Miss Tibbs Welcomes Rachel to the Village

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‘Good evening, sir. I am Miss Tibbs,’ the old woman at the door said with a warm smile, ‘and I am here on behalf of the village school to give your daughter her the mandatory haircut.’

It was a strange and unexpected welcome to the village.

= * = * =

A couple of days earlier we had moved into our new home. As the moving truck pulled away, my daughter Rachel anxiously clutched her extremely long chestnut brown braid in what had become a comforting act and a habitual gesture. We had just moved to a village away from the bustling city, and Rachel was understandably apprehensive about starting at a new school, but it was a highly respected establishment and the availability of a place for Rachel had been a factor when choosing where we would live.

As a recently divorced father, I was tasked with raising Rachel on my own after her mother left us to run off with her boss after twenty years of marriage. In the divorce settlement, we had been forced to sell the marital home and I had bought a modest house in a village, away from the city that held so many bad memories for me. It was a momentous change, but I was determined to make it work for myself and Rachel.

= * = * =

The night before Rachel was due to start at her new school, there was a knock on our door. As I opened it, I was greeted by a smartly dressed woman in her sixties, perhaps even older, carrying a small suitcase.

She introduced herself as Miss Tibbs from the school and then voiced the bizarre idea that she was there to give my daughter her mandatory school haircut. Not wishing to appear rude, I stifled my laughter regarding her absurd notion.

‘Hello there. I am David Stearns, and this is my daughter, Rachel,’ I replied, motioning to Rachel who had now joined me at the door. Trying to dispel the confusion, I enquired, ‘I’m sorry, how exactly may we help you?’

‘As I have already said,’ Miss Tibbs stated impatiently, ‘I’m here to give your daughter her mandatory haircut before she starts at the school tomorrow,’ she said, clearly irritated by the need to repeat herself.

I was taken aback by her statement. ‘Excuse me?’ I said, trying to hide my confusion.

‘Dad?’ my anxious daughter whined, her eyes filled with fear and confusion, wringing her long thick braid nervously around her fingers.

Taking us by surprise, Miss Tibbs marched in uninvited, breezing past us, and placed her small case on the kitchen table. ‘It is all in the school rules,’ she stated, leaving no room for doubt. ‘I will cut her hair now. You have already signed all the appropriate enrolment forms.’

I racked my brain, trying to remember any details. I was usually so diligent with anything I signed, particularly where my daughter was concerned. But, over the previous year, there were so many documents to read, and there was so much happening at time. However, I could not recall that specific requirement, and that was a surprise given that it affected something so important to both of us.

‘Sorry, Rachel,’ I said, turning to my daughter. ‘I don’t remember signing anything, but it is a highly regarded school, and we have secured you a place to attend, so -’

‘If her hair is not cut then she will not be attending school tomorrow,’ Miss Tibbs admonished sternly.

‘Under the circumstances, maybe it’s for the best …’ I suggested to my daughter.

Rachel let out a small whimper, clearly unhappy with the situation.

‘But Dad, I’ve never heard of -‘ Rachel began, but Miss Tibbs cut her off.

‘Silence, young lady, this is no business of yours. It has already been decided,’ Miss Tibbs barked, rather unreasonably I thought.

‘Excuse me …’ I pressed, wishing to intervene, but Miss Tibbs waved a hand dismissively and ignored my words.

‘Now, sit still on that stool, young lady, and do not move,’ Miss Tibbs warned. ‘We will do this quickly – and quietly please – tears are so tiresome. Your hair will soon be gone,’ she added gleefully.

With a heavy heart, Rachel reluctantly sat down on the stool. We watched Miss Tibbs retrieve her tools from the small case that she had brought with her. Ignoring my daughter’s continued protests, Miss Tibbs lifted Rachel’s long thick braid secured on top of her head and began to saw through it – a task requiring a great deal of effort due to the thickness of her hair and perhaps the bluntness of the scissors which appeared to have seen better days – but finally the hair was severed and came away in Miss Tibbs’ hand.

Miss Tibbs inspected Rachel’s braid, smiled happily, and popped it in her case. As Rachel watched, her eyes reddened, and even I came close to tears. We still failed to comprehend the reason for this sudden haircut.

