“Too short, too short,” I tell the man cutting my hair, but it’s too late. The man cutting my hair has already cut half of my hair too short. I didn’t notice: he cuts a mean head of hair–and by “mean” I mean “incredibly rapid.” Like, fifteen seconds ago I had my beautiful strawberry blonde locks flowing over my too-big ears. Now the whole left side of my head is crew-cut. Military-esque. I look, for the moment, like Lyle Lovett.
That’s the guy with the eighties’ hair, right?
Twenty minutes ago I was walking to the wine store to buy a beer. On the way I had asked another barber: “Haircut and a shave. How much?”
“100 rupees,” he shot back.
“50.” This was my new firm price. I had discovered in Varanasi that Indians pay ten rupees for a shave, 20 for a haircut–and while I’m willing to pay the foreigner-price for a lot of things in this country, I’m not willing to get straight-up hosed.
“70. Final price,” he said.
I walked away. Got my beer. Walked back. Found another barber.
“Shave and a haircut. How much?”
I start to walk away, and the man says, “Come, come.” I sit on the barber’s chair. The barber puts the haircut gown over me. We discuss the particulars of my haircut.
“Just a trim, you know?” I begin. “Like, leave it some space to curl.” Here I hold my curls in between my thumb and my forefinger, make a swooping motion. “Curl,” I say slowly, swooping.
“Curl, yes,” the barber says, or at least that’s what I think he says. It’s really impossible to tell.
“I need it to look good for a woman,” I continue. “If you fuck it up, she’s going to be angry, and I’ll bring her back here, and she’ll scream and yell at you.”
“Girlfriend?” he asks.
“Yes, girlfriend, fiance, wife. She wants it to look good.”
Of course the Indian man had noticed us yesterday. We walked by yesterday. Everyone notices us when we walk by.
Or, at least, everyone notices her.
“Yes, Indian girlfriend.”
He smiles at the other barbers, starts talking to them in Hindi, and I look at myself in the mirror, waiting.
“Okay, okay, good. I do. Good,” the barber concludes.
The barber then proceeds to completely fuck up my hair.
When he’s done cutting my hair–or, rather, when he’s done compensating for his initial fuck-up by fucking up the rest of it evenly–I tell him that I don’t want the shave. “I’ll look like a child,” I explain. “My face is boyish.” The barber looks nonplussed. “Fine. Just shave the mustache and the soul-patch, and we’ll call it good.”
He lathers my upper lip, my lower lip, takes the straight blade to them and makes them soft as a baby’s bottom. ‘At least he didn’t cut me,’ I think.
I notice that I’m bleeding.
“You cut me.”
“Sorry, sir. Sorry, sir.” The barber shop erupts in laughter. The barber wipes my face with after-shave and the blood goes away. I dry my hair out. The barber holds my shoulders and massages my head. The barber asks me about my freckles.
Indian people don’t really understand freckles. In Ooty, walking past the destitute Nilgiri women selling healing ayurvedic oils on the roadside, they’d point to me and say, “Pimple, pimple!” as though I needed my complexion entirely re-configured–and I’d shake my head and say, “No: Freckle, freckle!” and ignore them. I’ve been asked repeatedly about my freckles. I should probably have started lying about it by now, but I haven’t.
“Not an infection. Freckles.” I take the barber’s arm in my hand. “Look. Your skin gets dark evenly”–I look into his eyes and nod, to make sure he’s understanding me–“my skin gets dark in spots. They’re angel kisses,” I tell him. “I was kissed by many angels.”
“Girlfriend?” he asks.
I laugh. “Exactly.”
I give him fifty rupees and thank him. Warn him again, though, that if my girlfriend isn’t happy with the haircut, there’s hell to pay.
“Yes, yes. Indian girlfriend.” The barber starts thrusting his hips. “Fuck and fuck and fuck and fuck.”
I stare at him slack-jawed. I thank him again, turn around, and walk back to the hotel.
Aliya pretends to like the haircut.