Melissa Bends the Rules

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Prologue

It was a chore that, every six months, I never looked forward to. Did anyone? You may do if you could afford to go private, but I had never been wealthy enough to be in that fortunate position.

Reception

‘Hello,’ I murmured tentatively, having slowly approached the desk under the watchful gaze of a young receptionist who I had not seen before. ‘I am Melissa Collins and I have an appointment at 9.30.’

‘Good morning, Miss Collins,’ she said, forcing a smile. ‘I am Mandy. Please allow me to check.’

The receptionist unnecessarily primped her immaculate blonde hair, suffused with golden highlights, as she consulted her computer. Her bountiful locks framed her face with gentle waves, tumbling over her shoulders and the ends resting neatly on her pert breasts. A smart white V-neck tunic made of a thin silky material endeavoured to constrain those breasts, although a considerable amount of her cleavage was on display.

‘Ah, yes, Miss Collins. 9.30,’ the slow-witted girl confirmed, as if there had been reason to doubt me. It had been in my diary for the past six months, drawing ever closer, day by day. She looked up at the clock pointedly. ‘Ooh, you are early,’ she noted with a tight smile, leaving me to wonder what her reaction might have been if I had been late.

‘Please may I wait?’ I asked impatiently, waving to the bench that lined one wall. I had expected her to invite to sit. However, I then thought it equally likely that the stupid girl, to avoid confusing herself, might have told me to walk around aimlessly outside until my appointed time.

‘Of course, Miss Collins,’ she said in a tone that suggested I was the stupid one. ‘Go through that door to the Waiting Lounge and I will send for you when it is time for your appointment.’

A proper waiting area. That was a change since my last appointment. I went through the door that Mandy had indicated, and I was immediately confronted by a familiar but unwelcome face.

‘What are you doing in here?’ the large woman demanded brusquely. ‘You don’t belong in here!’

‘And nice to see you again too,’ I murmured sarcastically.

Relegation

After the large woman had “welcomed” me into the Waiting Lounge, we sized each other up without saying a word. Women dotted around the spacious and well-appointed room looked up from their magazines or peered over their delicate coffee cups. They smirked on hearing how the old woman had greeted me, and they sneered while examining my appearance with obvious disdain.

‘Mandy said -’

‘Mandy. I might have known. She really is useless, isn’t she?’ I nodded my agreement. ‘The boss says she has charm and valuable assets. We all know what that means, don’t we?’ she sighed in frustration, unconsciously rearranging then projecting her ample chest. I nodded again. ‘Well, have you upgraded?’

The buxom older woman known as Bessie had been the receptionist for all the years that I had frequented the establishment. I had grown used to seeing her grim features when I arrived. With almost identical hair to the much younger Mandy and similar, if more abundant and uncontrollable, frontal assets, she could have been related to the girl. However, wisely, she wore her similar tight tunic primly buttoned up to her neck in deference to her age.

After all these years, I surmised that “the boss” had replaced Bessie with a much younger model to be the initial point of contact for visitors. The boss had relegated the older woman to supervising the newly introduced Waiting Lounge that sat behind closed doors. No wonder Bessie was acting so cantankerously.

‘No, I have not upgraded,’ I snapped, ‘but I still have the privilege of treatment here under the NHS. It is a privilege granted to my father and members of our family for his loyal government service.’

‘Nonsense. It is a loophole in the system that needs closing,’ the aggrieved woman stated. ‘This is a private establishment. One for wealthy people. People who value their appearance. We do not want to treat any old riffraff here. That Mandy certainly should never have directed you into my private Waiting Lounge. That girl really is useless.’

I had no doubt that entitled people would close the loophole one day. But, before then, I was keen to benefit from the privilege earnt by my dad for as long as possible. I stood my ground defiantly. ‘May I wait here until my appointment is due?’

‘Within this establishment, I make the rules,’ she claimed. I doubted that. More likely, it was the staff senior to her that made the rules. I imagined those staff included everyone in the building apart from young Mandy. ‘So, you are not permitted to wait in here,’ she spat causing smirking faces to turn in my direction once more. ‘You must go back through the door and sit on the bench until your appointed time,’ she said, running out of breath, having exerted all her limited authority. ‘Out, out,’ she screeched, shooing me away with her hand when I failed to immediately move.

