At the barber'sI took a last look at myself in the mirror, wondering whether he had cut anyone’s hair before, feeling the wish to ask him whether he really was a professional barber
The scissors were devouring my hair, almost all of it, like a hungry army. Between the holes of its handle were a short dark thumb and a long index finger. I guessed them to be 18 or 19—only a year or two older than mine. Yes, they were dark; and they were so because it came from a hot industrial plain land.
“Not a good day today”, he spoke.
“Ha, been open since seven this morning, finally customers are filtering in.” The other one in the far corner said.
They were both snipping; sliding their dirty combs through long wet hair; both similar in appearance; both speaking a language somewhat similar to Hindi.
It took me some time to adjust my ears to the rapidity of the foreign words.
The one in the corner asked, “So your Mom Dad’s not coming’?”
“No they want to stay there.” The boy who was cutting my hair replied.
“Huh…I don’t think there’s much left there. Hah. Some of the factories have closed down I heard.”
“Yea they did.”
“Hm…Kathmandu is a good town to be in.” He said with a sense of pride. The word ‘Kathmandu’ was pronounced funnily with a thick glob of pan that colored his lips, red.
“So where did you sleep at yesterday?”
The voice came again hoarse and adult.
“At Baktut’s place.”
“Hm…you don’t have to go there tonight. You can come with us.” The man spoke above the snips of his customer’s moustache.
“We have a small room. It’s about seven minutes from here.”
“You all stay there?”
“Yea. But Ramaya is going to move out.”
“Go back home?”
“I think so. He says he wants to marry”.
“Ha-ha. He’s a sissy.”
They stopped the snips to laugh a little. The radio on the wall was gibbering something in an undiscerning language, pausing to insert three-minute Hindi tunes and funny commercials.
On the cushioned chair, I was half way between sleep and consciousness; listening to the world
outside at the surface; wondering through petty thoughts beneath my skull.
I knew there was not going to be any water in the bathroom drum. It meant the tin-coloured pail and the orange rope were my only tools, not the tap. The rope hung on the pail, the tying force between the water below and my hands above. My neighbour’s well was deep and the splash of water took approximately two seconds to echo to the top.
“You get a nice job. Hear kid. Do not remain stuck a barber. Hah.” The man spoke above the snips of his customer’s moustache.
“Yea.Got that. I just came. I’ll figure out something later.”
“Huh. That is what we thought when we came here. Lainki may help you. Don’t forget to see him.”
The boy tilted my head to the right.
“But I heard a barber is the best job for people..”
“Hum…yea…I guess it is though…. but you have to try to get a better one.”
“I think I’ll just be a barber till I get the air of Kathmandu.”
“Whatever you wish.”
“I’ll still try though .”
He put down the shaving knife after sliding it across the back of my neck. The apron was carefully removed.
“How much?” I asked. Even though I repeated those words every month I hoped that someday some barber would just say twenty, even if it were by chance a slip of tongue.
“Pachis.” He answered, dusting the hair off the cloth.
I took out a 25-rupee note and handed it to him. 15 minutes had acquainted him well enough with me. He was 18, had just arrived from the Tarai, and it was his first day in the shop. 15 minutes had acquainted me well enough with him. Well enough to pat him on the back and say Good Luck Brother.
The air outside was pleasant, a perfect day to walk out of a barbershop.
I took a last look at myself in the mirror, wondering whether he had cut anyone’s hair before, feeling the wish to ask him whether he really was a professional barber.
But I knew he would not answer. He would probably fidget with the scissors and blades on the table as if he was settling them and reply broken words. My hair had been trimmed and finished. That was all I needed.
I wetted them with the little bowl of water on the sink.
“The light’s gone?” I asked. It had been three minutes since the radio had gone mute.
“Yea”, he replied.
I looked at myself in the mirror again. The fluorescent bulb was gone too. It made me look a bit dark. I put on my glasses and walked out.