Miss Tibbs covered Rachel with what appeared to be a worn old bedsheet, rather than a haircutting cape, and she fastened it securely around her neck.

She produced an old-fashioned set of electric hairclippers and plugged the lead into a nearby power socket. She switched the clippers on, and they came to life with a loud roar. Without any explanation, Miss Tibbs proceeded to clipper away the hair on the back and sides of Rachel’s head. She created a solid line around her head using the blade of the hairclippers, high above Rachel’s ears, leaving just a smooth cap of hair covering her crown.

To my astonishment, I realised Miss Tibbs was giving my daughter a mushroom cut, as we used to call it, or a bowlcut. As I saw tears dropping on the sheet, as the old woman pushed Rachel’s head firmly down, I wanted to tell Miss Tibbs to stop the carnage, but I knew it was far too late. She completed her work by giving my daughter a ridiculously short fringe across her forehead and then she diligently shaved her hairline. When she had finished, only white skin showed around her ears, along her neck and up the back of her head.

Miss Tibbs stepped back to inspect her work, while Rachel looked around seeking the nearest mirror. However, witnessing my shorn daughter under the worn sheet surrounded by clippings of her hair, made me want to hide all the mirrors in our home.

‘That’s most suitable, young lady,’ Miss Tibbs smirked. The old woman retrieved her sheet and put all her equipment back in her case. Before marching to the door, she looked up at me and spoke. ‘You should be very proud of your daughter, sir. Enjoy the rest of your evening.’

I turned back to see Rachel staring disbelievingly into the large mirror on the kitchen wall. Her once long and beautiful hair was now a short, almost shaved, cut. I was a at a loss to understand why the school would have such strict hair regulations.

After a silent pause, Rachel finally broke the tension that had built up between us when she emitted a horrified wail, which was as heartfelt as it was deafening.

= * = * =

The following day, I took Rachel to her new school. As we approached the entrance, we were greeted by her young teacher, Linda Mills. She immediately noticed Rachel’s new haircut and exclaimed, ‘Oh, my! What a cute haircut. It’s so short! Is it shaved?’

‘Yes,’ Rachel nodded, her cheeks turning red with embarrassment. ‘It’s shaved to the skin.’

‘Well, you might feel a little out of place here,’ Miss Mills said with a sympathetic smile. ‘In our village, away from the city, we encourage all our girls to wear their hair long and style it in attractive and individual ways.’

Rachel and I looked at each other, perplexed. As Miss Mills was giving Rachel information about the school, I noticed many girls walking past. They all had long hair, some even longer than Rachel’s before her forced haircut. Some in braids, some in ponytails, and a few wearing it loose with a hairband holding it back from their face. I was confused and upset, especially as they were clearly making fun of my daughter’s bowlcut.

I turned to the teacher when she had finished speaking. ‘Excuse me, but Miss Tibbs came to our house yesterday and said it was mandatory for Rachel to have her hair cut before starting school.’

Linda Mills looked puzzled, ‘Who is Miss Tibbs?’

= * = * =

‘We don’t have anyone by that name at our school,’ Linda Mills, the young teacher said. I exchanged a worried look my daughter. ‘I’ve only been at the school a short while,’ Miss Mills went on, ‘so let’s have a have a word with Mrs Dobson, the deputy headmistress, who may be able to shed some light on the situation.’

We were all invited into Mrs Dobson’s office. She was a much older woman, close to retirement, sitting behind a large desk full of books and papers. A plump lady, she had grey hair pulled tightly into a small bun and she wore unstylish round spectacles. The deputy headmistress invited us to sit across the desk from us, while her younger colleague explained what had occurred. When Linda Mills had finished, Mrs Dobson let out a long sigh of exasperation, removed her spectacles and rubbed her eyes.

After a short pause, Mrs Dobson replaced her spectacles and looked at us wearily. ‘Many years ago, when I started at this school, it was run very differently. It was very traditional and led by an authoritarian headmaster with a very harsh and blinkered view regarding discipline. One of the things he insisted upon was that all the pupils had short, matching haircuts.’

‘A bowlcut?’ I queried.

