“Black market in haircuts has ‘erupted’ during lockdown” (RTE News headline)…
I walked up the dark lane, eyes darting in all directions, terrified not of muggers but of being seen.
I stopped at a partly-hidden doorway, pulled my sleeve over my thumb, and pressed the buzzer.
“Hello?” said a voice.
I shone my phone briefly onto a piece of paper. “‘The wheat grows tall in the upper field’,” I read aloud.
“Two doors down,” said the voice. “This is black market lattés.”
I mumbled an apology, moved two doors along and repeated the ritual. This time the buzzer buzzed. I pushed the door open and walked up a narrow stairway into a small, bare room.
“Hello,” said John, the town barber, quietly.
I looked warily at his own hair, which looked like Hermione Granger’s, not a good look on a fifty-year old man. Then I nodded in understanding.
“Ah,” I said. “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.”
He frowned. “We’ve already done the password bit,” he said.
“No,” I said, “I just meant that you haven’t done your own hair.”
“Well, of course not,” he said, “Have you any idea how hard it is to cut your own hair in a mirror?”
“It’s funny you should ask that,” I said, pulling off my beanie hat.
John stared silently. My fringe was uneven, but worse than that, it had one deep rectangular cut-out in it. I looked like a flyer on a shop noticeboard from which just one person has taken the contact number.
“You have to help me,” I said fervently. “I have Zoom meetings.”
He nodded and gestured me toward an upright kitchen chair set in front of a small mirror. I sat down, he picked up a pair of scissors and stood behind me. I was suddenly aware, for the first time ever in a barbershop, of the breath on the back of my neck.
“Face mask?” I said hopefully.
He shrugged. “You can wear one if you want to, I suppose,” he said, “but I won’t be able to get at where the straps go round your ears. You’re going to end uplooking like Princess Leia.”
I opened my mouth, then decided to let it go. I was not the one in the conversation holding the scissors.
He started to clip. I watched as great brownish-grey tufts flew off, like an explosion in a Shredded Wheat factory. Then he spoke.
“Going anywhere nice on holiday?” he said.
His eyes met my stony expression in the mirror. “Sorry,” he said. “Force of habit.”
The rest of the haircut took place in silence. Take away football, the awfulness of the traffic, and how many pints you drank in the pub the night before and men have very little to talk to each other about, a fact currently being discovered by flatmates all over the country.
Then he was done. I looked in delight at the result, now more Bradley than Alice Cooper.
“That’s great,” I said. “How much do I owe you?”
“Eighty euro,” said John.
“What?” I gasped. “It’s normally twelve.”
“Yeah, well, it’s normally legal too,” he said. “Just be glad you’re a bloke. Colette the hairdresser is charging women three hundred euro just for roots, and what she’s charging for a Jennifer Aniston even Jennifer Aniston couldn’t afford.”
I paid, feeling that I was being fleeced for being fleeced, and turned to go.
“Will I put you down for next month?” asked John.
“Oh, no,” I said, “I’m sure this will do me, you know, until -”
“Next time you’re in,” he said, “I could have a look at those eyebrows.”
He gave a tiny smile as he said it. He knew he had me hooked.
“Ok,” I said quietly.
That was a week ago. I now walk proudly around the town, passing men who look like badly tied-down haystacks and women wearing baseball hats of teams they’ve never heard of, and I smile, though a little guiltily.
And I do now have a cough, though I tell myself it’s simply because of the vast amounts of hair that I must have inhaled that night.
That’s not important though. What matters is that I have a haircut that’s To Die For.