The Butterfly

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[Commissioned story, published with consent.]

Radha paused on the busy street, looking at the door of the salon. This was the one frequented by Shwetha, who sported a short, no-nonsense pixie. Shwetha was always full of praises for the barberette of the salon: Priyanka. Radha hoped she would find Priyanka available, as this was a special occasion. Nervously she tucked in a stray wisp of hair behind her ear, looking around. Spotting a gap in the traffic, she quickly darted across, her thick long braid bouncing off her butt. She climbed up the three stairs to the salon door, pushing it open.

The rhythmic music of scissors greeted her as it took her a couple of seconds to take in the scene in the salon. A perky young barberette was giving a woman the final touches on a cute chin length graduated bob. She caught Radha’s eye and nodded to her to sit on the couch. Still feeling nervous but excited at the same time, Radha adjusted her shirt as she sat down to wait her turn. She watched the barberette work with confidence. Snipping away at the ends of the bob and texturing it. Comb a section, flip it and snip into the ends. The scissors were doing an intricate dance in her hands.

Radha had always wanted to have short hair. However, her conservative mom had never permitted it. Even getting the split ends trimmed was a headache. As she grew older, Radha tried harder to convince her mom to agree. For the last couple of years, her mom’s mantra had been: “Get married. It’s a decision for your husband. If he agrees, you can get it cut.” At long last, it had happened. Well, the marriage at least. The typical arranged marriage, about a year ago. After the usual give and take of getting to know (and love) each other post marriage, she finally picked up the courage to ask her husband what he thought of short hair. To her surprise, he said it was up to her if she wanted to get a haircut. It was completely her choice and he would love her no matter what. Her heart soared at his words, and well, a week later here she was. Waiting for the barberette.

The woman’s cape was removed, sending a pile of hair from her lap and shoulders to the floor. Radha’s heart was now beating in her throat as the woman checked her bob, running her fingers through it. She stepped out of the chair. The barberette took her to the front of the shop, collected her payment and closed the door behind her. Radha got a good look at her. Tight waisted jeans, skinny fit. Peach coloured top with  short sleeves and a collar. A preppy, bouncy ponytail, pulled slightly above the occipital. Soft brownish hair that fell in soft waves, a couple of inches past her shoulders. And a bright cheerful smile on her face.

“Hi! I am Priyanka… what can I do for you?”
“Hi… My name is Radha. I wanted to get a haircut. My friend comes here regularly and she’s always praising you…”
“Oh, nice to know I have a fan following. Come.”

Radha was guided to the chair. As she sat down, Priyanka lifted her thick heavy braid out. The chair was pumped up to a comfortable height to work with. Priyanka’s fingers curled around the base of her braid and she felt a gentle pull. Her braid was lifted up and she saw Priyanka examine the split ends.

“So… just a trim then?”
“I.. Actually I wanted to go shorter than that.”
“How short are you looking for?”
“P-Pixie…” Radha stammered nervously.

Priyanka didn’t answer. Instead she slipped off the hair band at the end of Radha’s braid, looping it around her wrist deftly. Her experienced fingers slid down Radha’s braid, undoing it. Seconds later, she was running her fingers down her nervous client’s hair, finger combing it. Soft, silky and thick. Holding the hair firmly at her nape, she reached for a comb. The sharp teeth of the comb raked against Radha’s scalp as her hair was combed out in slow long strokes. Priyanka let the hair fall back naturally as she worked out the occasional tangle. She could sense Radha’s nervousness.

She reached for the scissors and steadied her client’s head. Snipping the scissors in the air a few times, she made and held eye contact with Radha.

Ready?

Radha looked in the mirror. The mirror on the wall behind her reflected the back of her chair. Thick, long, silky hair that had been part of her identity all her life. True, she wanted it cut, but the moment felt like she was on the edge of a cliff, her mind urging her to jump. She closed her eyes and nodded. Priyanka snipped the scissors a couple of times and slid it into her hair, level with her nape. One sharp steel blade disappearing into the curtain of silk. She paused, waiting mischievously.

Radha braced for the snip, but it did not come. Surprised, she opened one eye to see what the hold up was.  Radha closed the blades with a grin. The sharp blades making the first snip as a sheaf of soft hair separated away. The scissors slid further across her neck, and a second snip sounded. A thick sheaf of hair slid off her shoulders and fell at Priyanka’s feet.

With her hand firmly holding Radha’s head, Priyanka made a slow, steady, free hand cut across her nape. Each snip, liberating another thick sheaf of hair. The pile at her feet grew as the scissors finally emerged from the other end, cutting her hair down to chin length. Radha was in a bit of a daze. Even though she’d wanted her hair short for the past fifteen years, the speed at which the cut happened left her a little overwhelmed.

