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Whenever Sarah went to stay at her Aunts house, her Aunt Margaret would always go on about Sarah’s hair. As a typical `young woman’ of sixteen, Sarah took a lot of care over her appearance – especially her hair. She had it highlighted and trimmed at trendy salons in town, and was always brushing it and checking it in the nearest mirror. Margaret, by contrast, was a woman in her late fifties whose hair had faded to grey many years previously. She would brush her hair first thing in the morning, and last thing at night. During the day, she would wear it up in a tight bun. Margaret would often remark that Sarah should have her hair cut short or wear it up. She considered all of the pampering to be a complete waste of time, and Sarah was left in no doubt that her hair would have been much shorter if Margaret had been her mother instead.

However, on this particular visit, Margaret had made no mention of hair at all. That was until she asked Sarah if she would take her son, Luke, to get his hair cut. Luke was eleven years old and was a surprise child for Margaret and her husband, who had died a couple of years later, leaving Margaret to bring Luke up alone. Sarah willingly agreed to this task and, after receiving directions on where to go, left for the barbershop.

After a walk of twenty minutes, they approached the shop. Sarah thought it looked old fashioned, and not at all the kind of place in which she would have her hair cut. The large front window had netting draped across it, which prevented her from seeing inside. An amateurish display of hair grooming products and framed photographs, of men’s hairstyles, sat on the windowsill. She walked up to the front door, unable to see through the obscure glass panels, and pushed it open.

A doorbell gave a faint ring as she opened the door. There, in one of two barber chairs, sat the barber. An old, frail looking, man dressed in a red polyester jacket, shirt and tie, black trousers and black shoes. He rose from the chair and greeted them, lifting the red cape from the back of the chair. Without question, Luke went and sat in the chair, whilst the barber asked Sarah how she would like his hair cut.

“His mother wants him to have a short back and sides”, answered Sarah.

“Very well my dear, please take and seat”, the barber replied, pointing towards a row of old wooden chairs lined up behind the front window netting. Sarah took a seat and cast an eye over the shop. To her, it looked prehistoric, with its dark wooden panelling around the walls. The two red barber chairs sat in front of a row of wooden units, with two washbasins set into a marble countertop. Large mirrors ran full length along the back wall of the shop, above the countertop. The floor was laid with vinyl tiles, and Sarah noticed a pile of cut hair, which had been brushed to one side. The only noise to be heard was the barber’s scissors, as they set about cutting Luke’s hair, and a small radio on the countertop. Sarah didn’t recognise the station it was tuned in to, but all they seemed to do was talk – no music at all?

As the barber continued cutting Luke’s hair, Sarah picked up a magazine from a nearby table and began flicking through its pages.

Suddenly, the door to a back room opened, and in walked a well-built woman. She was in her sixties, with shoulder length grey hair scraped back at the sides and held by two large hair slides. She was wearing a red polyester jacket, identical to the barber, and a long skirt. This fierce looking woman looked across at Sarah and, as she closed the door behind her, said “Sorry my dear, I didn’t realise you were here”.

“That’s okay” Sarah replied.

The woman picked up the red cape off the back of the second barber chair and shook it loose.

“Come and take a seat then dear” she called over to Sarah.

Sarah looked up at her. She was stood next to the chair, which she had turned to face Sarah, holding the cape over her right arm.

“No, it’s okay, I’ve only brought him for a haircut..I’m just waiting”. Sarah could hear for herself the nervousness in her own voice. Strangely, she felt very vulnerable in this unfamiliar environment. Certainly, she was intimidated by the appearance of this lady barber.

“Come on”, she repeated. This time her voice sounded more determined. She held her stare with Sarah, who found herself uncontrollably rising to her feet. In her mind she knew she didn’t want her hair cut, and certainly not in this place and by this woman. However, she found herself walking over to the barber chair and lowering herself into it.

The lady barber turned the chair to face the mirror, and swung the cape across the front of Sarah. As she tucked it in around Sarah’s neck, using a paper tissue, Sarah stared at her reflection in the mirror. There she sat, in a barber’s chair, in a barbershop, about to have her hair cut by an old female barber. She gazed at her long tresses, which hung either side of her face.

