30th August


The shop door was flung open and a young fellow burst into our midst. He looked young to me anyway, especially compared with everyone else in the room – the barber, the man in the chair, the other man on the bench who was next in the queue. Thirty or thereabouts, the new arrival. Fit-looking too, but manic: the blood vessels on his temples stood out, his neck was corded, pulsing. He was all bone, muscle and sinew in a black T-shirt and fatigues. He looked to me like a soldier.

‘See this!’ he yelled. It was an instruction, not a question. He stood motionless, pointing at his own head. If he’d had a gun in his hand it wouldn’t have looked much more dramatic. I thought, Is he registering a complaint? Not that there was anything to complain about: his skull had about three millimetres of hair all over it, a sharp shadow of growth.

‘See this!’ he yelled. ‘Can you mind it?’

He was addressing the barber.

‘What d’ye mean, son?’ The barber had paused in mid-snip – everything had paused. He was very calm. His tone was cool and quiet.

‘Can ye mind it? Picture it? Ma heid? The wey it is? Mind it for the future?’

‘I’ll mind you,’ the barber said.

‘Naw, ma heid, ma hair! This is it, perfect! This is how I like it.’ He ran both hands back from his brow over his skull, down the pulsing neck. The hands clasped the neck as if they might be about to rip the head right off. ‘If I come in again, can ye cut it for us, just like this?’

‘A number two, I’d say,’ the barber said. ‘Aye, I can dae that.’

‘But perfect, like this? Can ye dae it the exact same?’ He froze in the stance he had assumed on entry.

The barber tilted his head this way and that as he made his professional assessment. ‘Aye,’ he said.

‘Brilliant!’ the man said. ‘Be back in three days.’ And he burst out onto the street again.

Everything was wonderfully still. We all breathed out. Then the scissors snipped again.

The barber shook his head. ‘Aye,’ he said.

Reader: Tam Dean Burn
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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