Lost In Translation

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Hanna listened for the echo of her footsteps in the cool, cavernous interior of the village church as she strolled along the tastefully decorated walls. It was an impressive old building and the massive 12th century stone walls had reliably kept the scolding heat of the burning 31 Celsius noon sun out. Although exploring the rural areas of northern Spain was the whole purpose of their trip, she and her friend Maike had fled into the cool interior of the Church only partially for its notable architecture. The other reason had been their excruciating four hour hike through the Spanish summer sun to this remote village. Hanna was unsure whether the ordeal had been worth it. She was still drenched in sweat and wet strands of hair stuck to her face and neck.

Hanna finished her small tour by the Church door where they had left their backpacks and looked over to Maike, who had taken out her phone and was taking a photo of a golden ornament on the other side of the room. The tall young woman struck a good figure in her professional outdoor gear and with her somehow still neatly straightened bob haircut. She definitely did not look as pathetic as Hanna felt right now.

Absently and slightly annoyed she began to twist her wavy brown hair up into a messy bun and fumbled in her pockets for a hair tie. Nothing in the left one. Neither in the right. With a frustrated groan she recalled the moment in her tent, just a few hours ago, when she had stuffed the missing band into her backpack. All the way at the bottom.

With a very un-church-like curse she turned around to her friend.

“Hey Maike, do you by chance have something to tie up hair? I packed badly this morning.”

Maike looked up from yet another ornament, and shrugged before strolling over to Hanna.

“Sorry Schatz, I did not pack any at all.”

Hanan cut a frustrated grimass, still holding up her hair and fanning cool air towards her neck.

“Honestly I don’t understand how you can stand walking around with that mountain of hair in this heat anyway. It’s mid July. It would annoy me to death if I had stuff sticking to my neck all day.”

Feeling caught, Hanna turned to her backpack and mumbeked: “I’ll survive. It’s just a little sun. And I’m not made out of sugar. Now let’s get out of here, I’ve seen enough.”

She could practically hear Maike roll her eyes as the words left her mouth. Hanna had always wondered how Maike was so good at guessing her thoughts.

“You know what, tough girl, I saw a local hairdresser just a few meters down the road. I have a strong suspicion they could help you out.”, Maike said, an amused undercurrent in her voice.

Hanna raised an eyebrow and looked back at her friend.

“I don’t think so, forget it.”

“Fine if you don’t want to, but I think I could get my hair touched up. And at the least it’s another place to stay until the worst of the heat is gone.”

Skeptically, Hanna eyed her friend’s neat hairdo. They had been on their hiking trip for about two weeks and Maike had had her hair cut just before that. It basically still looked the same as the minute she had left their usual salon back in Berlin. She was about to refuse, but then changed her mind and just shrugged.

“Fine, if you say so.”

There was no point to arguing. After all she did not plan to sit in this musty old Church for the next hour.

Maike shot her a quick grin, grabbed her backpack and was out the door. With an uneasy feeling, Hanna followed and stepped out into a wall of pressing summer heat.


They only had to walk a few meters back down the main street of the village until they could see a quaint little shop on the opposite site with Peluquería written in elegant red letters across a small window-front.

“That’s it.”, Maike said and walked straight towards the entrance. Hanna followed quietly.

As hoped, the interior of the shop was pleasantly cool. Somewhere in the dim room, Hanna could hear the hum of an air conditioning unit. The room itself was a small but tastefully decorated hair salon with a single padded chair opposite a large mirror, some shelves and a narrow counter by the door. A radio playeda  soppy pop song somewhere in the back.

A handsome woman in her forties was just entering the shop through a door on the opposite side. A wide smile split her face as she saw the new arrivals.

“Buenos díaz, jóvenes.”

Maike returned the greeting in broken Spanish and she and the woman immediately began to communicate in simple phrases and with many gestures. Hanna was not for the first time regretting that she had not made the time back in university to also attend the Spanish course that Maike had taken for about a year. Now she did not understand a word.

Instead, she nervously eyed the hairdresser. She was mature though fit, with sharp features and a casual elegance. Her long dark hair was tied up in a loose bun at the back of her head.

The two women seemed to come to an accord after a moment and Maike dropped her heavy backpack on one of the chairs in the waiting area.

