You would never guess that a person could go through so much stress all because of a haircut. Seriously, the word stress is the only suitable description I have for how I feel every two to three weeks when I have to go down the street to get a haircut. How? Well, let’s just say that stress is what happens when you actually have a conscience and cannot disappoint people without your inner mind tearing at you.
Let me start from the beginning. I live on a busy street somewhere in Ikeja. Being the kind of person that I am, I usually go about my business quietly. My trips to the barbershop are the closest form of contact that I have with people in the area. My regular barber, Chris is a young guy with a pretty wife and a cute son. I’ve been going to his barbershop for a while. I even knew his wife when she was single. I actually invited her over to my place once but nothing happened when she came visiting. So now, a few years later, we exchange brief greetings in the presence of her husband, without him knowing that I actually came close to hooking up with the woman he married.
That aside, Chris and I are cool. Our friendship has been solidified by the bond of silent trust between a barber and his regular customer. We have hardly said more than five complete sentences to each other at a go, but we’re cool. He knows every bump and contour on my head more than I do, and I am glad to sit quietly in the shop, enjoying the sometimes comical, sometimes ridiculous gist that goes on there. That and the mind-numbing Yoruba home videos that the hairdressers love to watch.
Did I mention the hairdressers? Chris seems to be running a mini boot camp for reformed (or maybe not so reformed) “runs girls”. There are always scantily clad, tattoo brandishing girls in the shop, trying to learn a thing or two from Chris and his other employees. By the way, Chris is also a hairdresser himself. He’s probably more skillful with womens hair than with the clipper, judging by the way the girls keep rushing in. My barbershop visits usually come with a few perks. The view is not bad at all, with all the females flocking in and out. Thank goodness for barbershop mirrors. How else would I have been able to scope all those chicks without looking like a pervert?
Chris’ willingness to give people a chance is also extended to the male barbers. Often, there would be a young guy standing next to him, watching as he cut a customer’s hair. If they proved themselves, he would allow them cut the customers. Good as the gesture was, no one really wants a haircut from an apprentice. You might think that it’s not such a big deal and not much could go wrong from getting a bad haircut but you’re wrong. A bad haircut can mess up a guy’s self-esteem. It can mean the difference between acing a job interview and flunking, or making that killer presentation that wins you a huge contract and being shown the door, or even the difference between stepping up to the girl that ends up being your wife and chickening out and spending the rest of your days single and miserable, wondering what might have been. I know I’m exaggerating but you get my point, don’t you? I’m not really a demanding customer. I don’t expect too much and I’m not really one for flamboyant hairstyles (I’m no Balotelli, trust me). All I want is a nice low cut with a fade that doesn’t take back my hairline and make me look ten years older. But I wasn’t going to leave the fate of my hair – and by extension, my entire life – to Chris’ apprentices, so I started to think of an alternative, even though I knew it would be hard.
Just then, like a sign from above, a new ultramodern barbershop showed up in the neighborhood. It had everything; a nice lounge where you could wait and read recent magazines, nice floors and mirrors, an air conditioner that actually worked, and good customer service. The only snag in the whole arrangement was that it was on my street, directly opposite Chris’ shop. It was virtually impossible to go in without being seen by Chris or one of his employees. With the new shop opening, there was bound to be a struggle for new customers and Chris would rely on his faithful customers like me to stick with him and not sell out. He would need us to show some loyalty.
At first I decided to stick to Chris’ shop, but one day I got to the shop and the only person available was this annoying apprentice. He stood there looking at me with a clipper in my hand and asked: “Bros, you want barb?” How daft! Did I look like I was there to sell tomatoes or what? Einstein then gave me one of the worst haircuts I’ve had since the disaster of 2007. I mean, I left the shop with my hairline looking like Emeka Ike’s. I started to reconsider my silent bond with Chris’ shop after that.
On the next haircut day, Chris’ shop wasn’t even open at all. That made my decision to try the new shop easy. I got in and witnessed first-hand the sheer splendor of the shop. I was impressed. I went to a group of ladies at the lounge and asked for the barber since I didn’t see any guy around. Then, lo and behold, a lady stood up and said she was the barber. I swear, I almost ran away. My heart was beating fast. I was sweating. It was about to be the disaster of 2007 all over again. Let me tell you about the disaster.
Back in 2007, I and a few of my friends had gone to Abuja for a one-week training. On the second day, one of my friends suggested I accompany him to get a haircut. Being new to Abuja, we didn’t know where to go so we found a nice looking place and tried our luck. There she was, the owner of the shop. A middle aged lady, smiling happily, welcoming us. My friend asked for the barber and she replied with confidence: “I’m the barber. I’ve been cutting hair for twenty years now. Come and sit down”. My friend looked unconvinced. I felt it was wrong to assume she couldn’t cut hair simply because she was a lady, so I volunteered to let her cut mine. She seemed quite sure of what she was doing, and kept us entertained with stories of how she cut all her kids’ hair until they were grown. By the time she was done, I took a look in the mirror and could hardly recognize myself. I looked like I just came out of chemo! My friend had a good laugh and politely told her that he wasn’t having the haircut after all. For the entire week, everyone at the training kept asking if I was ill or something. I looked ridiculous. I still have a picture of that haircut somewhere to remind me of that disaster.
So when this chick offered to cut my hair, I struggled with the fight-or-flight instinct. Finally, I said okay. As I sat, someone came and handed me some bottled water. Quite a nice gesture, but I couldn’t help thinking it was a distraction from the messed up haircut I was about to receive. When she picked up the clipper, it looked like it would fall off her hand any second. She turned it on and it made an unusual sound. She then tried to unscrew it and fix the problem. As I watched her fiddle with it, I was sure another disaster was about to happen. Then she started cutting.
She had a light touch that felt sensual. I could feel every finger as it touched my head to keep it in place while the other hand kept cutting. I watched her reflection as she focused on every stroke, making sure it was precise. Midway into the haircut I could tell she knew what she was doing and I relaxed. When she was done, I stood up and checked in the mirror. Not bad at all. She then asked if I wanted to have my head washed. Of course I did. So she guided me to the sink, poured some hair products on my head and rubbed and rinsed it. The feeling of her hands rubbing against my freshly cut head of hair almost made me fall asleep. The experience was quite pleasurable.
As I left the shop, I felt good but seeing Chris’ shop made me feel like a real traitor. Judas and Brutus must have had a lot of guilt if they felt anything like me. I was now faced with a dilemma; abandon Chris’ less expensive barbershop for a more expensive but better shop, or stick with supporting someone who considers me a friend and needs my patronage and that of others on the street to keep the shop going and support his family in the face of stiff competition. Did I mention that Chris and his wife lost their second baby weeks after she was born? Yeah, that happened. So what kind of customer would I be to abandon them for a fancy head wash? This is where the stress comes in.
After a few months I came up with a plan. I would alternate between the two shops every three weeks. I would sneak in an out of the fancy shop when I needed a fancy haircut and then boldly walk into Chris’ shop the next time. That was until the day I left the fancy shop and saw Chris looking straight at me with very disappointed eyes. Yep! I was busted. So I’m left wondering what to do on my next barbershop visit. Do I return to Chris’ shop with my tail between my legs? Would he take that as a silent sign of repentance and expect me to never venture into the land of semi-erotic head rubs ever again? Do I go with my head and ignore my heart? All this over a haircut! Stress!