Moulding My Future

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I had always been a bit of a risk-taker. Maybe it was the adrenaline rush, or maybe it was the thrill of potentially hitting the jackpot. Either way, my love for gambling had landed me in some pretty sticky situations. But this time, I had got myself into something that I never could have imagined.

It all started when I saw an ad online, promising to pay extremely well for models who had hair longer than their waist that was in good condition. My boyfriend, Carl, who was with me at the time, immediately dismissed it as a scam. Unlike me and even my previous boyfriends, he did not care too much about my hair and often remarked unfavourably as to why I felt the need to wear it so long.

Carl did not understand why anyone would be prepared to pay the indicated amount. He argued that his attempts to dissuade me from following it up were because he only had my best interests at heart. Unfortunately, our relationship had recently been under pressure due to my gambling. So, understandably, our latest disagreement was sufficient for him to finally give up on me and walk out.

= * = * =

After Carl left, I tried to see things from his viewpoint. However, I could not help the nagging feeling in the back of my mind, knowing that this could be my ticket out of my mountain of debt. And, by achieving that, I might be able to convince Carl to see me again.

So, I clicked on the ad and sent a direct message to a woman named Claudia asking for more details. She was looking for someone to be a model for a new hair product. I could not believe my luck. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to make some quick cash and get out of my financial hole.

But as I read on, Claudia’s warning caught me off guard. ‘You will leave with less hair than you had when you arrived, but you will be compensated extremely well.’ As a hair model, isn’t that what one would expect, I contemplated? I quickly brushed away my confusion, focusing on the amount of money I would be receiving.

Without hesitation, I responded to Claudia, confirming that my hair met all the requirements. I was not worried too much about the finished style provided Claudia paid me what she promised. And just like that, after a cursory scan of the emailed contract, I signed it, sealing my fate without a second thought.

= * = * =

The next day, I arrived at the address that Claudia had given me. It was a small, unassuming hair salon tucked away in a quiet corner of the city. Claudia greeted me, dressed in a white tunic dress that gave her more the air of a medical professional than a hairstylist. She wore her hair drawn tightly into a bun on top of her head, and she wore black-framed spectacles. Claudia led me directly to a styling chair and sat me down.

Claudia closely examined my long blonde hair that, as instructed, I was wearing loose. She nodded her head in approval. ‘Ellie, please could you wait here, and I’ll be back with you shortly.’

‘Maria,’ Claudia called out, ‘Ellie’s hair is satisfactory, so please come over and take a seat.’

Previously unnoticed by me, another woman was present in the salon. She arose from a waiting area, strolled in my direction, and sat down in the styling chair next to mine. I imagined she was in her mid-forties, at least twice my age. I could not help but notice that she wore fashionable and expensive designer clothes, paired with shoes that I would never be able to afford.

Maria’s hair was an artfully layered, if rather boring, shoulder-length style that seemed freshly trimmed. Her locks contained a multitude of subtle but expensive highlights, and crafted to look much fuller than it really was. I judged it a testament to her hairstylist’s skills rather than what nature, sadly, had not given her. I assumed she was there to model the hair product, the same as I. However, given that our hair was so different and, our financial situation too, I was confused.

‘Hello, Maria, pleased to meet you,’ I ventured, intimidated by this older and wealthier woman. But it seemed rude to ignore her, with her sitting so close to me and, especially as she was appraising me so carefully with her piercing eyes. ‘I’m Ellie,’ I said, holding out a hand, hopefully.

A large white hairdressing cape suddenly descending over Maria prevented us shaking hands. Maria, ignoring me, turned to face the mirror in front of her, while Claudia secured the cape around her neck.

I wondered what would happen next as Maria’s hair appeared freshly cut and styled. Given her hair’s lack of natural volume, I imagined her as a candidate for a thickening product. If so, I hoped Claudia would not use the same product on my hair. It had always been very thick, especially at the length it had reached. Any more volume would make it completely unmanageable.

A loud buzzing sound suddenly interrupted my thoughts and, turning my head, I saw Claudia had men’s hairclippers in her hand. She was directing the blade towards Maria’s neck and, without a pause, carved a furrow up the back of her head.

= * = * =

I was in shock, and it took me a short while to comprehend what I was witnessing. I watched in amazement at the brutal and unemotional way that Claudia removed Maria’s artfully and expensively crafted locks. Highlighted curls bounced on her shoulder, fell into her lap, and tumbled to the floor. But Maria seemed unconcerned, calmly observing her drastic shearing in the mirror as if nothing unusual was occurring.

