I was scurrying back to the office from lunch on a cold, grey, drizzly March Saturday when I heard a young man call out, “Mummy!” It was bad enough that I had to work on a Saturday without having an extra bother thrown in to my day.
I spun around. Somehow I knew that he was addressing me, even though I was single and childless. He must have me confused with someone else. At first as I scanned the crowd. I didn’t see anyone who could have called me “mummy,” but then there he was, grinning from ear to ear. The boy looked about eighteen, with his lanky body, pimply face, and red-brown hair reaching down past his collarbone.
“I’m sorry, you must be mistaken. I’m not old enough to be your mother—I’m 32. You look about 18. Besides, I’ve never given birth to anybody to the best of my knowledge. I’m single, too.”
“Wow, it worked!” the boy grinned.
“What worked?” I really needed to be on my way.
“The time machine. I asked it to take me back to the week before my parents met. This must be it. You’re so young and beautiful.”
“And going to be late getting back to the office. Wait a minute, time machine? That’s crazy.”
The boy fished out a coin from his pocket. “Here, look at this twenty p piece. You see the year?” He handed me the coin. It said 2040.
“All right, I believe you. I still need to get back to work. You can sit in the lobby of my building and wait for me. If anyone asks, you can claim to be my nephew.”
I couldn’t believe it. I was going into mum mode, even though I had never seen the boy before. When I deposited him in the lobby of my building, I gave him my tablet to entertain himself.
“Wow, this is so retro. Hey, before you go. Mum, do you find me hot?”
I looked askance at my son for a moment before remembering that I had once asked my own father a similar question when I was a teenager. “What a strange question to ask your mother. No, I don’t find you hot. That would be creepy.”
“But what if you didn’t know you were my mother?”
“No, I still wouldn’t find you hot. Cute, yes, in the way that a puppy or a baby is cute. You’re much too young for me, obviously. It’s not really possible to see your face anyway under all that hair. I don’t know what the men’s styles are in 2040, but if you look in my tablet you can see what they are in 2020, along with my collection of pictures of celebrities I find hot. I suppose I’m going to find your father hot when I finally meet him.”
When I came back down to the lobby in the evening, my son was still there. “I’m sorry, I never asked your name. Is it Michael?”
“Yes, it is. How did you guess?”
“You’re my son. I would have given you a name I liked.”
“Good point. I see the commonalities of the celebrity photos you gave me to look at. They all have the same basic haircut. This is the same style that Dad has. Basically it’s a sort of brush cut. It’s not common among boys my generation, but I’d be willing to give it a try. But first, I’m hungry.”
“Yes, come along now. We need to get on the tube to Ealing-Broadway. I can make a quick meal for both of us. You probably don’t have anywhere to stay, either. You can stay in my tiny flat.” Normally I wouldn’t dream of letting a teenage boy I had barely met spend the night with me in my home, but if my son was visiting from the future, that was different. Assuming he actually was my son, that is.
Michael was conscientious enough to help me cook and clean up afterward. Clearly I had done a good job bringing him up, or had at least chosen his father wisely. This was good to know.
“Mum?” After cleanup we had settled in the sitting room.
“Do you want to cut my hair? Not a single one of the celebrity photos showed somebody with hair anywhere near his collar, ears, or eyebrow. Or, you could send me to the barbershop tomorrow, if you don’t want to cut it yourself.”
“Are you sure you don’t mind cutting off almost all of your hair? I’d be happy to do it. I hope you don’t have bad memories of me forcing you to keep your hair short when you were little. Was I a tyrant?”
“No, not at all. You and Dad always let me wear whatever I wanted, as long as I was going to be warm enough, and never forced any style onto me. If I cut my hair here, now, you can save the clippings and show them to me when you get to 2040. That would be fun, I should think.”
“OK, then. Off it comes. I suppose the bathroom is the best place to do that. The veranda is too chilly.”
Michael installed himself on the stool from the bathtub. He would not be able to see the mirror from that height and would have to trust me. I wrapped a large towel around his shoulders, over his clothes. I didn’t have a cape because I had never cut anybody’s hair before. There weren’t any clippers either, but at least I had a pair of proper scissors, that I used to trim my own fringe.
I ran the comb through Michael’s long hair once before gathering it at the base of his neck into a ponytail, which I then sliced off. Handing Michael the severed ponytail, I set to work sectioning the rest of his hair.
I decided to start at the back. Inserting the comb at the nape of his neck, I cut off everything that poked through the teeth of the comb as I worked my way up. Once I reached the crown, I began cropping from the bottom up again, this time without the comb, thinking I could get even closer to his scalp that way.
Now, for the sides. I used my fingers to grab some of the hair above his ears and chopped close to the roots. I wanted to remove the length so that I could see what I was doing around his ears. Michael started to giggle when I pulled his ears out and down. If he liked the finished cut enough to maintain it, maybe he would get used to this part of the process.
Next was the crown. I could leave the crown long in a disconnected cut that could be styled into a quiff, but that wasn’t my style. The idea was for his hair to stand up without product, and that was best achieved by going super short.
I wrapped the top hair around my finger and sliced off the length. It was at this point that I inserted the comb and began cutting off everything that was poking up through the teeth. I suppose this could be called a flat top. I was careful to angle the comb so that the hair got progressively longer toward the front, with the fringe being the longest at about one centimeter.
When I finished the scissor cut, I used my hairdryer to blast off the cut hairs, then examined my work. Good, nice and short. I picked up the razor that I use on my legs to clean up his nape, not thinking about how disgusting that is.
“There, all done. You can stand up now. You probably want to see yourself in the mirror. Let me know if you want to go shorter.” This seemed unlikely.
To my surprise, Michael smiled at his reflection. “Wow, I look just like Dad now. Of course, Dad’s going grey and doesn’t have as much hair as I do, but it’s the same style. I always thought I looked like you, but now I see Dad in my face, too.”
“Do you mind if I take a picture of you? It’ll help me, I think, to identify your father when I finally meet him.”
“Of course.” I took several pictures of Michael, then some selfies together on my phone and the device that Michael brought. It’s not every day that your nearly-grown children come to visit from twenty years in the future.
Sure enough, the following week, I spotted a man who looked just like Michael, only older. He had a short flat top that showcased his face, especially his twinkling eyes. I knew at first sight that this was the man who would become Michael’s father.