Seeing no value in arguing with the rude and nauseating woman, I spun around on the spot and marched outside without a word.

‘Oh,’ Mandy uttered, looking perplexed. Looking up at the clock, she added, ‘It is still not, er, um …’

‘That old battleaxe in there said that because I was NHS that I had to wait out here,’ I explained.

‘No, Well, yes, that’s right,’ Mandy attempted, but failed, to clarify. ‘You didn’t say you were NHS,’ she added petulantly.

Give me strength, I thought to myself. ‘Isn’t it on your computer?’

‘Yes, I suppose so,’ she agreed tentatively, absently tapping the keys. Suddenly, she comically leaped back in her seat when the screen flashed. I presumed she had received a message. I laughed. ‘Oh, it appears Mr Bruce is ready for you now.’

I stood, relieved, and walked over to the door carrying Mr Bruce’s nameplate, leaving Mandy ineffectively tapping away at her keyboard.

Assessment

‘Ah, Miss Collins. How lovely to see you,’ Mr Bruce said in his characteristically effusive manner. ‘How have you been keeping since your last appointment? Any problems?’

Irrespective of how little I enjoyed my appointments, it was reassuring to see the familiar face of this skilled professional. A face that was both friendly and intelligent. I sat down in his large but comfortable chair.

‘Fine,’ I murmured timidly. ‘No problems?’

‘Well, just relax, Miss Collins,’ he encouraged, slowly reclining the back of the chair. I must have looked worried as I always did at this moment. He comforted me with a gentle tap on the shoulder and a little chuckle. ‘Just relax. I will check things over as usual and then do the usual maintenance to keep things nice.’

Mr Bruce picked up his menacing tools and he began the feared examination. Tugging and scraping more than I had hoped, I accepted that better personal care may have made his task easier and less painful for me. As his inspection progressed, he punctuated his actions with the occasional sigh and a sharp intake of breath. Each time it suggested he had found something untoward, but I dared not ask what it might be until he had finished. I wanted to remain in ignorance as long as possible.

Mr Bruce put down his tools and gave a long sigh as he updated my records on his computer. ‘Miss Collins, have you been using any unprescribed substances since your last appointment?’

‘No,’ I lied. ‘Well, not really … as my friends use some and … and …’

A sharp intake of breath met my confession. ‘Unfortunately, the use of those substances has had a detrimental effect on the condition and appearance of your hair. So, your locks need to receive drastic remedial treatment immediately.’

‘Drastic?’ I echoed dumbly. He nodded. ‘Immediately?’ He nodded emphatically. ‘Oh …’

While I contemplated his previous words, Mr Bruce rambled on. ‘Our establishment is prepared to accept those on the NHS whose parents have served our government well. But I must remind you that we are unable to undertake anything more than basic treatment without payment. To receive the private treatment you require, you would need to upgrade to one of our plans or pay us for each individual treatment. I will be happy to provide you with the relevant details of both options.’

‘Either way, I doubt I will be able to afford it …’ I whined.

Mr Bruce gave a long sigh and stared down at me without empathy. ‘Perhaps you should have considered the implications when you employed substances that I had not prescribed.’

‘I am sorry,’ I whimpered. ‘But -’

‘The use of cheap and unapproved colouring agents on your hair has caused it to become dry and brittle,’ he stated curtly, his veneer of politeness fading when faced with my stupidity. ‘See!’ the arrogant practitioner barked, lifting the comb he had used on my hair earlier and showing me the broken strands entwined within. ‘After all the care I have lavished on your locks, you have ruined it!’

Reflection

When the government had established the National Hair Service – the NHS – I had been in fear of losing the long locks I had worn throughout my life.

The government, in consultation with business leaders and other wealthy people, had been concerned by the nation’s low productivity. They decided that the poorer masses had insufficient disposable income to maintain their personal grooming standards. They determined that their scruffy appearance reflected badly on the businesses that employed them. Furthermore, they concluded it was a source of embarrassment in their interactions with the entitled upper classes and the people of other countries. While it was a ridiculous conclusion, the influential minority upheld it.

