I collected my young son from nursery and decided what I needed most was a haircut. Some judicious barbering.
On refection, this made miserable sense. The boy was clearly overexcited. Riding a sugar rush straight from a party for three-year-olds, glazed and flushed as a fruit machine wrestling a pay out, one arm cartwheeling as I fought to stuff both into the sleeves of a seemingly undersized coat.
The frigid late afternoon did little to contain him. I seized his hand in mine and did my best to steer him safely through light traffic. The two of us lurching like drunks.
We arrived at the barbershop and stepped inside. It could have been worse. Just one customer perched already under the sheet, eyes fixed on the mirror. The scissors did not pause as Anthony turned to acknowledge us. His mouth a tiny downturned slit. Saying nothing.
I hung both our jackets on the coat stand and sat down to wait. Anthony's client did not look to be a difficult customer. Silently watching the scissors dance an inch above his skull.
I motioned for Milo to sit beside me. Of course, he went straight to the window and parked himself on the ledge. Pulled an unopened box of crayons from his pocket and proceeded to count them out. It was then, I think, he produced the little carton of milk.
He put the straw in his mouth and worked on it.
"I love you, dad."
"I love you too."
Smiling the brittle smile of the indulging parent who has declared it for the eleventh time since noon.
The barber and his client said nothing. The scissors performed their magic.
The carton slid to the floor, bleeding milk over laminate.
At this juncture I expected Anthony to put on a little show and tell him off. Just to establish ownership.
I got up and walked to the little staff toilet to get something to mop it up. Put the wadded tissue carefully in the bin. The carton too.
In abject silence I sat back down.
Nobody met my eyes. Not directly. Not in the mirror. No one. Except my son, grinning and oblivious.
The door to the shop swung on its hinges. Another customer stepped inside. Still nothing. Not one word. I looked at my watch. An hour had passed. The original customer was almost completely bald. The scissors could not shear any closer.
"Not too much off around the temples," he said.
Leaves fell from trees. Winter fell. Anthony quietly snipped away.
Somewhere a shotgun shell detonated and one more species ebbed its last.
And Milo slid along the floor behind the chair like a puppy which has soiled itself and can not be scolded.
Of course, I could just have surrendered and collected our coats. I am not immune to calling it a day. I cracked my knuckles. I sucked on my teeth. I brushed imaginary crumbs from my lapel.
Anthony fetched a hand held mirror and held it to the back of the client's head. Stirred briskly at his neck with a little grooming tool.
A sliver of a smile tickled the corner of the customer's mouth.
The faintest outline of the last of the Mohicans.
The young man rose and stepped out the chair. Glancing in my direction as he shook out his shirt.
"Whose next ?"
I make sure my son is not about to kick out the window and climb into the chair. Anthony does not spread the sheet over my shoulders, but flicks behind my ears with his comb.
"I don't know what you want me to do," he says. "You've been cutting at it yourself."
"Just do what you can," I say. Thinking, I've been waiting for nearly two hours now and what I need is a haircut, not a lecture.
"Your hair is bogging," he says. "I can't cut it like that."
"What ?" I manage.
His face is curled up like he is sucking on a fart. Without anything more he wheels about and steps out onto the street. I am left sitting there. Two minutes later I am on my feet and a girl enters the shop. Apparently, she is the manageress from the salon next door.
"Look. What the hell is going on here. All I want is a haircut. I have no idea why Anthony is acting like this, he's cut my hair many times before."
She doesn't say much. Except that maybe he is just having a bad day. Over her shoulder, I can see my part-time barber babbling into a mobile phone. Through the glass door. Another customer enters, a teenager. There are now three generations or more in the shop. Presently, she leaves without resolving a thing and Anthony bowls back in. Chin first. The shadow of a smirk tucked inside his collar.
"I can't cut your hair," he goes again.
"You're shitting me. Just what is your problem ?"
I am boring down into his atrophied soul through a recently cultivated beard. His teeth are a lot healthier looking than mine, the gums juicy, plump, but he has twenty years or so the jump on me. It's to be expected.
"Get out of my face, you fat dick," he says. "Walking around my shop like you own it, your damn kid tearing up the place and me with scissors."
I look down at the counter on my left and see grooming product. Jars and plastic tubs. An open razor.
The razor is in my hand before I can stop myself. He is looking at me strangely, a fish, and he is wearing what appears to be a scarlet apron. I see french fries gathered at his throat and register that they are in fact fingers.
He is making peculiar gurgling noises.
The razor continues to whip back and forth like a windscreen wiper.
"First off, this is not your shop! You just fucking work here!"
"Daddy ? Dad ?"
I am thinking. I am thinking. The fist tugging on my pants leg. The wet tingling on my brow which is not quite sweat, nor tears in the hollows between eye and cheekbone. There is nothing quite like a decent haircut. This side of a shave. The smell of hot towels. Shooting the shit. There is no friend like a good barber. The Turks are the best.
"Let's get your coat. We're leaving."