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Nikki was pleased. She had only been going out with Steve for five weeks, and here she was with his Mother, Iris, out shopping. She considered it a sign of acceptance, and in Nikki’s opinion, if you can win over the mother then the jobs half done. The best thing was, it had been Iris’ idea to go out together, and the offer had come out of the blue.

Nikki had gone round to see Steve that morning, but he had already left with some of his friends. Despite this, Iris had offered her a drink and invited her inside. Over coffee, Iris had said to her that she had to go somewhere and would Nikki like to join her. With nothing else planned, and uncertain as to Steve’s return, she happily agreed. It was an opportunity to win brownie points with his mum she thought.

As they drove along, Nikki was surprised by how little Iris spoke, as if she was pre-occupied. She remained pleasant enough, but not chatty as you might expect. Regardless, they were out shopping together and that is what mattered thought Nikki.

As she pondered on where they may begin their shopping trip, Iris pulled over and parked the car unexpected. They hadn’t reached the town centre yet, so there seemed no reason to park here.

“Where are we going?” Nikki asked.

“Just up the road a little Nicola, it’s easier to park here.” Iris replied. She always called her Nicola and, although it partly irritated Nikki, she preferred to keep the peace.

Iris locked the car and the two of them proceeded to walk up the road.

“Will we be going into the town centre? It’s just that there’s a beautiful jumper that I’ve been thinking of getting. You can tell me what you think?” Nikki asked, desperate to start conversation again.

“Perhaps.” The reply was as short as usual.

“It would be great if we could. I don’t know how long it will be available for and I do really like it.”

“We’ll see.”

They continued to walk along what appeared to be a residential street, no sign a retail oasis for Nikki. She remained puzzled.

As they walked past a grocer’s shop, Iris started to slow.

“In here Nicola.”

Nikki looked at the shop in question. The sign across it said `John Bowler – Gents Hairdressing’. It was a barbershop, and an old one at that! Nikki couldn’t see inside as the front door had frosted glass, and the front window had net curtains. Only the reflection of electric light from inside, and the `open’ sign, indicated any presence of human existence!

Iris now opened the door, holding it open as she waited for Nikki to follow. Nikki had no idea why they were entering the shop, but followed Iris inside.

If Nikki thought the outside looked uninviting, then the inside was enough to make her jaw drop. As she passed through the doorway, her eyes scanned the room. A long countertop ran across the back wall of the shop, inset with two basins. In front of these stood the oldest-looking barber chairs Nikki had ever seen. They were very well worn, red leather and chrome specimens. Behind them, just in front of the shop window netting, was a row of wooden chairs for waiting customers. Nikki was not surprised to see all the chairs were vacant.

The feature, which caught Nikki’s eye most, was the mirrors. There were large mirrors in front of both barber chairs as you would expect, but also large, rectangular mirrors on all three other walls – all tilted slightly downward. Indeed, Nikki concluded that you could see every square inch of the shop via at least one mirror!?

From one of the barber chairs, a frail-looking gentleman stood up. He was smartly dressed in a shirt & tie, red jacket, black trousers and black shoes. He placed the newspaper he had been reading on the countertop, and turned to Iris.

“Good morning Iris, so nice to see you.”

Nikki was taken by surprise, the barber knew Iris?

“Good morning John, it’s nice to see you too. This is my Steve’s new girlfriend Nicola.”

“Good morning Nicola,” the barber greeted her, “Lovely to meet you.”

“Yeah, hi, it’s nice to meet you too.” Nikki replied, still puzzled as to what they were both doing there anyway.

“The usual Iris?” The barber asked.

“Yes.” Came the reply from Iris, as she slipped off her coat, handing it to the barber, and went to sit in the barber’s chair. Nikki just stood there watching Iris in part disbelief. Was she really about to have her hair cut here?

“Please take a seat Nicola, we won’t be long.” The barber advised Nikki, as he hung Iris’s coat up.

Nikki sat down on one of the wooden chairs, as the barber swung his cape over Iris, gathering it around her neck. Now she looked more closely at Iris, Nikki could see that her hair was cut in a boy-ish-type way. She hadn’t really paid attention to it before, but now it didn’t seem that implausible that Iris would have her hair cut at a barbershop – just weird!

The barber began cutting and making the typical idle conversation as you would expect – talking about the weather etc. Nikki relaxed in her chair and cast her eyes around the shop. Through the mirrors, she could she Iris from every angle. She kept catching Iris and the barber looking at her through the reflections and, despite not a word about her being spoken, Nikki began to feel self-conscious.

Nikki turned her attentions to a pile of magazines, on a nearby table. She browsed through the titles, mostly all motoring magazines, before settling on one about boating. The subject didn’t interest her much, and she rapidly flicked through its pages, pausing only to stop at photographs of expensive yachts. Dreams of one day relaxing on such a yacht filled her head.

Abruptly interrupted by the pop of the hair clippers, as John the barber tapered Iris’s hair at the back and sides.

Nikki watched how carefully and precise he was, whilst still rambling on about the local parking restrictions. Then she wondered how his business kept going. Nobody had entered the shop since they had arrived, nor did he look to have been rushed off his feet before their arrival. His shop wasn’t in the best locality, and it’s old-fashioned d├ęcor and appearance certainly didn’t help matters. Her Steve wouldn’t be seen dead in a place like this she thought, so how the hell does this bloke keep going?

