Matugenus Becomes Marcus

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Apparently the Romans are here to stay. Despite our tribes’ best efforts, the little swarthy invaders have established a foothold on our island. At first many of us tried to resist militarily, but after what happened to the Icenii it became clear that our best option was to accept our new masters, as much as it pained us.

For myself, I tried to resist the lure of imported goods from around the Roman Empire, but olive oil proved too useful. I use it to cook, to clean my house, and to nourish my skin and hair. I did my best to personally resist the Romans, too. A group of us women ambushed a phalanx of Romans who were lured into our village, but despite a small victory—in part because I killed two Roman soldiers with my own hands—we lost the war in the end.

When my husband Matugenus came to accept that we were now Roman subjects, he started buying Roman goods at the market despite my misgivings. “If you can’t beat them, join them”, he said, and stopped painting himself blue with woad. I always thought his blue skin was sexy, but at least he didn’t adopt the toga. He goes into battle stark naked except for the blue designs painted in woad, but normally he wears woolen trousers, which work better for our climate. I always make sure he has his cloak when he goes out, too. The checked pattern matches his trousers so that he can be stylish as he stays warm enough.

Before each battle I always used to help him style his hair, which reached the bottom of his ribcage. We dunked his long hair into lime, which bleached it as it hardened the hair into long spikes. These were very hard spikes, hard enough to spear a piece of dried meat. The roots were auburn, the mid-length copper, and the ends strawberry blond. I loved the colour contrast with his light skin and blue woad battle paint. Matugenus decked out for battle was truly a sight to see. I have seen the Roman statues of their gods at the new temple, and my Matugenus is a much finer specimen of manhood.

But now we are adopting Roman customs and habits wholesale. Lately Matugenus has taken to calling himself Marcus. I think it’s silly, since most of the people we meet with regularly are just ordinary Britons like ourselves, but some of them are now calling themselves Julius or Gaius as well. Even my friends are restyling themselves as Octavia or Flavia. Not me, I’m keeping my name and my ethnic pride. My mother didn’t bring me up to fawn all over those foppish Romans.

I will also continue to observe the fine old custom of appearing in public with my husband and not segregating by gender the way I’m told the Greeks do. No proper Greek lady would be seen out and about in the public square, least of all arm-in-arm with her husband, or so I’m told. Who cares, this isn’t Greece, this is Londinium, and I won’t be shamed into sitting at home all day.

It was just on such an expedition to the market square that my husband first got the idea, I believe. I saw it too—a Roman barber set up shop. At first only the Roman transplants went there to have their faces shaved and to keep their hair cropped short. I heard that Roman soldiers were required to have short hair so that enemies would have nothing to grab. If anyone tried to grab Matugenus’ spikes, he or she would be in for a painful surprise.

At home my husband started to talk about this idea. “If I’m to go by Marcus, I need to look like a Marcus.”

“Simple. Just continue to use the perfectly nice name you’ve always had, and you won’t have to worry about trying to look like a Roman. Why would you want to look like a ninny, anyway?”

“Ninny? But they beat us.”

“Oh sure, for now they did. But not all of the tribes have been subjugated. The Romans gave up on the north entirely and are talking about building a wall, you know.”

“Well, I still think I’d like to look like a proper citizen, or at least subject. I’ll be treated better, with more respect. Besides, it’s clean and modern.”

“We’re clean enough. We use soap, they don’t. Don’t let them make you think we’re savages.”

I knew that no matter what I said, Matugenus had already made up his mind. Perhaps he thought he could take pride in trying to out-Roman the Romans. Whatever his thinking was, it was plain to me that the next time we went into the market square, he would be making a stop at the barber’s stall.

When the day came, Matugenus seemed to have a spring in his step. I hadn’t seen him this excited since the last time we prepared him for a battle. Perhaps he was right, perhaps a new era called for a new look.

Since the food stalls were next to the barber’s stall, we went together. I noticed that there was a long queue of men, mostly Britons like us, waiting to be shorn like sheep before the summer. These men had long hair that they allowed to clump together to form into thick cords, like worsted yarn; the barber cut these off at the roots. The barber also seemed to cut down the beards with shears before shaving off the remainder with a straight razor.

I didn’t have all day, so I went about my business of shopping at the market while Matugenus waited his turn. Usually he helped me carry my purchases, but today I had to manage on my own. At least I wasn’t buying a big amphora of red wine from southern Gaul. I couldn’t possibly carry that, jars of olive oil, honey, salted fish, and a bag of barleycorn as well.

When I finished my shopping, Matugenus was still waiting to be shorn, but he was next up. Good, if I wait for him he can carry some of our groceries home. I put down some of the heavy jars and settled into a comfortable position to see what Matugenus was planning to have done to himself.

First off, he introduced himself as Marcus. “I want a clean shave and a very short, legionary haircut. Proper Roman, you know.”

The barber didn’t need any more instruction than that. He spread a cloth around Matugenus’ shoulders and set to work on his beard first. The barber picked up his shears and hacked off my husband’s red whiskers to the chin before placing the blades against the skin of his chin and cheeks, not forgetting his lip. Somehow my husband looked younger with short stubble on his face. The barber next picked up the straight razor and began scraping off what remained of Matugenus’ facial hair. As I watched the planes of his face looked new and different: his cheeks emerged into daylight and I saw the cleft in his chin for the first time.

At this point the barber showed Matugenus his face in a polished bronze mirror. He smiled and touched his now-bare chin. At least the man himself likes it. That’s what counts. Surprisingly, I liked it too. His face would be pleasant to kiss.

Next up was his hair. The barber picked up the shears and began snipping each tuft right off at the root, so that only the darker part remained. As the hair began to collect on the ground I thought it looked a bit like bits of yarn or a den of baby snakes. Now his ears were exposed, as was his neck. Matugenus smiled when the last of the long cords tumbled onto the ground and the barber began to cut the rest of his hair into an actual style.

He pulled my husband’s ears out and down to snip around them and pushed his head forward to give better access to the nape of his neck. The barber grabbed the short hair between his fingers and sliced, cutting it shorter and shorter. I noticed that he cut the back and sides shorter than the top and front, which was left about a finger-width in length.

When his haircut was all finished, Matugenus was handed the polished brass mirror again. This time he ran his hand over his newly-shorn pate and beamed. “I look like a proper Roman subject now, worthy to be granted citizenship someday. Today I’m really a Marcus!”

I said nothing about his hair as he paid for his shearing and picked up some of the jugs off of the ground. When we got home, I took a closer look. “Let me see. I don’t think I’ve ever seen your face totally bare like this. Or your neck and ears.” I moved in even closer to kiss him, and ran my hand up the back of his head as I did so. The soft, velvety texture was pleasant to the touch. I could learn to live with this. In fact, I realized to my surprise, I actually liked it. The new short hair actually suited him. He didn’t look like a Roman ninny; he still looked like himself.

Matugenus would always be the same handsome warrior that I married, but I found that I had it in my heart to love his new incarnation as Marcus just as much, since his new look seemed to make him so happy. Now, let’s see about making some little future Roman citizens!

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