“She is free now and can do me right away. Should not take too long. I think you can still sit down though. Her son will apparently bring us some drinks.”

“Well that’s some good news for once. Take your time.”, Hanna replied and let herself sink into one of the seats.

A minute later the hairdresser, whose name apparently was Mila, had arranged everything and Maike sat down on the large padded seat, eying herself in the mirror.

“What is there even to cut? It’s not like you have much hair left.”, Hanna asked. Her friend had cut her long black hair into a longish bob during their first year at university and had later transitioned to a shorter bob style with a neat trim along her jaw and back hairline.

“You’ll see in a moment.” was all the reply she got.

Hanna watched nervously as Mila first fixed a band of white tape around Hanna’s neck and then spread a large plastic cape with a tacky seashell print over her.

Both talked again in short sentences, while Mila started to wet Maike’s hair and comb it around in different sections.

Hanna nervously tapped her food while she eyed the scene. Had this been just some ploy by her friend to get her in here? Maike had always been cheeky like that. Or had her friend really just want to get her hair cut?

Then she was suddenly jerked back to reality as the high pitched sound of clippers started to fill the room. A second layer, the noise got a crushing note as the clippers dug deep into Maike’s back hair line and were pushed half the way up the back of her head.

Hanna swallowed hard. There she had her answer. Thais definitely was not what she had expected.

The performance continued for a few more minutes, as Mila quickly shaved off the bottom part of Maike’s hair, leaving a considerably higher bob-like hairline at about the level of her cheekbones. Everything below was short fuzz now; short enough for Hanna to see Maike’s scalp through her hair.

If she had thought of Maike’s old haircut as short, she now had been told a lesson.

Just then a teenage boy with multiple glasses on a tablet came in, shot a grin at everyone in the room and began handing out tall glasses with ice cubes inside. When he came over to Hanna, she smiled at him and said in English:

“Thanks, thanks so nice. What’s your name?”

The boy apparanly needed a moment to find the right words, but then said in strongly accented English. “I’m Jose. Mila is my mother.”

Hanna smiled again.

“I’m Hanna. Does your mother also speak English? Or German maybe?”

Jose shook his head.

“A little. She never learned. Only a few words. But I can translate if you want. Will you get your hair cut?”

Hanna hesitated for a second but then nodded. This would still be better than relying on Maike’s choppy Spanish skills.

“Maybe. If yes, you tell your mother I don’t want it too short. No clippers. No need to cut a lot off.”

Jose tilted his head for a moment as if he was about to ask something but then he looked over to where Maike was being shorn and nodded confidently.

“I understand.”

Hanna nodded in relief. For the next few minutes the room was quiet safe for the buzzing and snipping sounds from the chair. Mila had started to refine the line of Maike’s micro bob with her scissors. Just now she had combed down a generous, triangular section of hair across Maieks face. Hanna could see how she severed the strands with some precise snips, leaving Maike with a very high, blunt fringe near the top of her forehead.

Hanna swallowed hard. This had been the cherry on top for an already radical haircut.

A few minutes later Maike was being dusted off and walked over to the bench where Hanna was nervously waiting. Her new cut was in some sense an even shorter version of what she had had before and it suited her surprisingly well. With an impish grin she went through her now short hair with her hand and paste it point in all directions.

“So what do you think? Worth the wait?”

“Looks great, Schatz.”, Hanna had to admit. “Can we go now?”

“No way, it’s your turn. Half the reason I did this is to pave the way for you. You owe me now.”

“But… Come one. I really don’t want to.”

Maike did not reply but just pointed at the salon chair with a mockingly stern face, as if Hanna was being a particularly stubborn child.

With a resigned sigh, Hanna got up and walked over to the seat. Mila was already waiting with a genuine smile and wrapped her with the customary tape and cape with a few precise motions. Then she was expectantly looking at Hanna through the window, as if she waited for a similar explanation to Maike’s. Hanna instead pointed over to Jose, who was now sitting in the far corner of the room, checking his phone.

“Ask Jose”, she said in a loud and clear voice.

Mila looked over to her son, who said a few sentences in Spanish and then turned back to his phone. Mila nodded along, asked a question and got a brief answer back. Finally she said in heavily accented English:

“Short, too. Cut lot off with Clipper?”