While such arrogance and condescension incensed the public, government officials decided they needed to take action to satisfy their supporters and keep the elected officials in power. The government established the NHS to provide compulsory free hair care for women who could not afford to go to a private ladies’ hair salon.

The government decided that state licensed barbershops would provide the care. Every woman would be able to choose from one of a limited portfolio of short haircuts that any barber could perform in under ten minutes, free of charge. Naturally, there was an outcry initially but any woman that refused to have her hair cut was at risk of losing her job or paying a fine. After a while, the authorities pummelled impoverished women into accepting they would always have short hair in the future.

Wealthy woman, by contrast, could choose to go to private salons. They could pay the fee required for haircutting and other expensive treatments on each visit. Alternatively, they could subscribe to a private haircare plan, making monthly payments for regular trims and associated treatments.

Mr Bruce had always been an acclaimed, if pretentious, hair artiste and women had flocked to his salon. My mother had been a regular client, and I followed her. My hair had always been long and straight. All I required was a regular trim to keep it neatly at waist length and I had worn it that way all my life.

When the government established the NHS, Mr Bruce, unsurprisingly, decided that his salon would remain a private establishment rather than a state licensed barbershop. He increased his fees significantly. The cost was not an issue for his wealthy clients but those who were poorer could no longer afford his care.

Fortunately, for me, the government subsidised private hair care for family members of respected government officials, allowing me to continue seeing Mr Bruce. However, the free care only extended to regular checks of hair condition and straightforward trims, which was fine with me. All my friends had their hair unceremoniously cropped short by the state licensed barbershops into unflattering but functional styles. I felt privileged to still be able to wear my hair long and have it trimmed regularly, even if wealthy women still looked down on me.

As I grew older and more aware of fashion, I became bored with not being able to change the style or colour of my hair. A friend knew someone who illegally produced hair colourants that they sold cheaply. With trepidation, I decided to try it. I loved the deeper colour, the glossiness and the thickness bestowed on my renewed hair.

I was nervous when Mr Bruce had examined my hair, taking longer than normal. When he informed me that the illegal substance that I had used had ruined my hair, I felt mortified. His obvious disappointment with my behaviour left me feeling embarrassed and disappointed with myself.

‘I am sorry, Mr Bruce,’ I repeated, a tear trickling down my cheek.

Consideration

‘Miss Collins,’ Mr Bruce soothed, patting my shoulder. ‘Er, Melissa. That was unprofessional of me so let us work together to achieve a mutually acceptable solution.’

‘Thank you,’ I whimpered, relaxing slightly.

‘Not at all,’ the stylist countered. ‘You and your mother have been valued long term clients, irrespective of, er, your status.’

‘Thanks,’ I murmured dumbly.

‘As you know I am restricted by the services I can offer you for free, under the government subsidy scheme. As you have indicated that you are not able to pay for any additional services then we will need to look at alternative solutions.’

Nodding, I smiled weakly and felt more confident about the outcome.

‘I could – and I should, according to the government regulations – release you as a subsidised NHS client as you have used hair colourant illegally. You should attend a state licensed barbershop to have your hair cut short and -’

‘No!’ I yelled, quivering nervously.

Mr Bruce gave a little chuckle. ‘Do not worry, Melissa, I can understand your reluctance to submit you and your hair to one of those chop shops. Besides, just cutting your hair short, is no guarantee that the breakage of your hair would stop, and that its condition would improve.’

‘Oh, but -’

‘Now, if you were a private client then I would prescribe a weekly conditioning treatment. I would follow this with a more substantial trim than usual to reestablish the condition of your hair. Then, once I deemed it sufficiently strong, I would prescribe the addition of hair extensions.’

‘Wow, that’s sounds wonderful!’ I blurted out excitedly.

‘Indeed. But, as I said, I could do that if you were a private client. However, it is an extremely expensive procedure, and we are not a charity.’

I felt like he was deliberately causing me to ride a rollercoaster of emotions. ‘Oh,’ I said, feeling deflated.