Back and forth Claudia efficiently drove the hairclippers over Maria’s head until an even pelt of less than half an inch remained. Claudia had severed the woman’s costly highlights and sent them unceremoniously to the floor replaced by natural highlights – a sprinkling of grey hair – adorning her buzzed head. Previously disguised by artistry, the grey was visible around Maria’s hairline and gave evidence of her maturity. What had occurred seemed a backward step, for someone wealthy, to do as she had to reverse advancing years, but what did I know.

Claudia flicked off a plastic cover on the hairclippers to reveal a bright, shining blade. With the aid of a comb, she shaved Maria’s hairline to give a little more structure to the crewcut and mask the grey. However, witnessing Claudia’s transformation of a stylish woman into an army recruit, left me perplexed.

Thinking back to my earlier supposition that a thickening product might be on the cards for poor Maria, that idea was out the window as she had little hair left to thicken. I contemplated whether it may be something to cover her grey hair despite little of that remaining either. If that was the case, then covering grey hairs was something else I need not worry about for a while.

My mind was racing, trying to make sense of what was happening. So, was this a scam, I wondered? Was I going to end up with a terrible haircut like Maria? For reasons that I failed to understand. And then receiving no money to show for it?

= * = * =

I rapidly reviewed my options. As I thought how best to extricate myself from the situation that I found myself in, Claudia suddenly appeared behind me. She tied a short bib-like cape around my neck, tucking it under my hair, and added a towel.

I gave her questioning look in the mirror. ‘Just in case of any accidents,’ Claudia said casually, by way of explanation.

As I contemplated the type of accidents she might be referring to, a potential reason was forthcoming. Claudia squirted a warm, viscous liquid from a plastic bottle into the roots of my hair. She made sure to thoroughly cover every inch of my scalp with the unknown liquid. It was a strange, but pleasant, sensation.

It had to be a type of conditioning treatment, I mused, and comparing its relative effectiveness on diverse hair types. As I was about to seek clarification, Claudia spoke. ‘We’ll just let this sit for ten minutes,’ Claudia announced casually, before moving away to continue a conversation with Maria.

Realising that all would become clear shortly, I relaxed in the comfortable styling chair enjoying the sensation of the comforting warmth on my scalp. Claudia’s chuckling brought me back from my reverie.

‘This may be a little painful,’ were her unwelcome words, as she turned me away from the mirror, ‘so best not to watch.’

‘What do you … ouch!’ I exclaimed.

Claudia had dug her fingers into the hair above my forehead and she was tugging backwards. The tugging transformed more into a rolling motion in short, sharp strokes over the top of my head. It stung but, given what I saw next, it was not as painful as it might have been. To my horror and disbelief, Claudia was proudly holding up all my hair, her hand acting as a pedestal. It was all in one piece, rather like a wig, and firmly secured to a rubbery cap.

I quickly turned back to face the mirror and I could not believe my eyes. I was completely bald. Not exactly shaved. But it simply looked as though no hair had ever grown on my head. As smooth and clean as a billiard ball.

I immediately spun back around in my chair to face Claudia to demand an explanation. However, she had turned her back to me, and she was leaning over Maria, busily doing something for her. Although I tried to attract Claudia’s attention, she did not pay any heed to my protestations.

Finally, Claudia moved back from Maria. I stared in stunned silence, anticipating that matters could not have got any worse. However, I was facing the bizarre sight of my abundant locks perched on Maria’s buzzed head. Not only that, but looking entirely natural, as though my hair had grown there and been with her throughout her life.

I stared incredulously. It was like seeing the result of one of those face-changing apps, but in real life. It was like looking at myself in the mirror, with my face replaced by Maria’s. And with my own face transferred to the smooth surface of a pristine white egg.

= * = * =

I observed Maria playing with my hair as if it were her own, giggling excitedly as she did so. Provocatively she ran her fingers through my hair as I frequently did whenever I wanted to encourage someone to do something for me. She held my abundant locks on top of her head in a messy updo, as I often did for a fashionable and fun look. Releasing my hair, it tumbled down around her face and body, and she chuckled all the while. Maria hauled my mane into a massive ponytail at the back of my head as I regularly did to impress myself and those around me. But she did all that, while laughing, as if all that hair belonged to her.

As I watched spellbound, I had sensed Claudia was speaking to me, but I was struggling to comprehend her words. Finally, she tapped on my shoulder, and looked at me earnestly in the mirror. ‘I was saying, Ellie, that I imagine you would like an explanation?’ She paused, waiting for an answer, but I just stared dumbly. She continued anyway.

‘You may remember that the contract you signed gives a detailed description of the process,’ she looked at me questioningly. I did not remember as I had not – stupidly, in retrospect – absorbed any of the detail. I failed to react to her statement, so she shrugged and then continued.

