her exposed neck.
SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.
With speed and precision, Huan reduced the sides of Kayleigh’s hair to chin length. A mixture of one to three inch pieces of hair were deposited over her shoulder and onto her lap. The cut followed the angle of her jaw. It was definitely a much more dramatic version of the haircut Kayleigh had imagined getting when she walked into the salon.
Huan put down the scissors and once more held up the mirror. “Better?” she asked.
It was certainly an improvement although the softer angle did nothing to draw attention away from the fact that there was a large section of hair missing from the back of Kayleigh’s head. If she was being honest she didn’t hate the cut, it was possible she didn’t even dislike, but wow was it going to take some time to get used to!
“Yeah, yeah that’s great, thank you,” said Kayleigh forcing a smile.
“Well you certainly surprised me,” said Naia.
The two friends had left the salon after paying for their haircuts and saying goodbye to Jai and Huan. Naia looked incredible with her new precise bangs and shoulder length bob.
“Yeah, it’s a bit more daring that I had in mind,” Kayleigh said and she explained about her distraction and the miscommunication with Huan.
“Aww don’t worry. Ok maybe it’s a little high at the back but I like that everyone can see your bald nape. I think it makes you look badass,” Naia reassured her.
Kayleigh grinned and felt a little better. “Ha thanks. If I go back there I’ll just have to make sure I’m really clear and don’t say the wrong instructions again.”
TO BE CONTINUED…