‘So, we are left with just the one option,’ he announced grandly. ‘Clearance.’

Intention

‘Clearance?’ I questioned, mystified by Mr Bruce’s words.

‘Yes,’ he confirmed eagerly. ‘We’ll remove your hair to give the opportunity for the roots to rest, following the trauma of the unhealthy treatment you have put them through.’

‘Cut it shorter, you mean?’ I asked, seeking clarification. ‘So, I can have extensions applied if I can find the money?’

Mr Bruce wheezed his annoying little chuckle once more. ‘No, Melissa. I mean, remove your hair. Shave it all off. Completely. There will be no opportunity to apply extensions,’ he chuckled again. ‘It’s the only way the roots can successfully recover,’ he added nonchalantly in a way that suggested I was stupid for not knowing that.

I began hyperventilating. I wondered if I could ask for a second opinion. Like I would be able to with a doctor or a dentist. As I have always thought, going to a hair salon was far worse than either of those. I tried to arise from my reclined position.

‘Please don’t worry, Melissa,’ Mr Bruce said, applying gentle pressure to my shoulders from behind. His action forced me to remain in his chair. ‘We can do that for you immediately and set you on a road to instant recovery. Unfortunately, because of what you have done, the government’s subsidy does not cover you. A state licensed barber should conduct the remedial action. However, in deference to my past relationship with your family, I am pleased to inform you that we will make no charge. As part of her training, one of my assistants will perform the clear- … er, activity.’

Things were moving too fast for me. My mind was struggling to catch up. Surely, a government approved person forcibly shaving someone else bald was not what our country had come to. Had it?

‘Mandy,’ he called out, as he eased his surgery’s door open, ‘please could you ask Mrs Titmus to join me.’

‘Of course, Mr Bruce,’ I heard Mandy reply, followed by the tap of heels on the hardwood floor as she trotted away.

‘Such a treasure that girl,’ Mr Bruce sighed indulgently. ‘Extremely useful around the place and great credentials.’

It was the second time in a brief period that I had felt Mr Bruce’s judgement was suspect. To be fair, I conceded his assessment of Mandy’s pert “credential” was accurate.

As I mused, a huge shadow fell over my prone form as someone passed through the doorway into the surgery. ‘Ah, Mrs Titmus, we have a candidate for you to practice your skills.’

I strained to raise my head against Mr Bruce’s pressure on my shoulders, trying to see who had entered.

‘Oh, how wonderful,’ a woman’s deep voice resonated around the room.

I gasped as I saw, in horror, that Mrs Titmus was the person I knew as Bessie. She was the old buxom receptionist who I had crossed swords with earlier in the Waiting Lounge.

‘Ah, how nice, Miss Collins. We meet gain, and never was there a more deserving person of my skills,’ she grinned broadly.

I groaned.

Pushing up the sleeves of her tight tunic, Bessie rubbed her hands together with undisguised enthusiasm.

Preparation

‘No!’ I cried out, as Mrs Bessie Titmus loomed over me.

I struggled to leave but Mr Bruce – still seated on his stool behind me – held me firmly down by my shoulders.

‘Now, don’t be silly, Melissa,’ Mr Bruce said, emitting his increasingly irritating little high-pitched chuckle. ‘I’m sure you remember Mrs Titmus from when she was our regular receptionist.’

‘Exactly,’ I confirmed fearfully.

‘She now manages the Waiting Lounge for our private clients, but she is also training as an apprentice stylist under my supervision,’ Mr Bruce declared proudly. ‘I am pleased to inform you that she will be undertaking your clearance today.’

He had to raise his voice as I complained vehemently. I continued to struggle away from his tight grip. He attempted to placate me by meaninglessly repeating, ‘There, there.’

‘A clearance! I have never seen one before,’ an excited and animated voice piped up from the doorway. ‘Can I watch please?’

‘Of course you can, Mandy,’ Mr Bruce agreed in a syrupy tone that confirmed he was more than just interested in her “credentials”. ‘After all, it might be you I have working under me one day,’ he said, chuckling at his unsubtle double meaning.

‘I suppose,’ harrumphed a begrudging Bessie, clearly irritated by the young woman’s presence and the hold she enjoyed over their boss.