Hanna sat frozen in surprise, as she heard her own words repeated back at her, but jumbled up and with their meaning tuned around entirely.

“No, I…”

But before she could explain the misunderstanding, Maike’s voice excitedly cut over her’s: “Sí, exacto! Cortarlo todo!”

Hanne could see her friend through the mirror. She had gotten up from her seat and was bobbing up and down in barely contained excitement. Well shit. What had she just said? Hanna was just about to speak up when she already heard the clippers jump to live.

“No hay problema.”, the hairdresser replied.

A second layer Hanna could feel an intense vibration in her skull as the clippers guard touched town at the nape of her neck and was driven higher and higher up. She could feel a severed wave of her long brown hair tumbled down along her back.

Oh God, no.

“What…?”, she croaked, her voice suddenly weak. This could not be.

Mila paused for a moment and looked at her expectedly. “Esta bien? More short?”

Hanna opens her mouth to say something but could not come up with anything. What was she supposed to say? It was too late now anyways. And Maike was apparently not about to help her, as she could see from her friend’s smug grin reflected in the mirror.

Feeling incapable of doing anything else, Hanna gave a helpless shrug and Mila did not hesitate. With a casual motion she flipped off the guard that had previously been attached to the machine. Immediately she started again, this time turning the clipper the other way and setting it down on Hanna’s forehead. Again, strangely pleasant vibrations passed through her skull as the blades of the clippers dug into her hair right along her middle part. The shock still had her gripped but a surprising excitement had also risen in her chest.

What the hell was she doing? What had Maike said to this women? This was insane.

The following minutes flashed by as Hanna lost herself in the sensation of the clippers on her head, moving first up we back, then along the left and right side of her head. Then Mila returns to the top, severing the last sections of her dense mane right at the roots.

The buzzing stopped and Hanna focused her eyes again at the mirror in front of her. A wild mountain of long brown curls lay piled on her lab. And none of it was left on her head. A faint dark shadow on her scalp was the only indicator that she had had a beautiful – though admittedly terribly hot – mane of hair just minutes ago.

But honestly, it did not look that bad. She had a pleasantly even face and head shape she had not been aware of. Hanna surprised herself as she saw her mirror image give a shy but genuine smile.

“You like?”, Mila asked?

“Sí.”, Hanna replied shily.

She somehow actually did.

A few more minutes passed as Mila got out an electric trimmer with only a thin grid cover and started to run it all over her head. Where she did, the dark shadow of the stubble immediately turned lighter.

When she was done, Hanna could barely make out the hairline on her otherwise bate head. Reverently, she worked one hand out from under the Cape and ran it over the smooth skin. It tingled strangely, in a good way though.

Again Hanna had to smile. She had to admit, this really did not turn not all that bad.

She was bald. Crazy. But apparently the good kind, as with most of Maike’s ideas.

Mila went over the entire head with a brush one last time, then she removed cape and collar and let Hanna get up. Still entranced, she ran her hands over the smooth head.

“Well… That was something…”, she murmured.

“Yes it was, more than I hoped for in fact. Are you ok?”, Maike asked, absent-mindedly twisting one of the short strands besides her face around her finger. Hanna thought she could hear a hint of guilt in her voice.

“I’m good, honey. But you know what: Some day this will need payback.”, she said with a slight grin.

“I can’t wait…”, Maike murmured.

Mila had already started to clean up most of the mess and within a few more minutes they had paid and stood back on the curb outside the shop. Behind them, Mila had turned up the radio and music seeped out into the street from indoors. The noon sun was still burning down with little less intensity than before. Only a slight breeze went by and Hanna could feel it as a cool shudder on her bare scalp.

So strange.

“You should probably use some of this.”, Maike said handing her a tube of sun cream “You know, I imagine sunburn on the head is nasty.”

Hanna stuck out her tongue at her friend who smirked back at her.

“Ha. Ha. Laugh while you still can. Let’s get going. We still have some distance ahead of us today.”

Resigned, Hanna grabbed the container and pressed out a bit of cream to spread it on her now exposed scalp.

Oh yes, she would repay her friend in kind.

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