As she puzzled over this, she noticed the barber holding up a small mirror through which Iris was examining the back of her head.

“How’s that then Iris?” He asked her.

“Fine John.” A typically detailed answer thought Nikki.

John undid the cape and swung it to one side as Iris stood up from the barber’s chair. He handed her a paper tissue, which she took and rubbed around the back of her neck. John then flicked the cape quickly to shed the loose hair cuttings, before turning the barber chair around to face Nikki.

Iris, instead of reaching for her coat, walked towards Nikki and held her arm out as if to indicate the revolving chair.

“Up you get Nicola.” Iris said sternly.

Nikki, still sat in the wooden chair, looked at Iris with confusion.

“Come on Nicola, get up,” Iris sounded more impatient this time, “take a seat.”

Nikki could feel both pairs of eyes staring directly at her. She slowly rose to her feet.

“What do you mean?” She nervously asked.

“Go and be seated girl,” Iris’s voiced remained stern, “come on.” Nikki felt Iris grasp her arm at the elbow and pull her towards the waiting barber chair.

“But I don’t want my hair cut.” Nikki protested.

“Nonsense!” Dismissed Iris. “You are having it cut whether you like it or not young lady!” With that, she forcibly pushed Nikki into the barber’s chair, which John then spun around to face the counter. He then began pumping the foot pedal, making the chair rise in jerky movements.

“Please Mrs Cooper, I don’t want my hair cut!” Nikki pleaded.

“Be quiet!”

The barber swung the cape over her as she had seen him do to Iris. Again, he gathered it up and fastened it around her neck, before
pulling her shoulder-length brown hair out from underneath it.

Nikki sat frozen in the chair, staring at her reflection in the facing mirror. She watched as the barber picked up his comb and scissors before standing alongside her. She could feel him begin to comb through her locks. He was quite rough, and her head jerked frequently.

“How would you like it cut Iris?” Asked the barber.

Nikki’s hair was truly her crowning glory, stylishly cut shoulder-length, and coloured with various subtle highlights. She was petrified watching the barber move around her, and now her anxiety grew to fever pitch as Iris stepped closer to reply.

“The same.”

Again, her answer was short, but it’s meaning was huge. Nikki felt a hot rush travel through her entire body as Iris spoke those words. Her gorgeous long hair, which beautifully framed her young face, had been sentenced to be sheared off by this back street barber. She immediately panicked.

“No, no you can’t!” She screamed, as she tried to pull herself out of the barber’s chair. But John had had reluctant customers before, primarily young boys receiving their `back-to-school’ haircuts, and he knew how to handle such reluctance. Both his hands grasped her shoulders, and pulled her back into the chair. His strength, for such a frail gentleman, took Nikki by surprise.

“Nicola!” Iris shouted.

Nikki stopped struggling, stunned by Iris’s response. Iris glared at her through the mirror.

“If you don’t sit still young lady, I might cut off all of your hair!” The barber added with a sinister tone.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t want my hair cut – especially short.” Nikki prayed that the barber would show some compassion.

“Well, that’s too bad young lady because short is precisely how Iris wants it cut!”

Nikki could see Iris take a seat behind her, wearing a satisfied look on her face. She now conceded that the battle was over and Iris was about to be the victor. Nikki regained her composure and her tensed-up arms eased on the armrests. “Okay then.” John announced.

Not a word was spoken as the barber resumed combing through Nikki’s hair, before lifting up a section and inserting the blades of the scissors into it. Nikki watched her reflection in a dream-like state, as she watched the ten-inch length drop from her head, slide down the cape, and drop onto the floor.

Another section was lifted, and again the blades sliced through sending it on its way. Nikki watched in her trance-like state, momentarily glancing over at Iris, who sweetly smiled back at her like the cat that got the cream.

Now the barber seemed relentless. Without any emotion he continued to hack Nikki’s tresses away. The beautiful teenager was being transformed, in front of her own eyes, into a boy! The hair continued to rain down onto the cape. Nikki could not prevent a tear falling as her bowed head viewed the highlighted clippings on her lap.

The barber returned to the counter. He placed down the scissors and comb, and lifted the hair clippers off the hook. The familiar pop followed by the constant humming. Nikki knew this was the final chapter of this horrible experience.

Iris smirked through the mirror.

“Nice and short John.”

“Certainly Iris, I think a no.2.”

Iris cast Nikki another smug expression. The victory was hers to savour, but why had she done this? Did she do this to all of Steve’s girlfriends? If not, then why not? If so, why had Steve not warned her? Did he like short hair on girls?

The clippers crunched into her remaining hair, sending more cuttings down onto the floor. Repeatedly, the barber made pass after pass until Nikki was left with a severe short back and sides.

“Better.” Declared Iris.

The barber didn’t give Nikki the opportunity to view his handiwork from behind. He simply untied the cape, removed it and shook the hair from it. Nikki climbed out of the chair, feeling remarkably light-headed, to be met by a grinning Iris.

“Why?” Nikki simply asked.

“Why not!” Iris replied. She paid the barber for both cuts and headed for the door. Nikki followed her in the same puppy-like fashion as when they had arrived.

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