‘Oh, goody,’ Mandy uttered with a childish joy, clapping her hands together.

I felt I had entered a madhouse. Everyone, apart from me, was crazy.

‘Now remember, Bessie, to clearly explain each stage to the patient … er, I mean client -so they know what to expect from you,’ Mr Bruce instructed.

Without warning, metallic bands came gliding out from the edge of the chair, across my body and held me firmly in place. The back of the chair rose to a less inclined angle.

‘There we are. All set,’ Mr Bruce chuckled as he moved away to stand next to Mandy.

She looked up at him eagerly, and then grinned at me showing obvious excitement. ‘Oh, goody!’ she said, sounding thrilled by the prospect of seeing all my hair severed.

Separation

Bessie moved into my view brandishing massive red hairclippers that looked small in her meaty hand. She looked down at me with undisguised enthusiasm.

‘So, Miss Collins,’ she explained, ‘I will be removing all this once lovely hair that you have ruined by the application of illegal substances. Such a shame after all Mr Bruce’s care over so many years.’

‘Please …’ I whimpered, but she ignored me.

The loathsome woman gathered all my hair that had rested over the back of the chair into a rough ponytail. She pulled it tight, none too gently. ‘I will be employing these powerful hairclippers to perform the task quickly and efficiently,’ she announced with a deep laugh, as they roared into life.

I could not move and, with Bessie in charge, I knew there was no point in trying to appeal to her better nature as I doubted that she had one.

The silver blade of the clippers filled my vision. She pulled my ponytail even tighter. I felt the cold metal touch my forehead. I shivered as the instrument began sliding through my hair.

‘Ooh! Gosh!’ Mandy squeaked with amusement, still standing next to Mr Bruce, as she jabbed a finger enthusiastically at my misfortune. ‘Doesn’t she mind?’ the young girl asked, looking up to her boss as if I was not there.

‘She accepts it is necessary,’ Mr Bruce replied arrogantly, nodding sagely. ‘Let it be a warning to you and your friends not to experiment with illegal substances.’

‘I never would, Mr Bruce,’ Mandy simpered. ‘You look after my hair so nicely in our private sessions.’

Mr Bruce coughed loudly as if to drown out the indiscretions coming from the young receptionist’s full red lips. It was a moment of mild amusement amongst the horror of the rough treatment that Bessie was giving me.

Repeatedly, the fearsome old woman drove the blade of her hairclippers painfully through my hair. I wondered whether she was deliberately attempting to cause me discomfort. Or whether she was simply clumsy and inexperienced. I did not know, but I suspected the former as she sounded extremely happy in her work as she gleefully hummed to herself.

‘It looks painful, what Bessie’s doing to her, and it must be traumatic,’ Mandy rightly observed. ‘Are you not able to give her an anaesthetic or something?’

Inevitably, Mr Bruce chuckled. ‘Well, although I am not a doctor, I have been known to give private clients a stiff drink to relax them if I am trimming off more than they expect. But Miss Collins is NHS so she must be prepared to accept the discomfort.’

‘Ah, I understand,’ Mandy said, head to one side. ‘It is quite interesting to watch actually.’

My suffering is interesting, is it? Bessie moved my head around by tugging my ponytail this way and that – back and forth – providing her with convenient access to all my hair. My automatic reaction was to struggle, forcing my head the opposite way.

‘Don’t fight it, Collins,’ she growled quietly under her breath, so her boss did not hear. ‘Whatever you try to do, the result will be the same,’ she snarled menacingly. ‘It’s all coming off.’

I was growing increasingly numb. Physically numb through my scalp, and mentally numb arising from the indignity of what Bessie was doing to me.

Relief finally came when, with a cry of exultation from the old woman, she proudly gloated, ‘It’s all off!’

She held up my ponytail and waved it triumphantly. Strands slapped around my face without care.

‘Gosh! Look! She is bald!’ Mandy pointed out unnecessarily, waving a finger in my direction gleefully. ‘Completely bald!’ she giggled.

I groaned at the humiliation.