Mrs Dobson nodded, pushed herself to her feet using the desk to help up, and shuffled over to a collection of framed black and white photos on one wall. Each were similar, and I gathered that they represented all the staff and pupils that were at the school for the year indicated by the caption. And, sure enough, every single girl had a similar haircut to Rachel … or, more accurately, identical to the haircut of my daughter.

‘Shit!’ my daughter exclaimed, and under the circumstances I did not feel I could reprimand her. After all, it was what I had been on the point of saying!

I peered more closely at an adult couple in the centre of each image. The demeanour of the man singled him out as the headmaster. However, the woman sitting next to him looked oddly familiar. ‘That’s Miss Tibbs!’ I suddenly yelled, jabbing a finger at the woman.

Mrs Dobson gave a tired little chuckle. ‘Not quite. She is Mrs Doreen Tibbs, the wife of the headmaster. I suspect their daughter – the girl standing to the left of Doreen – is the Miss Tibbs who visited you yesterday evening. It is true, they do look alike.’

‘I don’t understand,’ I claimed, although a few disparate threads were slowly coming together.

‘As I mentioned,’ Mrs Dobson went on, ‘Mr Tibbs, the headmaster, insisted that all the pupils have short, matching haircuts. His wife gave every pupil a bowlcut when they arrived at the school, trimming it for them every three weeks without fail.’

‘Shi- … she was keen,’ Rachel murmured, correcting herself under Mrs Dobson’s admonishing stare.

‘Quite,’ the deputy headmistress acknowledged, with a twinkle in her eye. ‘When the wife became ill, Miss Olive Tibbs, the daughter, took over the task of cutting the hair of the new arrivals. What is more, she did so with great relish. At that time, she was the same age as the oldest pupil.’

‘Incredible …’ I pondered.

‘I was working as a teacher here by then,’ the deputy headmistress recollected, ‘and Olive ensured her bowlcuts were trimmed higher, the fringes were cut shorter, and the back and sides were shaved more cleanly.’ Mrs Dobson stared perceptively at Rachel’s haircut, nodding in recognition. ‘Olive’s father was absolutely delighted with his daughter’s work although, sadly, his wife passed away from her illness soon after.’

‘Why was he so keen on giving his pupils such severe haircuts?’ Rachel asked, not unreasonably.

‘No one really knows,’ Mrs Dobson pondered. ‘But the regime continued with father and daughter for nearly thirty years until he also passed away. Olive Tibbs continued working at the school for a few more years but when the school dispensed with the requirement for a regulation haircut, she was devastated. Soon after, she resigned. Over the years she has contacted the school many times and pleaded for the school to reinstate the rule but, if anything, it has convinced our more enlightened headmistress to encourage freedom and individuality amongst our pupils – with their hair and, indeed, other matters.’

‘But, it seems, she is still keen to find ways of performing her extreme haircuts,’ I sighed, ‘if yesterday evening was anything to go by. Has it happened before?’

Mrs Dobson stumbled back behind her desk and fell into her chair. She took off her glasses again and rubbed her eyes. ‘Yes, it has …’ she said guiltily, then adding, ‘more than once.’

‘She needs to be reported … to the authorities,’ I said within conviction, stopping short of hitting the desk with my fist.

Mrs Dobson replaced her spectacles. She opened her mouth to speak, but Rachel butted in.

‘It’s sort of understandable, really,’ my daughter said, gently running her fingers over the bare skin above her right ear.

‘Pardon?’ I asked, astounded by her acceptance.

‘All those long-haired girls were sneering at me with my bowlcut when we walked to this office. If they all had haircuts the same as mine there would be far less envy and much more uniformity in the school. There would be a lot less wasted energy, and a lot more productive time to study.’

Who was sitting next to me and where had my daughter gone, I mused, in a panic. ‘Yes, but -’

‘I am keeping my bowlcut and I would be happy to assist Miss Tibbs with cutting off the braids of my fellow pupils, clippering them and giving them all exactly the same style,’ Rachel smiled enigmatically, as she enthusiastically rubbed her bare neck.

The young teacher and I exchanged horrified looks.

The deputy headmistress smiled at Rachel and nodded thoughtfully.

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