Her dream-like state was abruptly halted as the chair was pumped upward. The old woman walked to the countertop and picked up a comb and scissors. She returned to stand behind the chair and began combing Sarah’s long hair. Sarah looked at the woman’s face through the mirror. It was a robotic expression on the barbers’ face as she struggled to pass the comb through the long lengths. The constant tugging brought a tear to Sarah’s eye, but she felt paralysed by her nerves. She feared for what was about to happen and yet, in her heart, she knew this woman was going to cut her hair short – very short!

“Only a trim please”, Sarah feebly said as the barber passed her scissors into her right hand.

“Just the ends, yes?” she continued, hoping to hear a reply for confirmation.

“This is a barbershop my dear. We cut hair here!” was the barber’s stern retort.

The woman placed the blades of the scissors deep into the mass of hair, and Sarah heard the crunch as her long hair was reduced to shoulder length instantly. The barber vigorously cut across the back of Sarah’s head, sending long tresses cascading to the floor.

“I’ll take the bulk off before I tidy this lot up for you dear, don’t worry”.

The sight of her treasured hair falling to the ground was too much for Sarah. She suddenly started to struggle in the chair, realising that it was now or never to make an escape. She lunged forward, but the woman grabbed her shoulder and pulled her firmly back into the chair.

“Oh no my dear, you’re not finished yet. Derek, pass me the strap.”

As Sarah watched through the mirror’s reflection, she saw the woman’s husband unhook a leather strap from the countertop and walk towards her chair. He attached it to the right-hand side, before passing it across Sarah’s chest. He then walked around to the other side and attached it that side too. He fumbled with a buckle for a few seconds, before Sarah felt the strap tighten suddenly. The old woman released her grasp and sighed.

“We keep that for little boys who will not keep still”, she said with a smirk on her wrinkled face, “I’d like to see you struggle now?”

Sarah’s upper arms and chest were held securely against the back of the chair. She was right, there was no escape now.

“Don’t like having you’re hair cut then? I think girls of your age should have short hair until you can appreciate it more.”

The woman walked back to the countertop and put down the comb and scissors. She turned to face Sarah.

“Yes, short hair would suit you.”

She turned and unhooked the electric clippers. Her hand hovered over a row of plastic guides. She picked one up and attached it to the clippers before switching them on. With a flick of her wrist, the mains cable was cast to one side and she adjusted her stance next to Sarah.

“Hold still sweetie, this won’t take long!”

“Please, don’t cut my hair that short,” Sarah pleaded, knowing that this really was her last chance. “I’m sorry!”

The woman did not reply. She simply pushed Sarah’s head to one side, and ran the clippers up the right-hand sid
e of her head. The buzzing noise was so loud as it passed around Sarah’s ear. Again and again, the clippers were pushed into her skin and pushed upward. The woman gradually walked around the back of the chair.

Now, Sarah’s head was pushed forward until her chin almost touched her chest. The clippers were pushed against her nape and, again, Sarah could her hear hair succumbing to the blades. With her head tilted down, all she could see was clumps of her blonde hair gathered on her lap, and dropping off the red cape.

Once the left-hand side of her head had been shaved. The old woman made her sit upright before passing the clippers from front to back numerous times, as if to exaggerate the act.

Finally, the clippers were switched off and returned to their hook. The old woman picked up a large brush and swept the detached tresses from around Sarah’s neck, before uncapping her victim and releasing her.

“That’s much better my dear, come back soon won’t you!”

As she left the shop, Sarah looked back to see the old woman sweeping her long blonde tresses into the pile of cut hair. Sarah lifted her hand and rubbed the stubble, which was left on her head. She felt so naked and humiliated. She took Luke’s hand and hurried back to her Aunt’s house.

Margaret took one look at Sarah, as she opened the door, and began to smile.

“I see Maureen managed to get you into her chair! I knew she would, I just needed to find a way of getting you into her shop – and you did that voluntarily!” Margaret couldn’t disguise her satisfaction at Sarah’s new look.

“I told you that you needed a haircut didn’t I,” she sneered.

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