‘Can I have that?’ the young receptionist asked, snatching my hair from Bessie’s grasp. She waved it around joyfully and then caressed it like a new pet.

‘Of course you can, Mandy,’ Mr Bruce confirmed, to Bessie’s undisguised annoyance. ‘If Miss Collins had not ruined the condition of her hair, then I would have produced some nice extensions for you … but, sadly, as you can see …’ he went on, gloomily fingering the ends of my former hair.

‘Happy, Bessie?’ I sneered sarcastically, struggling against the bands that Mr Bruce had still not released.

My tormentor stared at me thoughtfully, chewing over her next words. ‘Happier, Collins, for sure. But I will be even happier once I have finished.’

‘Ooh, there’s more!’ Mandy asked with an expectant giggle. ‘What’s next?’

Continuation

‘Yes, Mandy, there is much more to do,’ Bessie responded.

I groaned as I contemplated what further humiliation Bessie was going to force upon me.

Replacing the loud buzz of the hairclippers was a gentler hum of another motorised device. Metal disks vibrated against my head as Bessie forcefully drove the device back and forth – this way and that – over my scalp, around my ears and along my neck.

‘I imagine that thing on your head is like having a head massage. Quite relaxing really …’ Mandy conjectured. After a pause, she added, giggling, ‘well, relaxing unless you knew it was shaving off the last trace of your hair.’

I did not feel in the least relaxed. After another painful session, Bessie withdrew the device and I saw that it was like a man’s face shaver with menacing circular heads like a primeval torture device. However, I was relieved that Bessie must have finished.

My relief did not last long. I jumped against my restraints when Bessie, without warning, liberally slapped a cold substance over my scalp. Her powerful fingers thoroughly massaged the creamy liquid into my skin.

‘Oh, my goodness!’ Mandy called out. ‘What is that white stuff.’

‘Shaving cream, of course,’ Bessie retorted impatiently. ‘She needs to be completely free of hair before the next stage so I will shave her with a razor.’

‘But those machines freed her of all her hair,’ Mandy contemplated. ‘At least I thought so …’

Bessie rewarded her young colleague with a long patronising sigh. ‘Her scalp must be completely free for the next stage to be effective.’

Despite the two women avidly discussing my appearance, I felt numb by what was happening. My disbelieving mind was on the point of checking out. However, after all Bessie had already done, talk of the next stage had me puzzled. I needed answers. ‘But surely -’

As I felt sharp metal scraping over my scalp, making a rasping sound, my complaint faded away.

‘Ooh, it sounds like there is still some hair there, after all,’ Mandy giggled. ‘Who knew …’

‘Not for long,’ Bessie reproached indulgently, chuckling as she continued scraping away the shaving cream and any trace of my hair from my head.

There was no doubting Bessie’s thoroughness as she razored my scalp diligently using her fingers to check for any missed bristles. After what seemed like an inordinate amount of time, the rasping of the razor changed to a swishing sound as the blade glided over my skin.

Emotionally, I had reached my lowest ebb. As Bessie cleaned my head with a cloth, I could see Mandy and Mr Bruce leaning forward attentively, keen to examine the old woman’s dastardly work from closer quarters.

‘Ooh, nice,’ Mandy said, praising her older colleague. ‘Well done,’ she added.

‘Thanks, Mandy,’ Bessie said, soaking up the praise. ‘Now, the final stage is to apply the suppresser.’

Suppression

Suppresser, I mused. Suppressing what? My irritation or my humiliation?

As I contemplated Bessie’s meaning, I felt her smearing another, more viscous, substance liberally over my head. Once done, Bessie stood back and carefully studied her watch.

After ten seconds I experienced a mild burning sensation over my whole scalp, which turned to pins and needles. An intense and unpleasant odour briefly accompanied the sensation. The prickling on my scalp slowly faded.

‘So, was that some sort of moisturiser … or sun protection … or something?’ Mandy questioned.

‘Well done, Mandy,’ Mr Bruce commended. ‘The substance does exhibit those properties, but its primary purpose is a suppressant. It effectively switches off the follicles and prevents hair growth for a prescribed period to allow the damaged roots time to recover. During the suppressed period, it acts more like a varnish to protect the scalp and maintain its fresh and attractive appearance.’