“Are you okay?”
“Y-Yeah.. I-I think s-so…”
“Big change, eh?”
*whimper*
“Do you want me to stop here, or go for the pixie?”
“P-Pixie please…”

Radha fought desperately to suppress the elation in her heart that came moments after her barberette stopped cutting. Though she was initially in a daze, the lightheadedness that followed, and the cool air flowing over her neck made her heart soar. She bit her lip to stay calm and focused.

A white nylon cape floated down on her and was pulled around her neck. With no hair in the way, Priyanka had no difficulty securing it firmly around her neck. After adjusting her cape, she took the water sprayer and started to mist down her hair. Cool water was combed through her hair, getting it wet for the sectioning. Water dripping on the cape and running down her neck. It really was happening.

Priyanka combed her hair straight back and then pushed the hair forward gently to figure out her natural part. Surprisingly, the part was on her left. Following the hair part she clipped off the forward sections on the side, and combed down the back. The top half was then again pinned up with an inverted ‘V’ line. There was a small clink as she picked up the scissors again. She obediently bent her head, offering up her nape.

“Good girl.”

She felt the comb run up her nape and heard the merciless snipping of the scissors. The comb raking her nape as her merciless barberette cropped the back section short. She had no clue how short she was being taken, but she was too far in to care. Snip after snip as the comb moved up slowly to her occipital. Bits of hair of various lengths littering her shoulders, sliding off the soft nylon cape. After a couple of minutes of intense snipping, Priyanka combed down the severely shortened section. Scissors against skin, she edged the hair precisely, cutting a neat straight line. Bits of hair were sticking to Radha’s exposed neck. Clumps of wet black hair lay on her shoulders and a few had found their way into her lap. Her heart was going at a hundred and eighty in her throat. She didn’t expect things to get this intense. She hoped that her husband would love her short haircut.

Priyanka wiped off Radha’s neck with a tissue, leaving it on her shoulder. She went in for a second pass with the scissors. Taking the nape even shorter, all the way down to a ¼ to ½ inch. Precise cuts. Radha started feeling a little sleepy from the rhythmic snipping of the blades. This pass was slower, more precise and careful. She wiped the blades on a piece of tissue left strategically on the shoulder.

The top section came down. Well at least half of it. The rest was pinned back up, and her head was damped down again. The longer wet hair felt weird falling against the cropped nape. Not for long though. Deftly using vertical sections, and her wrist moving like an experienced leg spinner, Priyanka started cutting the newly liberated hair in vertical passes. Cutting into a smooth taper and dropping the wet chunks of hair on the floor. She got the length down to her satisfaction and then switched to scissors over comb. Point cutting for a soft feathered look. The last section in the back came down.

One more pass across with vertical sections, matching the length to the rest of the hair. A lot more point cutting to blend the layers and give the back a soft textured look. Radha’s hair was now ¼” at the nape line and about an inch and half at the occipital. The back looked perfect.

Radha felt a firm grip on her chin as her head was tipped to the left. The right forward section was unclipped and a quick chop above the ear removed the bulk of it. A wet sheaf of hair was dropped in her lap. It slid off the nylon, landing on her feet, wet strands tickling her toes. Her ear was folded with the comb as Priyanka started cutting the side to match and blend with the back. Slowly the cropping crept up, blending beautifully with the back. She was mesmerized by the expert scissor work.

As Priyanka reached the top, she kept the upper section a lot longer. She switched to thinning shears to crunch into the hair and strip out the bulk. Radha was a little weirded out by the crunching of the shears and the chunks of hair stuck in the blades and comb. Priyanka had to regularly stop to clear the teeth of both her tools. She dried out Radha’s hair lightly and switched to point cutting. Building up to a longish textured top.

Satisfied with the overall effect, Priyanka turned her attention to the last remaining section of chin length hair. Unclip and snip. Another sheaf of hair slid down the cape on her toes. Radha’s head was bent the other way and the scissors resumed their mesmerizing song and dance. Snip after snip. She was feeling really lightheaded at this point. She was scolding her mom for not letting her experience the cool, light headed bliss of short hair.

Priyanka continued to dry, style and texture her hair. A cute short, classy pixie emerged. Finally she picked up the straight razor and swapped out the blade. Radha’s heart skipped a beat as her head was tipped down firmly, exposing the back of her neck.

“Don’t squirm.”

The sharp razor scraped down from the hairline that Priyanka had cut earlier while doing the back. Neatly shaving off all the overgrown hair on her neck. She paused to wipe the blade on the back of her wrist as she continued to shave carefully. Finally, the back of her neck was dusted off with a brush. A light coat of talcum powder was applied and she felt Priyanka’s firm fingers massage her nape. She squirmed helplessly.

Priyanka laughed at her reaction as she undid the cape carefully, sending the remaining chunks of hair to the floor. As she got out of the chair, Radha looked in wonder at the huge pile of hair, scarcely believing that it was all hers just a few minutes ago. She took a proper look at herself in the mirror, no longer hiding behind a curtain of hair. She would definitely need to thank her husband for giving her the chance to get a short haircut. Slowly she walked with Priyanka to pay her bill.

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