It is within the midst of the doldrums of early morning in total darkness when there is no more heat to be found and where cold and emptiness of the autumn season holds full sway that one’s errant thoughts congeal into unexpected directions. When the thin coverlets run both hot and cold and each of many tiny drafts drive one from the promise of the bedstead to sit like some solitary refugee pondering their fate like all those other like same restless souls sitting similarly anonymous about the entire world. The tale of their lives and your own all but complete beyond some simple editing of niggling details recounting experiences long past that stand out for some unknown reason and thus are run and rerun time and again. Not so much to keep them in the mind with crystalline precision so much as to verify the fact of their very existence. It is at these times that I lay my head back upon my old couch with eyes closed with my feet tickled by the inevitable descent of moonlight and try to congeal the presence of some odd happenstances of my own experience. One in particular as of late curiously coming to the fore in terms of consciousness, though the characters involved could not in any way claim any special place within my own dwindling personal narrative.
Found within the shadows of the stony periphery of the columnar megaliths of concrete supports beneath highway off ramps lay a disused portion of land harboring small shops that for the sake of proximity alone manage to eke out enough in the way of steady business to stay clear of demolition. Not for the sake of being on the way to anywhere special so much as being in some ways likened to a small solitary egg judged too small and left in the nest that has up to this point been waylaid. Some of the many uncountable faceless throngs passing in and out of the portals of the airport occasionally having lost their way finding themselves before these small sole proprietorships looking to the expedience of the purchase a pack of cigarettes or risking a quick shave. The owner of the most prominent being a small aged wizened fellow running a barber shop with one chair. Someone that had long ago during the course of his early adulthood crossed over from some unspecified location far across the planet motivated in due course by the eradication of his own land, probably as a result of previous decades military adventurism by way of empire. Taciturn as all who find themselves deposited amidst strangers yet tending to be genuine in an intent to go about his own business and cut hair and not hold grudges for undeserved wrongs. One whose transplanted religion offered his few remaining years by the reckoning of his own prophet and the god had promised him some time of peace. The movements made in the performance of his appointed task ever slow sure and rock steady as if from the measured instruction of some old mechanical wooden regulator wall clock of old. The indeterminate barrier of language discouraging the free distribution of words beyond an initial greeting and a summary announcement of the end of his task in the form of a single word, “Done.” Perhaps adding the statement of the amount of the pittance he required for his service when forgotten by the client.
I cannot recall what month or year I had happened by his shop. The fact of the twisty tangle of pathways at cross purpose to normal folk having provided some odd form of attraction to me on one day that I had felt like some explorer with the intent to follow its lead to the source. And so there I also sat like so many other souls before me in his chair gazing about the odd collection of artifacts that had been amassed over many years that found their way upon the walls of this small shop. Commercial product portraits of bright eyes happily successful young generic men. Each one fresh from the clippers sporting what by some time in the past had become a sure and confident smile freely seen recognized as satisfaction in a bygone era. A large dusty wall calendar with some of the pages creased but still unmarked. A small collection sun crinkled bills of promissory notes Scotch with strange writing in magic marker across them taped high up at the corner of the mirror. And upon a portion of the wide expanse of the wall just opposite as revealed in the mirror before one a linen representation of odd looking buildings representing the once familiar byways of his former land. Something possibly representing what might have once been his original home. Grist for conversation if one might be in a gregarious mood and wished to challenge the fact of this man’s unsteady command of the English tongue. Those with more respectful sensibilities being equally content to rest quietly back in the swivel seat to enjoy the Barbasol perfumed melody of expertly handled clippers chirping away behind just their ears. And possibly ponder the mystery of the story of all these accumulated hieroglyphics expressed in total.
One tiny wallet sized image in particular caught the eye. Probably easily missed by most other customers despite holding a particular place of honor low down upon the mirror just beside a clear urn of entombed sanitized combs. The features of a very young Caucasian western lad seeming to suggest it presence in this setting as being incongruous by the fact of the common sense of social zoology. But firmly implanted in its station suggesting that a relationship of some consequence had been in force exceeding that of any normal well-valued customer. The fact of this placement piquing one to commence an internal positing that motivated all manner of speculations. One encouraged by a lack of clues to begin running over all the many possibilities of some secret association with the shop’s owner. One’s interest in this photo, after a time, being gradually noticed by the old man over time as he trimmed down each region of one’s disordered locks. His somber expression seeming to silently convey an answer to the question combined with an almost ritual degree of accompanying sadness. His somber visage with its lack of tell suggesting that the connection was both extraordinary and deep. And somehow had been cut short and now sorely missed. An atmosphere that suggested that the act of making any verbal entreaty to vouchsafe one’s own confirmation of random speculations would be inappropriate. That unspoken growing barrier of indifference resistant to the one’s assault of desiring to speak it aloud, lest one be accused of some gross inopportune form of disrespect. This injunction still not strong enough to quell any persistent internal introspection as to the nature of that cloistered relationship between the two men.
Perhaps the young man might have been a former employee that had earned some special degree of note in the old man’s estimation? Perhaps an old and valued original customer dating back to the commencement of the shop’s opening when that same face in the small photo was but a child experiencing his first haircut? “Did he cry?“, like one could not help silently asking ones’ self in order to suppress a still too familiar recollection from their own dilapidated storehouse of old unfading memories? Or had the personage been a enthusiastic acolyte ready to be this master’s sole student learning this trade directly from the hand of proprietor’s own example. Learning along the way an alternate method of addressing, what in almost all societies of varied human configurations, was a routine necessity assuring proper presentation of the self to others? The finale evidencing a smart and competently finished haircut!
This extended span of constant infernal inspection being abruptly terminated when it had became apparent within that same mirror just before the two that the client’s persistent visual inquiry had affected the sensibilities of the one servicing him. Not by the presence of the old man’s expression gone sour so much as by a noticeable avoidance of gaze. Not only in engaging the customer in the reflection but also in the vicinity of the snapshot in question. A equally noticeable pall that was interrupted by the last few snips of the scissors and promptly replaced by the whisking motion of a hand broom vigorously deposing the last unwanted particles of the man’s efforts from the shoulders. The customary flap of the coverlet being removed from my still animated corpse sounding like a sail rustling in a brisk ocean wind quickly filling and then emptying by the swinging of a yard. The notice of a pair of dates of beginning and an end confirming that the source of all this attention no longer stood upon God’s green earth. The ceremony promptly concluded by the silent transfer of a few notes from the billfold and my quick departure. Whatever the solution needed to clear the aura mystery now abandoned and left behind past the store’s closing door. Only the mental capture in the span of an instant of the old man’s slumped shoulders weakly supporting his head looking slightly downward. As if he had been once more confronted by an old and familiar phantom. Some revived recognition of a holy rite of passage. One that both had long ago once shared. The young man from this, his own native land, providing welcome and a sense of home to this aged wanderer who had lost his own. Such is the power and greatness of this land that all too many us today now take for granted.