‘Her head does look varnished, for sure,’ Mandy giggled, approaching me with a gleam in her eye. ‘May I feel it?’

‘No!’ I retorted in annoyance. It was my head and I wished to maintain my few remaining personal rights.

‘Of course, Mandy, you may admire how slick Mrs Titmus has made it,’ said Mr Bruce, immediately contradicting me.

‘Ooh, it feels so lovely. Her head is all silky smooth like glass,’ the young girl tittered, caressing my head gently at first, and then more boldly. ‘You have done a wonderful job, Mrs Titmus.’

‘Thank you, Mandy,’ the old woman replied proudly.

‘So,’ I snarled, ‘when can I wash this muck off and start growing my hair again? A couple of days?’ Mr Bruce shook his head, giving his characteristic and condescending little chuckle. ‘A couple of weeks?’ He met my question with the same response.

‘It depends on how long the suppressor remains in place before it is rubbed off and brought to a shine,’ Mr Bruce responded. ‘Mrs Titmus, I saw you timing the process. How long before Miss Collins hair should start to appear?’

‘Ten months!’ Bessie declared proudly.

Conclusion

Mr Bruce looked extremely worried when he heard that Bessie Titmus had sentenced me to ten months of baldness.

‘Oh dear, that is rather generous!’ Mr Bruce exclaimed. ‘Four weeks would be more normal,’ he mused. After a brief period, his features adopted an unconvincing look of confidence, and he continued. ‘However, no harm done as it will give sufficient time for your hair roots to fully recover. So, that’s all good.’

‘Do you mean I will be completely bald for nearly a year?’ I asked, flabbergasted.

Mr Bruce nodded and chuckled irritatingly.

‘Unbelievable!’ I groaned, my mind trying to seek relief from all the government-imposed madness. ‘So, after ten months I can come back to you again, and you will maintain it for free as it grows out?’

‘I am afraid not, Miss Collins … well, unless you are prepared to pay to go private,’ Mr Bruce replied sternly. ‘The government will not allow it. As you have used an illegal colourant on your hair, they will rescind your privilege to receive free private hair care. They will require you to go to a state licensed barber to review the progress of your hair growth. At the appropriate time, they will give you a government approved style.’

‘This is madness!’ I yelled. ‘You mean, because of the damn government, my hair will always be short from now on?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid so,’ Mr Bruce confirmed, showing no fear or worry at all. ‘And may I suggest you moderate your tongue when talking of our wonderful government,’ he chided.

‘I do believe the government are adding a bald head to the list of acceptable styles,’ Bessie Titmus piped up, grinning, ‘so you can have the suppresser applied permanently if you wish.’

I glared at my audience. Mr Bruce, Bessie, and Mandy were all staring at my gleaming bald head with barely suppressed amusement.

Trying to salvage my self-respect, I posed a question to my audience. ‘Does someone know where I can buy a nice scarf or a hat?’

‘Oops! I am sorry, Miss Collins, we should have explained that any form of head covering while the roots of your hair are dormant will further delay its regrowth,’ Mr Bruce declared. ‘You will be required to keep your smooth dome on view at all times.’

Bessie sniggered while Mandy crooned, ‘Ooh, how lovely.’

Epilogue

As I left Mr Bruce’s harrowing establishment behind, everyone who passed me on the street stared at me. Although there were people who exhibited pity, they all knew my illegal activities had resulted in my appearance. It demonstrated that none of us should disobey the government.

After a lifetime of long hair, the cool breeze on my bare scalp felt completely alien to me. When a young child saw me, she jabbed a finger at me and cried out in fear. I realised my peculiar appearance looked completely alien to her.

As I reflect on my stupidity, let my sad story function as a warning to everyone to avoid experimenting with illegal substances such as hair colourants.

If you do not wish to imprison yourself indoors for months and months, away from all your friends …

If you do not wish to morbidly stare in the mirror for hours on end, regretting the actions that led to your smooth and gleaming bald head …

If you do wish to fervently examine your scalp every minute, willing the first strand of hair to reappear …

… then, please, just say no!

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