‘In summary, in case you have forgotten, the HairTx serum has dissolved the hair at your roots,’ Claudia smiled pleasantly, gently touching my scalp. ‘As the serum cools, it transforms into a flexible transparent cap that can be immediately fitted to a grateful recipient such as Maria. At that stage it was still relatively malleable, allowing it to mould itself to the shape of Maria’s head, rather than your own, to achieve a perfect fit.’

My only reaction was for my eyes to widen and for my jaw to drop even further.

‘In twenty minutes, the cap will remain elastic, but it will be permanently customised to the shape of Maria’s head. She can remove it easily if she wishes, and she can refit it herself in seconds. Isn’t that simply marvellous,’ Claudia gushed.

At that moment, “marvellous” was not the word that came to mind. I struggled to formulate suitable words that made any sense, in the light of what had occurred. Apart from Claudia’s explanation, the only sound I could hear was Maria’s incessant giggling as she enjoyed playing with my hair.

‘There are women, like Maria, who are unable to grow their hair to the length they wish. Or, as they become more mature, they develop more brittle hair that is unsuitable for the application of extensions,’ Claudia related sadly. Then she added, much more brightly, ‘they are perfect candidates for the wonderful HairTx product.’

I was in shock. Claudia recognised my discomfort. She made me a cup of tea and sat me in the waiting area so I could try to come to terms with what happened. My long, luscious hair was gone, and Claudia had rendered me completely bald. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought about how I would explain this drastic change to my friends and family. But the thought of the money I would receive kept me from breaking down completely.

= * = * =

‘Could I buy my hair back?’ I asked Claudia after an incredibly happy Maria had left the salon.

‘Yes,’ she said, slowly drawing out the word, and I felt a glimmer of hope, ‘provided you could negotiate a price with Maria. But given how happy she was, I imagine it’s likely to cost you more to buy it back than I agreed to pay you.’

‘But that would mean I wouldn’t be able to pay off my current debts … and I would owe even more!’ I complained.

‘Yes,’ Claudia concurred, smiling, ‘you would be in a bit of a pickle. But remember, your baldness isn’t permanent. The roots shouldn’t be damaged. They will remain dormant for a time – that time varies from person to person – but your hair will start growing again in three months or so.’

I was unsure whether she had imparted that lifeline earlier or whether I had missed it in my distress, but it brought me a crumb of comfort.

‘Look, Ellie, Maria’s now gone although she did ask me to pass on her gratitude. You must admit, she did look quite splendid,’ Claudia said. ‘So, I’m sorry, but I need to close now … so here’s a free headscarf to cover your head if you’re feeling self-conscious,’ she added dismissively, ‘and, who knows, we may see you again in five years.’

‘Five years?’ I questioned, tears threatening to well up again.

‘When your hair has grown long enough for another HairTx donation,’ Claudia tittered sweetly, inappropriately in my opinion. As she showed me the door, she added cruelly, ‘or earlier if you would like to receive a free treatment and remain bald.’

= * = * =

Days turned into weeks, and I slowly adjusted to my transformed appearance. After all, I had no choice. Although I appreciated the time that I saved caring for my long hair, it never felt that it was sufficient compensation for my loss.

Deliberately, I had avoided the cliché of presenting a butch appearance with my bald head. Not wishing, to give the impression that I no longer cared about my appearance, I continued to wear all my girly clothes. Friends said I looked great sporting the unusual and contrasting combination of a feminine minidress and a shining bald head. I thought so too.

Above all, the knowledge that I had cleared my debts and could start afresh tempered any lingering doubts over what I had done.

Carl, my ex-boyfriend, surprised me by saying that I looked so much prettier without all my hair swamping me. While I knew he thought my hair had been too long, it was a huge stretch to believe that he might prefer me bald. I gratefully welcomed his words, accepting that he was just being supportive. Despite our recent difficulties, when Carl suggested we go for a drink, I jumped at the chance.

Across a table in the pub’s beer garden, I enjoyed listening to his kind and thoughtful words. He highlighted his appreciation for my strong features, his love of my delicate ears, and his desire for the lovely curve of my neck that he lovingly traced with his finger. We rekindled our relationship that day, and I could not have been happier.

= * = * =

As the months passed, something strange happened. My hair suddenly began to grow back. A shadow at first. Then stubble. And, soon after, it became a bristly crewcut.

Each morning, I looked in the mirror. I saw the strength of my features blunted by the gentle framing of my hair. The delicate shape of my ears diminished by the emerging fuzz on my temples. The swan-like curve of my neck blunted by the hair covering the back of my head.

Although Carl never said a word, I had my wonderful boyfriend firmly in mind when I grabbed my phone and dialled. ‘Hello, Claudia, please could I make an appointment for you to keep my head bald?’

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